Friday, July 25, 2014

Pepper Adams Redux

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

What follows is a very lengthy piece on the late baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams.

It was one of my earliest efforts at developing extended profiles of Jazz musicians I considered important, but who had not been the focus of a definitive biography.

Instead, information about them was scattered through a variety of sources such as magazine articles and interviews, LP liner and CD insert notes and other anecdotal sources [works that were not researched, per se].

Not that what I have put together is in any way better, necessarily, but if it has any merit at all it's at least "all in one place."

This approach is what gave the blog its name - JazzProfiles.

Although Gary Carner's wonderful research on Pepper was referenced when my profile was first published in two parts in May and June, 2009, Garner Carner's remarkable Pepper Adams' Joy Road: An Annotated Discography has since become available in a paperback and ebook editions and I wanted to call these to your attention by adding Dan Morgenstern's Foreword and Gary's Preface to this work as a lead-in to reposting my Pepper profile in composite form. Both will also give you insight into the uniqueness of Gary's book.

There is a ton more information about Gary, Pepper and the book at and I urge you to spend some time on the site for a fuller appreciation of Pepper and Gary's ongoing efforts on behalf of his music.

Order information about the hardback, paperback and ebook versions of Pepper Adams' Joy Road: An Annotated Discography can be found at

By way of background, Gary Carner is an independent Jazz researcher and the author of Jazz Performer and The Miles Davis Companion. From 1984 until Adams' death in 1986, Carner collaborated with Pepper Adams on his memoirs. Carner's research on Adams' career spans four decades and is collected on his website.Gary has also produced all forty-three of Adams' compositions for Motema music.


“While correct, ‘Annotated Discography’ by no means says all about this fascinating record of a great musician's career and life. For decades, Gary Garner has devoted himself to tracing every musical step by Pepper Adams, from the very first teenaged endeavor, captured by a recording device, professional or amateur, issued or not. And he has enhanced the carefully gathered discographical details with additional information, musical, technical and personal, about the performance circumstances, more often than not obtained from participants and observers, as well as from interviews, published and personal, with the man himself.

Quite a man, too—not only one of the outstanding practitioners of the baritone saxophone, but a brilliant, complicated guy, whom I had the distinct pleasure of knowing. If there is a subtext here, it would be the fact that Pepper was the only white musician in the "Detroit Invasion" that descended upon the New York jazz scene in the late 1950s, accepted as a "primus inter pares" by his black colleagues—and friends. Early on, you will find an amusing anecdote about Alfred Lion's first reaction to Pepper's music: the founder of Blue Note Records refused to believe that the player on the demo tape the young baritonist had submitted was not black, going so far as to calling him a liar. Pepper would of course go on to participate in many a Blue Note session—if Lion ever apologized, we'll never know.

Good discographies are certainly very useful tools, but it is highly uncommon for a discography, even an annotated one, to also qual­ify as a good read. But Pepper Adams' Joy Road most definitely is. It brings the man as well as his music to life. Read—and listen—well!

—Dan Morgenstern”

Preface – Gary Carner

"Throughout jazz's illustrious history, live and studio performances have been frozen in time on recordings, preserving for listeners the musical traditions passed down from generation to generation by jazz's great improvisers. Because of recordings' pivotal role in conveying jazz's oral tradition, it can be argued that recordings are jazz's most basic and en­during artifact. If that's indeed the case, then discography—books that list these recordings—is jazz's most fundamental reference work.

A jazz musician's discography is a musical story. It shows the people he played with, the venues he played, the progression of his art over time, the maturation of his repertoire, the compositions he wrote. It func­tions as a life chronology and a buying guide.

What you have in your hands is Pepper Adams' story, as told by his recordings. It's the culmination of three decades of research on Adams' recorded work—from the LP and cassette era to VHS, CDs, DVDs, and now YouTube—that began in 1984, when I worked with Adams on his memoirs during the last two years of his life.

After much of our work was done, in 1985 I moved from New York to Boston to study jazz musicology with Lewis Porter. I was already well along on the biographical aspects of Adams' life, but I needed to learn from an expert about discographical research, and to round out my knowledge of jazz history, especially the 1920 and '30s. Apart from all that Lewis Porter taught me (and it was considerable), during that time I adopted an overarching strategy to my Adams research: I would, at the very least, try to interview everyone still alive who recorded with Ad­ams, with the aim of verifying published and anecdotal discographical information. The end result was vastly improved data, plus two things I hadn't anticipated: The first was the discovery of many unknown re­cordings. The other was learning fascinating new details of well-known sessions, sometimes in glorious detail, that cast entirely new light on the creative process and on the business of jazz.

While busy making sense of this, in 1987 Evrard Deckers, an inde­pendent researcher working in Belgium, asked me to review the discography he was compiling on Pepper Adams. After a few years of corre­spondence, and a trip to Belgium, in 1992 Deckers and I decided to col­laborate on a co-authored work. It was a wonderful division of labor, since I'd focus on my archival materials and North American research while Deckers could mine the many resources available in Europe. This was before the internet and Google era, so geography mattered far more than it does now. Evrard Deckers contributed much new information, especially regarding reissues, European radio broadcasts, and audience recordings, before he died in his sleep at home in 1997.

In the fifteen years since his death, however, this book has become an entirely different entity. The biggest change is the addition of tran­scribed interview material that took me two years to complete. It oc­curred to me that some of my interview material only pertained to Ad­ams' discography, and was too nuanced to be used in an Adams biography. If not used here, it would never be published.

Also new to the manuscript, I've identified Adams' solos, so that listeners can focus on these recordings, as opposed to those he did as a sideman or studio player. Moreover, much new recorded material, and a new generation of reissues, has been released since 1997, necessitating a great deal of additional research.

The format of the discography, too, has been completely overhauled to better conform to current standards and make it more legible. Annota­tions and footnotes, for example, have been redesigned, LP titles have been added, and subtle changes have been instituted, such as adding the country of origin and identifying 78s, 45s, LPs, CDs, VHS, and DVDs.

