Sunday, September 5, 2021

Pepper Adams Biography is Finished!


I’m thrilled to report that the Pepper Adams biography 

is now officially done! It’s quite a moment for me, after

37 years of work and a particularly grueling stretch

the last four years. I just spent the last eight hours

today proofing the first half, adding captions to photos, 

checking music links, and wrapping it up. This after

doing the same yesterday to the second half. 

The manuscript has been sent to my trusted webmaster,

Dan Olson, who is finishing the formatting before he

submits it to Lulu for processing. I’m not sure how much

time they’ll need before they ask us to sign off on it before

publication, but I’m hopeful that it can be released before

month’s end. 

Here’s the complete Advance Praise page:

Advance Praise for Reflectory





Gary Carner’s deep and painstaking research into the life and music

of Pepper Adams, coupled with his sure feel for this underappreciated

jazzman’s complex personality, has yielded an absorbing biography

that also reveals much about the jazz life writ large. Carner’s nimble

narrative captures Adams as a man of reserve and sensitivity thrown

into the always bracing, sometimes exasperating tumult of jazz’s post-

bop Detroit-to-New York vector. Reflectory is jazz history of the first rank.

John Gennari

Author of Blowin’ Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics



Most jazz biographies are predictable chronologies of gigs and

recordings, friendships and rivalries, kindness and cruelty. We know

how they start; we know how they end. Carner’s admiring multi-

dimensional portrait of Pepper Adams is a delightful corrective.

Irresistibly, it floats from story to story. I couldn’t wait to find out

what happens next. Even if readers know Pepper only as a bracing,

lovely sound, before we are ten pages in we are happily encountering

him as a fully-rounded person, reading Yeats, eating ribs, impatient

with cliche, searching and finding wherever he goes. It takes lung

ower to play the baritone saxophone: this biography has the breath of


Michael Steinman

Author, Jazz Lives blog



Gary Carner has been stalking the life, music, and legacy of the brilliant

baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams (1930-86) with an Ahab-like

obsessiveness for 37 years. The great news for the rest of us is that Carner

has landed his whale. Reflectoryis a meticulously researched and insightful biography of one of the defining

modern jazz musicians of his era and one of the key products of Detroit’s post-

war bebop explosion. We need more books like this in jazz historiography and

more authors willing to dig this deeply.

Mark Stryker

Author of Jazz from Detroit 


This comprehensive and insightful study of a major music master fills a yawning

gap in the writing on Detroit’s jazz scene in its heyday. Even within a constellation

of huge talents, Pepper Adams shone with his own distinctive light.

Mark Slobin

Author of Motor City Music: A Detroiter Looks Back





Pepper Adams was a heartbreakingly great musician who never got the love from

the jazz press that he deserved, which, in a way, makes him even more important in

the history of the music because it represents an experience that happens all too

often and places Pepper firmly at the heart of the jazz life.  As Johnny Griffin once

said, “Jazz is music made by and for people who have chosen to feel good in spite

of conditions.” But to limit Pepper to the jazz life would be a mistake. He was a man

of literature and culture, a great reader and thinker, as were many of his heroes,

notably Charlie Parker, and Gary Carner’s loving tribute to him finally delivers some

justice to the man and to the whole range and span of his too short and underappreciated

but brilliant career.

Ben Sidran

Author of Talking Jazz: An Oral History and There Was a Fire: Jews, Music and the American Dream



Gary Carner’s biography about Pepper Adams honors one of America’s great musicians.

It is a joy to read and reread, and worth waiting for all these years. Having known and

worked with Pepper from 1955 until he left us, reading this biography makes you feel

that you are there with him. His humor, wit, and devotion to music are all written about

in a way that Pepper himself would have loved. Gary Carner has kept this story real.

David Amram

Author of Vibrations: The Adventures and Musical Times of David Amram 


Pepper Adams was a consummate performer on the unwieldy baritone sax. Perhaps

he was insufficiently valued by fans of the music, but never by fellow musicians.

The dedicated research of Gary Carner has uncovered a huge amount of detail about

his life, documenting his opinions and his recordings, both official and unofficial.