Joy Road is so named not just to riff on one of Adams' great compo­sitions. I chose it to also capture the essence of Adams' life on the road, playing jazz with a cast of thousands, some of whom are quoted in this book. It's also my tribute to Adams' great recorded oeuvre, his 43 mag­nificent compositions, and the joy he derived from playing the baritone saxophone.

Much about Adams' personality is woven throughout the annota­tions, especially among younger musicians that witnessed Adams' final illness. In a sense, I've tried, like documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, to infuse my work with a kind of "emotional archeology." Those who are interested in getting a still deeper understanding of Adams' life might enjoy my companion volume, a full-length biography of Adams, tenta­tively entitled In Love with Night. I'm planning to finish it well before 2030, the centennial of Pepper Adams' birth. In the meantime, please consult the website that I maintain as the historical record of his life and work.

Gary Carner
Braselton, Georgia

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“The baritone sax was as unpopular with hard-bop musicians as it was with the original boppers, and, come to that, with the swing-era saxophonists. Pepper Adams, more than anyone, came close to making it a congenial instrument in the hot-house environment of hard-bop.”
Cook and Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. [p. 10].

“Unlike other young instrumentalists who had a variety of idols to chose from, Pepper and his baritone playing colleagues single out Harry Carney as the only salient standard in the entire jazz realm who gave form and definition to the role of the baritone in music. Although Harry was at one time virtually alone in the field, his strong leadership paved the way to startling innovations by his latter-day admirers.” – Joe Quinn

[c] Steven A. Cerra - Copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Frankly, the first time I heard Pepper Adams on baritone sax, I didn’t care for his playing very much. Pity me, but fortunately, like Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, I, too, got a second chance [and used it well, I might add].

Through my listening of his piano-less quartet and sextet, I was more accustomed to the legato, lighter, more airy sound that Gerry Mulligan produced on the instrument. Other than this exception, I thought that the baritone sax, like the bass trombone, was played by someone who sat off to the end of a section in a big band and loudly blurted out pedal tones to anchor some introductory fanfare or the closing chord of a tune.

With his gruff, growling and grumbling sound, Pepper Adams was an altogether different proposition. I didn’t know what to make of the flurry of notes that came out of his horn; my mind simply wasn’t able to absorb the creative inventions of someone whom alto saxophonist Phil Woods lovingly termed: “A be-bopper down to his socks!.”

The occasion for my first experience with Pepper’s playing occurred when he sat-in with a trio led by pianist Pete Jolly at Sherry’s, a small club on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Ralph Pena was the bassist and Larry Bunker was the drummer [one of my drum teachers and a lifelong friend, who was the reason I had gone down to the club]. Pepper’s playing that night was for me, just a miasma; a muddled enigma.

That all changed a few months later when a friend brought over the Mode LP [#112]- Pepper Adams Quintet [VSOP #5CD]. I’m not certain of the reason why, but Pepper broke through and spoke to me on this record – boy, did he ever.

I gather that in the months preceding this 1957 LP, Pepper and drummer Mel Lewis had been trying to keep a group together and the one on this record was a beauty with Stu Williamson’s on trumpet, Carl Perkins on piano and Leroy Vinnegar on bass.

In the mid-1950’s, along with Mel Lewis, Pepper had been on the Kenton Orchestra with its West Coast base at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa/Newport Beach, CA and subsequently with the Maynard Ferguson’s big band. Maynard was preparing to take his band back to the East Coast which was also the direction that Pepper wanted to go so he signed on.

However, while still on the West Coast, the band that Pepper and Mel had put together was very reminiscent of the one led around the same time by bassist Curtis Counce that featured a front-line of Jack Sheldon on trumpet and Harold Land on tenor saxophone. Carl Perkins was the pianist in both groups. Using the relevant pages about it in Robert Gordon’s Jazz West Coast, the Curtis Counce group was featured on JazzProfiles on June 24, 2008.

Adams and Lewis also had recorded together a year earlier in 1956 with a sextet that was primarily made up of members of the Kenton band. . This one had appeared under the album of name of Got’Cha on something called the San Francisco Jazz Records label [reissued as Fresh Sound FSR-CD 73].

Listening to these two recordings, I was able to understand what Cook & Morton meant when they stated that Pepper: “… had a dry, unsentimental tone – very different from either Serge Chaloff or Gerry Mulligan – and a penchant for full-tilt solos that gave no shred of concession to the horn’s ‘cumbersome’ reputation.” [Loc. Cit.]

Writing in, Ron Wynn had this to say about Pepper Adams Quintet [Mode LP-112; VSOP CD-5]:

“Pepper Adams ranked among modern jazz's finest baritone saxophonists. His mastery of the middle and lower registers and technical acumen enabled him to play the cumbersome baritone with a speed, facility, and style usually restricted to smaller horns. This '57 quintet date featured him in a more relaxed context with West Coast jazz types like trumpeter Stu Williamson and pianist Carl Perkins. Bassist Leroy Vinnegar added his famous "walking" lines and drummer Mel Lewis provided a steady, smooth rhythmic pace, while Adams contributed two originals and did three standards in his usual impeccable fashion.”

It was the two originals on the Mode date that Wynn references – Freddie Froo and Muezzin’ – that particularly caught my attention as they appealed to me as clever melodic lines, that were very cleaning executed by Stu Williamson and Pepper and which really provided an improvisational platform for Adams’ intriguing and interesting solo inventions.

Muezzin’, in particular, with its Latin beat that jumps to straight time on the bridge of this 32-bar AABA tune, was played in a relaxed medium tempo that was very much in the West Coast Jazz style that my ears were accustomed to at the time. Perhaps this helped me to hear more clearly what - to use a musician’s phrase – “Pepper was saying” on baritone.

Also based on the 32-bar AABA song form, Freddie Froo, by contrast is an up-tempo “burner” which really shows-off Pepper’s ability to get around [i.e.: facility] on the supposedly cumbersome baritone, as well, as his penchant for hard-charging, take-no-prisoners solos in the best be-bop tradition. Put simply – whatever its unwieldy properties - the man could really play the baritone saxophone.

Continuing with the custom of also featuring the writings of others on JazzProfiles, what follows is the interview that Pepper gave to Ben Sidran which will serve as the basis for the first part of Pepper’s profile before turning to an extensive review of the Adams’ style and discography in the second part of this piece on him.

Pianist, composer and the holder of a Doctorate in American Studies from Yale University, Ben Sidran conducted a number of interviews with Jazz musicians between 1984 – 1990. Edited versions of these talks were broadcast on NPR as part of a series entitled Sidran on Record.

In 1995, Da Capo Press in New York made these available in Talking Jazz: An Oral History – 43 Jazz Conversations and what follows is Ben’s January 1986 interview with Pepper Adams [pp. 209-220].

“Baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams played with literally hundreds of key bebop musicians over the course of his career and provided a very strong alternative to the style of baritone saxophone playing that was most popular at the time, that of Gerry Mulligan. His sense of "swing," or forward progress, in his improvisation was extraordinary, and his choice of notes always seemed to be the most intelligent alternative given the harmonic possibilities of the moment. Perhaps it was the somewhat odd nature of his instrument (the baritone can look a bit awkward around the neck of stringy guy like Pepper) that kept him relatively obscure, even through the heydays of the bebop movement. Also, as he candidly remembered while we spoke, there was the issue of having to please the jazz critics. He never did try too hard to do that, and the repercussions of their negative reviews stayed with him until the end Pepper died of brain cancer several weeks after our talk.

Ben: I consider you to be one of the most literate of jazz musicians, not necessarily because you're so well read, although you may be, but because playing strikes me as being so intelligent. I'm not embarrassed to say that we first met several years ago when I ran up to you in a hotel said, "Pepper, do you remember the solo you played on Thelonious's 'Little Rootie-Tootie,' from the Town Hall Concert?" And you stopped and said, "Yes, I think I remember that."

Pepper: You know, I could hardly deny it.

Ben: And I know I went on about how literate I thought that particular was, that it struck me as being almost verbal in nature, and I asked "Does that make any sense to you?" At the time you said "Yes," but of course you were under duress from this mad fan. But does that make any sense to you today, that your solo should be seen as almost verbal?

Pepper: Oh, certainly. Yeah. I can certainly see that.

Ben: How can a saxophone solo be like the written word? In what ways?

Pepper: Well, if it flows in a logical sequence, with an occasional surprise here and there, that's almost a form of verbalization. I'd like to get conversation going about the same rate. Probably time-feeling has something to do with it, too, I would imagine.

Ben: And intonation contouring, I suppose, the way the lines move up an down, and the way the breaths are taken ...

Pepper: Yeah, certainly ...

Ben: I think also what I heard, and what I hear in the best of jazz recording is a room full of people that are very comfortable with one another an, aren't very self-conscious of what they are doing. They're not trying to hard. On that recording, you don't sound like you're trying too hard.

But let's change directions and come around through the back door on this. Let's find out some personal history, so that your musical style has a context. You're associated with the Detroit school of jazz player You spent your formative years in Detroit, Michigan ...

Pepper. Primarily so, yes ...

Ben: There's an apocryphal story that I read which places you in an instrument repair shop back in Detroit. You were a tenor player at the time And you came across this baritone saxophone and rescued it from the junk heap and made it your own.

Pepper. Well, that is apocryphal. It is not the way it actually happened. How I did fall into playing baritone, more or less, is by accident. And a repair shop enters into it. Would you like me to tell the true story for the record? ...

Ben: Absolutely, we're interested in the truth.

Pepper. Well, I was only about sixteen, and at Christmas I was just hired on as extra help in the record department of a large music store, which was called Grinnell’s. It had branches throughout the state of Michigan. But their main shop was in Detroit, right downtown. And I was a Christmas extra. Right next door was their repair department, and a baritone saxophone that they had taken in trade passed through their repair department. I had become friendly with the repair man by this point, so he suggested that I try it out. I did, and I enjoyed playing it. So, using my employee's discount, and I think my friend Mark Degreder made me a loan to begin with, I purchased that instrument, and played it about six weeks. By then, I decided that I enjoyed the baritone so much I really wanted a good one, and was able to get a brand new Selmer on hire-purchase. That's not an American phrase, is it?

Ben: Right, it's British, and it refers to the act of lease-renting, right? . .

Pepper. Yeah, something like that ...

Ben: The importance of your choice of instrument is made more significant, I think, by the fact that there are so few baritone players. There are tenor players who play baritone, and there are other people who play the instrument casually, but you're a baritone saxophone player.

Pepper. Yeah, it's becoming rather more common now than it was in earlier times. But it is still a relative rarity.

Ben: One thinks of Gerry Mulligan, of course, in the '50s, as having a real influence on the instrument, and your emergence on the jazz scene, as a counter-theme to the way he approached the instrument, was noteworthy. You put the muscle back in the instrument through more aggressive playing. If his approach was typically "West Coast," you were clearly from the East.

Pepper. Yeah, I've always felt there was no real competition between Gerry and myself, since we approach the instrument so differently. I really enjoy listening to him play. It's just a different approach than I would feel comfortable with for myself.

Ben: I'm also reminded of something John Coltrane said about why he took up the soprano saxophone after playing tenor for so long. He said he'd been hearing a higher sound in his head for years and years, and it wasn't until he got the soprano in his hands that he realized, "This is what I've been hearing." Did you have a similar feeling? Had you heard a lower voice in your head as you were playing other horns, and when you got the baritone, you said, "Yeah, this is what I hear inside"?

Pepper: There probably is something to that, yes, since I played soprano when I was young, and I played some alto. And I don't think I could anymore. I don't think I can hear intonation up that high anymore.