Brian Priestley 

Author of Mingus: A Critical Biography and Chasin’ The Bird: The Life and Legacy

of Charlie Parker

Author Gary Carner must be commended for dedicating much of his life to

documenting the legacy of the great baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams. Adams was

a major contributor to the sub-genre of jazz known as hard bop and his many

influential recordings pulsate with excitement and originality. Reflectory: The Life

and Music of Pepper Adams represents a monumental effort to examine every aspect

of Adams’s career and the research that has gone into it was carried out in a manner

suggesting that no stone has been left unturned. This book exemplifies the best in jazz


  Noal Cohen

Co-author of Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce

Reflectory: The Life and Music of Pepper Adams is het overtuigende portret van een

ernstig onderschatte jazzgrootheid. Gary Carner’s indrukwekkende levenswerk

(decennialange research, inclusief 250 interviews) heeft geresulteerd in een uitgebreide

biografie die fascinerende lectuur vormt.Reflectory: The Life and Music of Pepper Adams is the persuasive portrait of a seriously underrated jazz giant. Gary Carner’s impressive

work of a lifetime (decades of research, including 250 interviews) has resulted in an

extensive biography that makes for fascinating reading. 

Bert Vuijsje

Co-author of Rita Reys: Lady Jazz and Ado Broodboom Trompet

Før læsningen havde jeg, ligesom mange andre, kun et sporadisk kendskab til Pepper

Adams. Dette skyldes måske at hans hovedinstrument var baryton-saxen, der som dybt-

klingende ofte har stået i skyggen af de andre saxofoner. Efter nu at have lyttet mere

indgående til hans musik, er jeg blevet overbevist om den status han i bogen bliver givet:

en jazz improvisator i den øverste liga; en person, der i lighed med musikere som Bud

Powell, Wardell Gray, Fats Navarro og  J. J. Johnson formåede at få Charlie Parkers

musikalske sprog til at blomstre på deres eget instrument uden uden at fremstå som epigoner.

Before reading, like many others I had only a sporadic knowledge of Pepper Adams. This

is perhaps due to his main instrument being a baritone sax, which, as deep-sounding, often has

been overshadowed by the other saxophones. Having now listened more in depth to his music,

I have become convinced of the status he is given in the book: a jazz musician and improviser

in the top league; a man who, like musicians such as Bud Powell, Wardell Gray, Fats Navarro,

and J. J. Johnson, managed to get Charlie Parker’s musical language to blossom on their own instrument without being epigones.

Leif Bo Petersen

Co-author of The Music and Life of Theodore “Fats” Navarro: Infatuation

Sunday, August 1, 2021

60 Days to Publication


This past month has seen steady progress toward the

publication of Reflectory: The Life and Music of Pepper Adams. First, I’ve re-edited

for the last time before its September release Chapters 8-

12. I’ve also submitted final copies of Chapters 2-4 for

eBook formatting. Chapters 1 and 5-7 are still out for


Also, most of the book is eBook ready, and that includes a number of photographs. All that remains is incorporating what my readers suggest, formatting the front- and end-matter, inserting new versions of most chapters in place of what’s there already, getting all the music links formatted, and finishing the Music Directory. Things still look good for its September release.

I recently received this wonderful blurb from John Gennari,

that will be added to the front matter:

“Gary Carner’s deep and painstaking research into the life

and music of Pepper Adams, coupled with his sure feel for

this underappreciated jazzman’s complex personality, has

yielded an absorbing biography that also reveals much

about the jazz life writ large. Carner’s nimble narrative

captures Adams as a man of reserve and sensitivity thrown

into the always bracing, sometimes exasperating tumult of

jazz’s post-bop Detroit-to-New York vector. Reflectory is

jazz history of the first rank.”

Gosh, I sure am gratified by this! If anyone in the world is

an expert on the history and literature of jazz, it’s Gennari.

I’m adding his last sentence to the book’s cover.

Speaking of Gennari, I now use three quotes as chief

epigraphs in the book:

Ya gotta be original, man


How many musicians out there are really different?


Because jazz demands that musicians find their own sound

and stamp their performances with a singular individuality,

those who succeed in music tend to be distinctive, singular



Sunday, July 4, 2021

Pepper Adams with the Tommy Banks Trio


Here’s my original draft for liner notes to Pepper Adams 

with the Tommy Banks Trio: Live at Room at the Top, 

Reel to Reel’s forthcoming release. 