Ben: So you were hearing it lower.

Pepper: And a number of people have pointed out that, in terms of natural form of expression, the baritone seems to fit with my speaking voice.

Ben: True enough. Traditionally, people, because it's played in the lower register, would think of it as being a slower instrument to get around on. You've disproved that. Did you have to go to great lengths to disprove that?

Pepper: Actually, baritone tends to sound logy a lot, and a lot of baritone players always seem to be behind the beat, just struggling to catch up. Which, I think, can come from two basic reasons. One being just a sheer lack of technical expertise. And the other is that, if you play everything legato and don't use the tongue, and don't outline where the note is gonna hit, everything tends to run together. Because it is lower-pitched. And this has no rhythmic impact, or impulse behind it. So I've tried to use a legato tongue so that there is differentiation between the notes. And I try to do a lot with articulation, because that has a lot to do with what the time feeling is going to be. And if you fail to articulate on a baritone, or any lower pitched instrument, it is gonna be just one constant ramble after a while.

Ben: Is it a technique you specifically had to find for yourself, or did you apply a broader tenor technique to it?

Pepper. You know, I really don't know. I think I kinda stumbled into it. As a way of trying to make the instrument seem like it was actually playing in time with the rest of the band. When I was first playing the baritone, well, Harry Carney was of course my favorite player, and still is, as far as his ability with the instrument overall, and everything he could do with the instrument. I guess you'd have to say that the popular baritone player among the young musicians of that time, or the only one that they really heard very much, would have been Serge Chaloff. And I didn't care for his playing at all, for one thing. He always sounded like he was behind and struggling to catch up. And so I guess it was the fact that people were listening to him, gave me the idea of listening to him, and finding out what I didn't like, and then working from there.

Ben: Could be a good technical guidepost for young players: as well as finding people you do like, find out people you don't like.

But early on, you also found some aggressive players to hang out with in Detroit, world class players, that kept you playing strong to keep up with them. I'm thinking specifically of Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris and the Jones brothers, Elvin, Hank and Thad.

Pepper. Well, I think that Detroit, historically, has always had a great jazz scene. I remember people like Rex Stewart and Quentin Jackson talking about having been there with McKinney's Cotton Pickers in 1930. And, I think that throughout the '30s and '40s and '50s, there was a high level of musical consciousness in the city, so that there were indeed a lot of fine local musicians. And one factor I've mentioned before is that there was such a high overall level of musicianship in Detroit that if you were a young musician and really aspired to work and make money playing your instrument, you had to get awful doggone good to be on a level to compete at all. And I didn't realize how true this was until I left Detroit and went to the Army. Get out in the rest of the world and found out the standards elsewhere were not nearly as high.

Ben: Barry Harris has mentioned the same thing. The level of achievement in Detroit was very high. Were you aware of a Detroit sound? or were you aware of doing it a particular way in Detroit?

Pepper. I think as time went on, indeed I was, yeah. I think basically it was the time feeling. More than anything else, the kind of loose swing with no doubt of where the time lay. I found it difficult to listen to people with floundering time feels. And I like to play with the time. I like to play tricks with it, of course, but always knowing where I am and being able to come back to where the time is in such a secure manner as to make the listener wonder if I had really left.

Ben: Kind of The Pepper Adams Theory of Relativity there. You and many of the Detroit players, of course, wound up in New York City eventually. Was it difficult initially to get work as a baritone saxophone player in New York City? Was the instrument any problem, in terms of getting employment?

Pepper: I suppose, to some extent, it would be with a club owner who'd never had a baritone player in the front line before, just wondering, "What is that thing?" And thinking that maybe this isn't the way he should go. So perhaps to some extent, but I think, in a sense, it helped me in that I came to New York pretty well-equipped already as a musician. I was no kid. I was 25 or 26 when I came here, I think. And in Detroit, I worked practically all the time, from the time I returned from the Army, for the next three years. When I stayed in Detroit, I was working six nights a week, pretty much steadily, and I had never had any trouble reading anything, so I was equipped for a variety of work.

Ben: What's the first job you got when you got to the city?

Pepper: Wow, I'm not really positive. I had a number of friends here, when I moved here. One of them being Oscar Pettiford. I think Oscar got me the first gig, and that was out at a place, long gone now, that was called the Cork and Bib, in Westbury, Long Island. I remember being new to New York, and not knowing very much about the city. I knew Manhattan a little bit, but the environs, I knew nothing. But when I went to the Cork and Bib, in Westbury, and discovered an outfitters shop for polo ponies next door, I figured, "I think I must be in a fairly affluent part of Long Island."

Ben: Circle the wagons boys, we're here. Well, it's a far cry from what the rest of the employment must have been like, 'cause I know that the club scene in the city was of a different order.

Pepper: Yeah. Let's see, I worked out my union card transfer. And again, Oscar Pettiford kind of forced me onto Stan Kenton's band. Forced both of us. Forced me to do it, because I was never very much of a fan of that band. And talked Kenton into hiring me, sight unseen. And, there's a very long story that we could insert here, but that can go elsewhere. So actually, I worked out part of my transfer time while on the road with Kenton's band.

Ben: Well, we've kind of arrived full circle to the recording I mentioned at the beginning, the one that you made in February of 1959, at Town Hall in New York City. It was released originally on Riverside Records. It’s the album Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall, featuring Monk, of course, on piano, Charlie Rouse on tenor, Sam Jones on bass, Art Taylor on drums, and yourself on baritone saxophone.

Pepper: Don't forget Jay McAllister on tuba. I got Jay McAllister on the gig. He'd been in Kenton's band with me.

Ben: A very high point in the history of jazz, from the fans' point of view. It's a record that's traded and highly praised all over. One wonders why this particular format of Monk's music, the big little band, didn't go on beyond this one concert. Was this like a one-shot thing?

Pepper: That wasn't the intention. When we were rehearsing for the concert there was talk, in fact, it was supposed to be definite, that a concert tour of about three weeks had been set up for the group, that was to begin something like four weeks after the concert. So we had that, were to do the Town Hall concert, have three or four weeks, add some more pieces to the repertoire, have further rehearsals, paid for, and then go on this tour of concerts, primarily in colleges, I believe. And that was the whole theory. And that in fact was part of the package that I was approached with initially, when I was asked to play in this band for Town Hall.

Ben: In other words, to take out a month and devote yourself to this project.

Pepper. Yeah. Which sounded fine. It was certainly enjoyable, the rehearsals were just great. We had a lot of fun. But we went on, played the concert and the immediate reviews that we received were so bad that all of the rest of the concerts were cancelled.

Ben: I can't believe it. How bad could they have been, and what in fact did they say?

Pepper: Actually, my basic memory of the situation was, that it was a case of the immediate reaction being bad. That is, in New York daily press or weekly press, such as the Village Voice, which I believe would have been Nat Hentoff in those days. And, recently somebody gave me , review of the concert from the New York Times, for Monday, March 2nd, '59 ...

I've mentioned a number of times before about how this was suppose( to have been a continuing working band, and how the reviewers just put it away so badly that we never got another gig. Actually, we had one about a year later. One festival. And there's been a lot of disbelief around since this record is held in such high esteem these days. But the fact that the daily and weekly press put us away so bad, and I can quote now from the review in the New York Times. There is mention of some of the titles that the ten piece band played, one of them incorrectly. We did not play "Crepuscule with Nellie.” And then it says that “… Mr. Monk’s determination to impose his musical personality on his musicians and the surging, sweaty efforts of the musicians to wrestle with Mr. Monk’s music, give the disks a raw excitement.” He’s speaking of previous Monk recordings with a smaller group. “But none of this could be found in the bland, workaday performances of the large group, with which Mr. Monk played Saturday evening. The arrangements smoothed out the characteristically Monkian lumps and bumps, diluted his tartness and robbed the works of their zest. It was a pipe-and-slippers version of music that is naturally querulous."

Ben: And, why don't we, since we've listed the soloist of the day, why don't we also list the writer of this review as well.

Pepper. Well, the reviewer? John S. Wilson.

Ben: John S. Wilson, the New York Times. So his opinions, which have clearly been proven wrong in the light of history, were a big part of the reason why promoters cancelled the tour of the Monk big band. The fact of the matter, then, is the press has a lot to do with our jobs out here. Wilson's review stopped that tour, right?

Pepper: Yeah, certainly. Put an end to that band.

Ben: A moment of silence here for what might have been. And for all critics and would-be critics to examine their consciences.

You mentioned that the rehearsals with Monk were fun. Hall Overton, of course, came in with charts, and he had orchestrated some Monk piano solos.

Pepper: Oh, yeah, and they were terrific. He had done a beautiful job. And the rehearsals were held in Hall Overton's loft, which was in the flower district here, like the 20s and Sixth Avenue. And we had great fun. As you know, there's some pretty tough music in there, so there were some things to wrestle with, and it was a lot of fun. Demanding and enjoyable.

Ben: You talk about the tonguing being important, to get the rhythmic feel. Well, Monk’s lines are just skipping all over the place rhythmically. And the ensemble work is tight without being rigid. I mean, you seem to be skipping, but together. When you get through playing those lines behind the rhythm section, is your solo at all influenced then by the ensemble work, or do you just step out front and play what you will?

Pepper: That's interesting. Sometimes a solo can grow out of what has preceded it. Or act as a commentary on the surroundings in some way. Other times, it just doesn't seem to work out. But it's nice when it does, when you're in a big band setting. So many of the solos in Ellington's band were like that. Where they were almost an indispensable part of the arrangements after a while.

Ben: Ellington was reputed to have written the arrangement sometimes to make the other side of it happen.

Pepper: I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

Ben: I’m struck Pepper, by the amount of live recording you've done. This Monk at Town Hall is an exception only in the sense that it's not a Pepper Adams date. But there are some serious Pepper Adams live dates out I think the first record you made as a leader was the album Ten to Four at the Five Spot, with Donald Byrd on trumpet, Doug Watkins, Elvin Jones on drums and Bobby Timmons on piano. Do you remember how out of tune that piano was on that date? It was outrageous, You know, it speaks about the conditions under which this particular an form is practiced daily. How do you put a piano like that out of your mind and execute a lovely ballad like you did on that record?

Pepper: Ho, ho, ho. I tell you, it's excruciating, really. Because I completely lose track of where the core of the intonation is, if indeed there is, if there is one. And so, very quickly, instead of just competing with an out-of-tune piano, I have lost all track of intonation within myself. So I'm not even sure to what extent my intonation on my own instrument is. To use the Irish expression, "Something like that'd make your face hurt." It's tough and was probably made even worse by the fact that everything on that album was taken from the very last set of the night.

Ben: Really? How did that happen?

Pepper: I think we did three or four sets in there, this was when stereo was first coming in, if you noticed by the date there. And it was Riverside' first attempt at recording stereo on a live date. So we completed the earlier part of the evening and I think Ray Fowler was the engineer, if I'm remembering correctly, and Orrin Keepnews was there, of course, overseeing seeing things. And he says, "Well, I think we've got a lot of great music in there. I think we can even start packing up now." And, Orrin had Elvin and myself go to the bar for a drink, and Ray Fowler comes running and says, "One of our microphone leads has been out all night. Nothing is in stereo." And that was part of the whole point, this is their first live stereo recording. So we quickly had to do one more set, and that's entire album.

Ben: April 15, 1958, at the Five Spot Cafe in New York. You are there

Pepper: And Elvin Jones had a black eye. Not from any disagreement. had had a wisdom tooth removed a couple of days earlier, and the roots had gone back so far that its removal caused the blood vessels to burst inside, giving him a rather spectacular black eye. If you've never Elvin with a black eye, you're really missing something there.