That cat was something else on that horn! 


Judging from the many accolades that he received from his 

colleagues before and after his death, Pepper Adams was 

equally esteemed by his elders, contemporaries, and younger 

musicians. Among the old guard, Coleman Hawkins was one 

of his biggest fans. “Hawkins admired Pepper,” said drummer 

Eddie Locke. “He said, ‘That cat is something else on that 

horn!’ . . . He didn’t say that about many people; he didn’t talk 

about many guys.” According to Gunnar Windahl, Adams’s 

close friend, Don Byas also adored Adams’s playing, and Milt 

Hinton, out of respect for Pepper’s intellect, dubbed him “The 

Master.” About Adams, Dizzy Gillespie once rhetorically asked 

David Amram, “Man, that guy’s phenomenal, isn’t he?” And 

backstage at a 1985 Adams benefit in New York City, Gillespie 

told Cecil Bridgewater how much he admired what Pepper had 

done harmonically with the instrument; how he had utilized the 

baritone sax in a completely different way from other baritone 

players. “His playing was unbelievable,” agreed Clark Terry, 

“just fantastic! I never heard him jump into anything that 

stymied him: any tune, any tempo, any key. He was a 

phenomenal musician, one that could do anything. His 

rhythmic sense wassuperb, his melodic sense was fantastic. 

He was just a marvelous person and a marvelous musician.” 

Adams’s contemporaries were just as effusive in their praise. 

“He is one of my heroes,” said Bill Perkins. He’s one of the 

true giants of jazz. He stood out in that rare group of jazz 

soloists, the great giants of all time, people like Bird and Prez

—and John Coltrane has become that. I think Pepper was that

on his instrument—and Diz. They’re in an area where very 

few have done the creative work that they’ve done. Nobody 

is equal: There are some great young players around and they 

owe a great debt to him, but Pepper was monolithic in his 

playing. Bob Cranshaw concurred with Perkins. “Everyone 

knew he was a superstar,” declared Cranshaw. “The rest of 

the baritone saxophonists: They know! . . . In my book he’s 

the Number One baritone saxophonist. I don’t even think of 

anybody else.” Phil Woods heartily agreed: “Any baritone 

player that’s around today,” he avowed in 1988, “knows that 

he was Number One. It’s that simple. He was the best we 

had.” Both Curtis Fuller and Don Friedman felt similarly: 

“He was the greatest who ever played the baritone saxo-

phone,” proclaimed Fuller. Pepper, asserted Friedman, 

“should be considered the number-one-of-all-time baritone 

player. Nobody ever played as many years at that level that I 

ever heard. There’s no question about it.” 

According to Horace Silver, Adams “was an excellent jazz 

soloist. He could handle any of the chord changes that you’d 

throw up in front of him. That’s the mark of a true, great impro-

viser. In my opinion, this is why any of the great jazz soloists 

get their reputation; because they’re consistent.” Bill Watrous 

said about Adams, “Every time he played it was an adventure. 

His ideas and his conception of the stuff that he was trying to 

play was totally original.” Bassist Nabi Totah confessed, “I just

idolized Pepper. Every chorus, you’d think he’d be getting tired, 

he’d play stronger than the one before. There seemed to be no 

end to his ideas. He just forged ahead swinging.” Adams “gave 

a personality to the baritone sax,” attested trumpeter Denny 

Christianson, “that nobody else ever even came close to. No-

body could do what he did on his instrument. He could handle a 

melody just like a great singer, but his improvisation was brilliant 

and he had blinding speed.” Pepper, asserted Junior Cook, “was a 

virtuoso, without a doubt. He exemplified all the best things that

any musician – jazz or otherwise–should aspire to: He had great 

tone, he had great time, and he had great taste.” 

For the younger generation, Adams was a paragon of individuality. 

“There’s very few stylists, real heavyweights,” bassist Todd 

Coolman once told drummer Ron Marabuto about Pepper. 

“Maybe five of them. They’re really rare. He’s one of them.” 

Adams was “a true master of his craft,” said Bennie Maupin, “and 

absolutely one of the finest musicians of his generation.” 

Saxophonist Kirk MacDonald agreed: “He really owned the music 

on a very high level.” As bassist Andy McCloud pointed out, 

Pepper “recorded with all the cats. He was an unknown genius. He 

was like Dexter [Gordon] and one of them.” Guitarist Peter Leitch 

said, “When I started to play, I realized that here’s a white person

who really played this music authentically and was still able to be 

himself.” And Gary Smulyan acknowledged that Pepper “inspired 

me to make a life-long study of the instrument”: It kind of made 

me realize why I got into music. It was not to be a doubler. It was 

not to play all these instruments and get a Broadway show. It 

was to try to find a voice, and to express your life through an 

instrument. That was it. Pepper was the inspiration for that. 

* * * 

It was Pepper’s blistering, spellbinding solo on “Three and 

One” from this date that reminded me of Coleman Hawkins’s 

comment and made me think of including the above excerpt 

from my forthcoming Adams biography. You see, musicians 

have always sung Adams’s praises, yet even to this day he’s 

mostly overlooked, even by jazz historians, as one the great 

postwar virtuosos. Just check the index of any jazz history 

and you’ll see what I mean. Fortunately, with his extraordi-

nary playing on this marvelous release, Adams’s place among 

the greatest of all jazz soloists should finally be irrefutable. 

And it’s no surprise at all that it took Cory Weeds, a working 

musician, to recognize this radio broadcast’s intrinsic value. 

Besides revealing Adams’s brilliance as a soloist, this perfor-

mance is a vitally important document because virtually 

nothing exists of his small-group work from this period. Be-

tween Encounter (Prestige, 1968), his terrific solo date with 

Zoot Sims, Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter, and Elvin Jones, 

and Ephemera (Spotlite, 1973), his equally superb quartet 

session with Roland Hanna, George Mraz, and Mel Lewis, 

there’s barely a handful of recordings in which Pepper takes 

a solo. Furthermore, just a few obscure Adams audience re-

cordings exist from this five-year span that only a few col-

lectors have heard. What I found especially fascinating was 

hearing both “Patrice” and “Civilization and Its Discontents,” 

two very special Adams originals, performed a full year 

before he recorded them for Spotlite. This indicates that even 

at this stage of his career, five years before he left the Thad 

Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra to go out on his own as a “single,” 

he was composing new tunes not solely for record dates, as I 

previously believed. “Patrice,” it turns out, was registered at 

the Library of Congress on October 29, 1970, but might this 

be the world premiere of “Civ?” For this show, Adams’s select-

ion of tunes was highly representative of what he often chose to 

play. With a competent band, he usually selected a few originals, 

a few Thad Jones tunes, a standard or two, and he’d customarily 

close his sets with “’Tis.” He especially liked old show tunes, 

such as “Time on My Hands” (1930). “Stella by Starlight, of 

course, was by 1972 a very well-known standard. “’Tis” was 

Thad’s brief, uptempo out-theme that since 1954 Pepper almost 

always utilized. “Oleo” served a similar function, though typical-

ly to both conclude a concert and stretch out a bit. And “Three 

and One?” One of Thad Jones’s great compositions, it was an 

Adams feature while he was a member of Jones/Lewis, and a 

tune that he often called in small-group settings. Adams was a 

musician who lived to play, yet whose lust for life was eroded 

by his long-simmering disappointment at being defined by pro-

moters as a big-band baritonist not available for hire, ignored as

a true innovator for much of his career, and barely recorded as a 

leader for most of the 1960s and ’70s. Part of his uniqueness 

was due to his pedigree as a “jazz man.” As Eddie Locke explain-

ed it to me during my 1988 interview with him, “A real jazz man 

will play his instrument no matter what”: He’s gonna play. He’s 

not gonna make an excuse for not playing by saying, “Something 

is going wrong, I can’t play.” If you love it so much, it doesn’t 

make any difference. No dollars, bad musicians, good musicians, 

mediocre musicians: You’re gonna blow! Pepper just happened to 

also be a great player. But he was a real jazz man. . . . A real jazz 

man is rare. That’s a lifestyle. That’s not just going to school. And 

that’s what Pepper was about. In Detroit, you played in the joints: 

slop jobs in those old, funky places. That’s a jazz man. He wasn’t 

trying to play in Carnegie Hall every night. He was just going to 

play some music because he loved to play. . . . People wanted to 

play with him because he was a jazz man. . . . I don’t care who he 

was playing with; he’s gonna sound good because he’s gonna 

blow! He doesn’t give a shit about the other cats. If they play the 

wrong change, he’ll play the wrong one. That’s a true jazz musician. 