Ben: When you hear the small handful of people clapping at the end that record, the four or five people left in the club, again you're reminded of the number of brilliant recordings that have been made in front of few dedicated, or oblivious, people who just happened to be in the joint, and who probably don't even realize what's just happened in front them. And it's only because there's a document that anybody says years later, "Wow, that music was great! Were you really there that night?” Important history often feels pretty ordinary when you're right in the middle of it. But I bring up the subject of live recordings with you, because captured music, versus manufactured music, seems to be important to what you're all about, Pepper. Do you have any feelings about live recordings versus studio recordings?

Pepper: No, not really. I think that the feeling within the group is the primary thing. And there's been a lot of things written about the inspiration that an audience can give. Well, the sort of audience you mentioned, you know, it sounds like the end of Laugh-In...

Ben: Yeah, the sound of one hand clapping ...

Pepper: Now that's a dubious inspiration right there.

Ben: But you know, sometimes I think that when you hear somebody playing great, in the face of adversity, maybe with instruments that are out of tune, an audience that's somehow indifferent, it brings even more greatness to the music. I know it's perverse to say that.

Pepper: Well, I can see the poignancy of it. I've made some live recordings of which I'm quite fond. But also some studio recordings. I can't say that I played better in one context then the other, necessarily.

Ben: Well, perhaps ironically then, after many years of recordings, live and in-studio, you finally got some critical recognition recently when you were nominated for a Grammy, and it was for a live album. The album was called Pepper Adams Live at Fat Tuesdays and, again, featured some of your old Detroit pals, like Hank Jones and Louis Hayes. So you're still hangin' out with some of those same Detroit guys, I see.

Pepper: Oh yeah. Certainly. Actually, there's a large number of musicians and people who are our friends from Detroit, and we have continued to be good friends for thirty years or so. And that's nice, that's really nice to have. Like I could sit and name forty or fifty people that I've maintained friendships with consistently for over at least a thirty-year span. And I doubt if there are many people in other walks of life could do that.

Ben: Why do you think that is? Because parts of the jazz world do seem like a big family at times.

Pepper: I think it's a basic closeness and mutual respect that we share. And just a strong liking. There are a lot of the musicians, some that you started naming before, that came from Detroit and became internationally known. There are an awful lot of really nice fellows among 'em too. Wouldn't want to meet anybody nicer than Tommy Flanagan. Or Barry Harris, or Kenny Burrell. Any number of others. Roland Hanna, Louis Hayes, and it just goes on and on. And there a number of musicians that never left Detroit, that we all know, us Detroit musicians. They're just not known to the general public, because they never received the exposure. For one reason or another.

Ben: It's like the famous Steinberg map of the United States as seen from the New York City perspective. There's New York City and then there's Japan, and everything in between is just a wasteland. That's the way the New York press often perceives it, anyway.

You know, Phil Woods refers to you as one of the warriors of this music. You bring that up with Phil, if you like. But I think the image apt. There's a clear dedication in your playing to some of the pure values of the music that first drew you to it.

Pepper: You know, I don't wanna take much credit for that, because I try to play as well as I can, as an improvising jazz artist, as much of time as I can. I'm capable of sitting in a section and playing perfectly well, because that's part of the craft. But I try as much as I can to work as a soloist, and try to play, just try to swing for one thing, and the various other ways that I try to approach playing. But I'm doing that not so much because of any kind of altruistic thing; it's because that's what I feel I do best. So if I have any shot at survival at all out here, I better stick to what I do best, even though it sometimes seems to be overlooked or downgraded in the press. Musicians seem to like it. And the public seems to like it. The class that I don't seem to satisfy are the critics. The Live at Fat Tuesday's album, which as you mentioned was nominated for Grammy, only received two and a half stars in Down Beat. I mean, you got to make a pretty bad album to get two and a half stars.

Ben: Yeah. Especially when times are such that they give four and five to some rock and roll records.

Pepper. Yeah. That was one of the problems with Live at Fat Tuesday's, course; no synthesizers on it.

Ben: Well, the concept of a warrior, then, I think is apt.

Pepper. Yeah, but I don't wanna take credit for it, because if I wanted make a crossover record, or something like that, I wouldn't know the first thing about it. Freddie Hubbard said he sold out and it wasn't worth it, because he didn't make enough money. Well, I would feel, you know. I don't know anything about the criteria for judging any of that other stuff. All I know about is jazz. And so I figure I better stick to that, because I just don't know the esthetics of the jazz-rock or pop-rock.

Ben: Years ago, when we first talked about your solo on Monk's "Little Rootie-Tootie," and I said to you, "It sounds so verbal, so literate, do you think there's any connection between the bebop style of playing and the highly literate times, the bohemian era of the forties and fifties?" And I remember you said to me, "Oh, absolutely. You know, Charlie Parker was a great reader." But nobody knows that about Charlie Parker. Nobody thinks of that. What you hear about Charlie Parker is his life of excess, things that the press can play up and sell issues, you know And they dispense with the man, almost, by trivializing the depth of the work ...

Pepper. Um, hm, very true ...

Ben: So back to the point: I hear in your playing a very literate sensibility. Are you a great reader? Are you a somebody who spends time with books?

Pepper: Oh yes. Very definitely. Always have been, yeah.

Ben: Who are some of your favorite writers?

Pepper: Currently? William Trevor. Josef Skvorecky. Right now I'm reading Ludwig Bemelmans, which is going back to the '30s and '40s. It is very funny. Let's see. Among people writing right now, Keith Waterhouse is a terrific writer, who is hardly known in the United States. He wrote the novel Billy Liar, from which came the film. But he's written eight, ten other novels in a variety of styles, and several of them with considerable humor. And he's an awful lot of fun.

Ben: The element of humor being a big part of jazz too.

Pepper: I think so. I love it and I think sometimes mine might go almost a little overboard, into the slapstick thing. But so does Thad's. I love Playing with Thad [Jones], because sometimes the slapstick kind of humor starts flowing ...