Bird was like that. Coleman Hawkins was like that. I put him in 

some heavy company there but that’s what I’m talking about. 


Gary Carner Author of Pepper Adams’ Joy Road and Reflectory: 

The Life and Music of Pepper Adams

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Additions to Pepper's Biography


In terms of moving ahead with Adams’s biography, May was quite a productive month and June has started with a bang. The three most important things that occurred were author Mark Stryker reviewing and improving Chapter Four, the discovery of Marc Vasey’s 1985 interview with Adams, and the emergence of Pepper’s cousin, Sandra Adams. Stryker was for years the jazz and arts writer for the Detroit Free Press, who in the last few years of his gig also covered for the newspaper local Detroit politics. Stryker is a wonderful writer who has many years of experience with Detroit’s jazz scene. Last year he published Jazz from Detroit, his account of Detroit’s jazz history. The book includes a number of vignettes about legendary Detroit musicians, though he told me he chose not to cover Pepper in a separate chapter because of restrictions on the length of the book and because of my work on him. Stryker had much to say about my chapter about Pepper and Detroit from 1953 through 1955, and his observations led to some significant corrections. Many thanks to him for improving the manuscript.

For sixty years trumpeter Marc Vasey was involved with jazz, most notably in the Edmonton, Alberta area. During that time, he became very friendly with Pepper, producing many concerts of his there beginning in 1972. In 1985 he sat down with Adams and conducted a far-ranging interview with him, intended for broadcast. I’m only a third of the way through the conversation but it’s already sent me back to the manuscript to add new info and alter some of my text. More, I’m sure, will be added in the next few weeks.

Lastly, thanks to webmaster Dan Olson, only in the last few days I’ve been put in touch with Sandra Adams, Pepper’s cousin. Sandy is the grandchild of Harry Albert Adams, Pepper’s uncle. She has done considerable genealogical research about her family, and, like Vasey, her recollections sent me back to the manuscript to add color to the text. In the weeks to come, we do hope to post the Adams genealogy that Dan and I have been assembling for some time.

Notes from the first 25 minutes of Marc Vasey’s interview with Pepper Adams, November, 1985. Quotes are from Adams:

Little John and His Merrymen: Essentially, the house band at Club Valley was John Wilson’s band. Wilson was a good lead player who played with Lunceford, though not much of a soloist. 7 pieces: tp, as; ts; bs; plus three rhythm (p; b; dm). Alto was mostly Cleveland Willie Smith, a disciple of Tadd Dameron, who wrote most of the arrangements. Adams wrote a few and Frank Foster wrote some, once he joined the band. Tenor at first was Warren Hickey, who was in one of Gillespie’s first big bands. Yusef Lateef replaced him, then Foster. James Glover was their bassist, who had played with Dinah Washington.

1950s Detroit club scene: “It was then in the process of changing, in that the money was fleeing downtown for the suburbs, and once it got to the suburbs it stayed there.”

On moving back to Detroit after discharge from the army: “It seemed like a good time to accumulate a little money, not a great deal, but enough to get a start going in New York.” Clarinet: “I actually continued playing clarinet much longer than I really wanted to because Thad wrote a few things in my book calling for clarinet. And I hated it. As much as I loved to play clarinet, when you have a baritone book there with about five or six pieces calling for clarinet, no matter how well you warm up at the beginning of the evening, the first piece isn’t going to be called until about three hours later, and the reed has now become corrugated, and the instrument is cold and out of tune. And so that’s no fun at all. Fortunately, clarinets are pretty small and are easy to steal. By the time about the third one got stolen, I convinced Thaddeus it just wasn’t worth it. So since that event, I have happily subsisted with only the one instrument to worry about.”

Leo Parker: “. . . Leo Parker, who I heard live a couple of times. I think he played better than the records tend to indicate.”