Ben: Physical or musical humor?

Pepper: Musical. But so broad as to approach farce.

Ben: Referring perhaps to quotes, musical quotes, the way you approach that.

Pepper: Yeah. Or making fun of a style that we don't care for by exaggerated vibrato. Taking a well-known phrase from something and distorting it. Or particularly playing it in another key. And creating the tensions that occur when you play something that is totally recognizable as a melody, except that the whole rest of the band is in an entirely different key. I like that. One of my favorite classical composers is Arthur Honegger. And I love, particularly, the way he mixes keys. He'll have a beautiful melody going, and with a very strong accompaniment, but they could be, not the easy intervals, not necessarily the tri-tone interval or something like that, but be a minor third apart, or a second apart. It really gets fascinating.

Ben: Do you use any of that sort of abstraction when you play? Are you thinking consciously of that? Or are you talking as you talk to me now?

Pepper: Well, I'm not sure how conscious it is. I do often try to play in another key, sometimes. For various effects. It can be for a drama, it can be for humor, poignancy. All these effects can occur with a bi-tonal approach. And a lot of that has to do with how you resolve it at the end, too. You can either leave it hanging, or you can bring it back in.

But, to me, just improvising more or less straight-ahead jazz on a rhythmic basis, and over a regulated set of chord changes, is endlessly fascinating. Where did I see that quote? Oh, Stanley Dance, who is a very nice man, and a very good friend, But he doesn't care much for music since '45 or so, refers to the harmonic cul-de-sac of bebop. I would have to argue with Stanley about that one, because there is much, much more that can be done with the harmonies. And melodies.

I don't really necessarily think of myself as a bebop player. I don't know about that. I'm suspicious of all labels. And particularly that one, because when I was young and in Detroit, the bebop players really denigrated my playing, because they told me I wasn't doing it right. And I wasn't trying to do it right. I was not imitating Charlie Parker in the sense of playing his phrases, as most of the youngsters, younger players at that time would try to do. To be hip, you played a phrase of his. I never tried that. I never memorized solos or studied solos in particular at all. What I would do, certainly, was pay attention to his harmonic usages, and his melodic usages, and try to learn from them, and then do it in a way that was comfortable to me. So based on that, I really don't think of myself as particularly a bebopper at all. And the label "hard bop," I don't know where that came from. That's kind of a handy term of denigration that writers like Martin Williams or Whitney Balliett seemed to use with reckless abandon, grouping together people that don't play alike at all. But, since they disapprove of this style, they can apply it to anyone whom they don't care for.

Ben: There's an intellectual tradition, where you define a thing in order to dispense with it.

Pepper. Yeah, oh yeah, certainly. Very good. Um, hm.

Ben: Well, have we left out any critics? Is there anybody we didn't take to task here?

Pepper. "Whom have we not yet offended," in Mort Sahl's phrase.

Ben: You come here very much a man at the top of his career, somebody who's mastered his craft. Is there something that you would say to a younger player today, faced with the adversity of this business, and the randomness of critical acclaim, and the difficulty of developing a style? Any advice to a young player?

Pepper: I think I would tell just about any young player, "Enjoy what you do, but don't really count on making a living at doing this," because if it's something you approach cold-bloodedly, as if you're gonna become a star, I don't think it can be worthwhile for you. It can be worthwhile only if you love the music and derive enough enjoyment from the music and the people you're involved with in the music to compensate for what is quite likely to be a life below the poverty line.

I think those are just about the facts. I mean, there are young players coming to New York, who are making out fine. A few. But for the vast majority, it's tremendously difficult, much more so than when I came here, 25, 30 years ago, And I don't really know how they get along. And I hear fine young players all the time. Our educational system is turning out fine young players. Jerry Dodgion asks, "But what are they gonna do with all this expertise?" Only so many can work with Woody Herman at one given time, you know?”

…. To be continued in Part 2: Elements of Style and Discography

“Every one of his recordings is a gem, defined by taste, swing and a dazzling technique that was always in the service of telling a story.” – Donald Elfman

“In the modern age, there’s no doubt that – after Harry Carney – he was the most influential baritone player in jazz. But the great thing about Pepper is that he wasn’t just into music – he was interested in everything: poetry, people, books, movies – he just devoured everything.” – Len Dobbin

[C] - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Not surprisingly, and so characteristic of Jazz as a studied art these days, there actually exists a doctoral dissertation on Pepper. It was written by Aaron Joseph Lington, B.M., M.M and is entitled THE IMPROVISATIONAL VOCABULARY OF PEPPER ADAMS: A COMPARISON OF THE RELATIONSHIP OF SELECTED MOTIVES TO HARMONY IN FOUR IMPROVISED SOLOS [Dissertation Prepared for the Degree of DOCTOR OF MUSICAL ARTS, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS, August 2005].

Not only is Pepper the subject of a doctoral treatise, but there is even an Master’s Degree Thesis on him done by Gary Carner entitled “THE LIFE AND MUSICAL TIMES OF PEPPER ADAMS.” [City College of New York, 1985].
Thankfully, Gary followed up this MA thesis by publishing as a four-part interview in Cadence Magazine [January-April, 1986], the oral interviews with Pepper which he had used as source material for his discourse.

Luckily, for those of us who love his music and wish to know more about it from his perspective, Pepper also left us with an extended interview which he gave to Peter Danson in the April, 1983 issue of CODA Magazine, as well as, a briefer interviews with Philip Hanson in the January, 1980 edition of Jazz Journal International and Lee Jeske in the August 1982 edition of Down Beat Magazine, respectively.

Ironically, these major writings about him from 1980 to 1985 came during the last six years of his life as Pepper died on September 10, 1986. And along with all of this late-arriving, written recognition, there are also a number of excellent recordings by Pepper that he made during the last decade or so of his life.

As a lead-in to this second part of the JazzProfiles feature on Pepper, let’s use the Introduction and Biographical Sketch which open Aaron Lington’s dissertation as a way of recapitulating Pepper’s career, before turning to Aaron’s description of “Selected Motives to Harmony” as the basis for beginning a review of some of Pepper’s recording.