Tate Houston: “. . . Tate Houston in Detroit, who was a fine baritone player, a fine soloist. . . .Tate was not very much into harmonic exploration, but just playing the simple changes and playing with good time, which, in itself, was extraordinary on the baritone.”

About his NYC union-card transfer: “For six months you were not supposed to take more than two jobs a week and you’re not supposed to travel at all.” Because he joined Stan Kenton’s band before the six-month period was over, he gave the union Elvin Jones’s address of 202 Thompson Street and asked him to cover for him if and when the union’s representative came around to verify Adams’s whereabouts. On one day, Elvin signed for Pepper when an out-of-shape, exasperated union rep looking for Adams trudged too many times on the same day up to Jones’s apartment on the top floor of a five-floor walk-up.

First NYC gigs: Some were small-group things with Oscar Pettiford.

Charles Mingus: “I would go and work with him for a week or two if he had some extra payroll and could squeeze another horn into a gig and make it a sextet rather than a quintet. I would often get the call because I knew at least some of the music and could figure out enough so I wouldn’t be totally out of place. . . . Some of the bands were fun and some of the music was good, but some of the 45-minute speeches from the bandstand were rather embarrassing. . . . He could be a difficult man to deal with at times.”

Byrd-Adams recordings: “Some of them are not up to the standard that the band played night after night. . . . Blue Note seemed to want to add another horn, so of course it’s not the band that’s working all the time. So we had to write new arrangements and change everything. Blue Note always wanted some things a shuffle, no matter what, on every album, which we were able to avoid on the live album [from the Half Note] . . . to make it commercial. They were very interested in trying to get something that was saleable.”

Duke Pearson Big Band: “Duke Pearson had a really nice band. . . how ill-served that band was by Blue Note. The band only made two albums and neither one really showed how really musical that band is. Each one did have its boogaloo attempt in it, and one of them is really poorly recorded. . . Although each album does have some terrific things in it, neither one shows what a good band that band was.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Pepper Doings, April 2021


Before signing off on Chapter Three, my account of

Adams’s experience in the US Army, I decided to send

my final draft to a reader for his feedback. Although this

is one of my shortest chapters, I think I’ve been dealing

with this material for such a long time that perhaps I’ve

lost some perspective. Hopefully he’ll agree that it’s in

OK shape and, apart from some minor changes, I can

finally put it to bed.

I started a demanding full-time job five weeks ago and

my progress on the book has been slowed down. I still

think I’m on track to publish in September, but the most

important thing is to ensure that it’s in the best shape

that I can muster.

I’m excited to report that a very significant cache of

Pepper tapes and interviews have recently been trans-

ferred to a producer/musician who is restoring them,

releasing some of it to the public, and making all of it

available to me for study. Although I can’t yet reveal

the source of the material or its newfound recipient,

I’ve been aware of the collection for over thirty years

and am so excited that I’ll soon have a chance to

analyze the material and consider it for inclusion in

the biography. Typically, all of Pepper’s interviews

yield gems, so it’s likely that I’ll discover something

new for the book. 

The Adams discography has been updated with new


Yesterday I had a wonderful conversation with the

eminent blogger Michael Steinman. He’s perhaps the

first person who really understands what I’ve tried to

do with the narrative structure of the biography, and

who has the breadth of knowledge about the subject

to truly grasp how I tried to diverge from the typical birth-

to-grave, tragedy or romance, cliched approach. After

our call, he wrote this wonderful blurb that I’ll be using

as advance praise


Most jazz biographies are predictable chronologies of gigs

and recordings, friendships and rivalries, kindness and cruelty.

We know how they start; we know how they end. Carner’s

admiring multi-dimensional portrait of Pepper Adams is a

delightful corrective. Irresistibly, it floats from story to story.

I couldn't wait to find out what happens next. Even if readers

know Pepper only as a bracing, lovely sound, before we are

ten pages in we are happily encountering him as a fully-

rounded person, reading Yeats, eating ribs, impatient with

cliche, searching and finding wherever he goes. It takes lung

power to play the baritone saxophone: this biography has the

breath of life.   


Michael Steinman

Author, Jazz Lives blog


Next weekend I’ll get a jump on Chapter Four corrections.

Happy springtime.