Park “Pepper” Adams, III (1930-1986) is arguably the most influential baritone saxophone stylist in modern jazz. Despite being overshadowed in various musical polls for most of his career by fellow baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, Adams’s approach to the baritone saxophone has proven to be the style favored by the most influential baritone saxophonists in recent jazz history, including Ronnie Cuber, Gary Smulyan, Scott Robinson, Glenn Wilson, and Nick Brignola.

Through his associations with Benny Goodman (1958-1959), Charles Mingus (1959-1963), Donald Byrd (1958-1962), and his longtime membership in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra (1965-1978), Adams gained status and influence in the jazz community as prominent soloist. However, it is his sound and harmonic approach that have been the most influential aspects of his playing.

Adams was able to successfully fuse the big robust tone preferred by Duke Ellington’s longtime baritone saxophonist Harry Carney with the harmonic and melodic language pioneered by alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, thus propelling the baritone saxophone into a leading soloistic role in modern jazz. In addition, Adams was able to bring an incredibly strong sense of swing feel into his playing style—a feat that Adams himself felt led critics to misunderstand his goals as a jazz soloist. When making an attempt to describe his playing, Adams was quoted as saying:

My feeling is to play with a strong swing sense, a really strong rhythmic base, and also to play with a sophisticated harmonic approach. And I think to many critics, these were supposed to be two antithetical things. The people that played with a real strong swing are supposed to be the very straight-ahead, basic players, and the people that play with a sophisticated harmonic approach are supposed to be the intellectual players who don’t swing. So if you get someone doing these two things at once, there’s obviously something very wrong with him!
[Gary Carner, “Pepper Adams’s ‘Rue Serpente’,” Jazzforschung/Jazz Research 22 (1990), p.122.]

It is undoubtedly Adams’s ability to play both with an exceptional swing feeling and with a sophisticated harmonic approach that has prompted so many baritone saxophonists of the current generation to emulate his style. Furthermore, it is the importance of this influence that necessitates a formal study and analysis of his improvisational style and musical aesthetic.
Biographical Sketch

Pepper Adams was born on October 8, 1930 in Highland Park, Michigan. After relocating to Rochester, New York at the age of seven, Adams became involved in the music programs at the local public schools. By twelve years of age he was playing clarinet and soprano saxophone in local dance bands and had taken tenor saxophone lessons from the legendary Skippy Williams, who later had replaced Ben Webster in the Ellington Band in 1943. Adams and his mother moved back to the Detroit area in 1947—a move that proved to be one of the most crucial events in his musical career.

Adams considered the musicians and musical scene in Detroit as incredibly important in his early musical development. He was surrounded by other musicians of similar age and ability who were eager to exchange ideas and experiment. Several of the musicians Adams met throughout his years in Detroit were the same musicians he worked with for the better part of his career: Elvin Jones, Thad Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Curtis Fuller, Frank Foster, and Donald Byrd.

In addition, saxophonists Sonny Stitt and Wardell Gray were active in the Detroit musical scene and provided Adams with an excellent example by which he stylized his approach to the baritone saxophone. Although Stitt and Gray are generally regarded as tenor saxophonists, they were also extremely accomplished baritone saxophonists. Adams had personal relationships with both men and was quoted as saying:

“Wardell was one of the finest baritone saxophonists I have ever heard in my life. If I had to think of any influence on a baritone saxophone, I would have to say Wardell Gray. I think it’s a common tendency for uninformed people to think of me as a bebop baritone player influenced by Serge Chaloff. But I don’t care forSerge Chaloff at all. That nanny-goat vibrato, the flabby rhythmic approach to playing turned me off something terrible, particularly contrasted with the way I heard Wardell playing. Someone else who played baritone really well was Sonny Stitt. And he would never touch it again after that period of time when he was with Gene Ammons, that powerhouse little band. I heard them several times in person. Only three years later Sonny and I worked together, and I tried to get him interested in playing my horn, but he said he didn’t play baritone anymore. He just wouldn’t touch it, wouldn’t even consider it.

[Peter Danson, “Pepper Adams,” Coda 191 (August 1, 1983):pp. 5-6].

It was during this time in Detroit that Adams attended Wayne State University for two years, supporting himself by playing gigs on baritone saxophone in the greater Detroit area. A short time later in 1951, Adams enlisted in the Army, with the desire to join the Army band. His experiences with the Army band were very positive and he found himself as one of the most talented and knowledgeable musicians in the band [Lee Jeske, “Pepper Adams,” Downbeat 49 (August 1982): p. 29.]

After a brief tour of duty in Korea, Adams returned to Detroit in 1953 to begin pursuing a career as a professional jazz musician. For the next three years, Adams worked in and around Detroit area, primarily with Yusef Lateef, Kenny Burrell, and Donald Byrd. But Adams, along with many other Detroit-based jazz musicians, left Michigan for New York City in 1956 and shortly thereafter joined Stan Kenton’s band. It was during his time with the Stan Kenton band that Adams received his nickname “The Knife.” This nickname was aptly chosen because of the way Adams “carved up” established members of the Kenton band such as Carl Fontana, Sam Noto, and Lennie Niehaus.[Carner, “Pepper Adams’s ‘Rue Serpente’, Jazzforschung/Jazz Research p. 121]

[In the 1983 CODA Magazine interview that he gave to Peter Danson, Pepper described his tenure with the Kenton band as follows:“But it was a situation where I wasn't at all sure I wanted to play with the Stan Kenton Band, and Stan was not at all sure he wanted me to play in his band. But Oscar Pettiford was convinced that that's what I should do. And so by God, that's what I wound up doing for about five months. I was in those big bands in that period in order to get at least one good meal every day. It was just a matter of survival primarily. And I was fortunate in being able to sight read well . . . reasonably well at least. Although most of my experience in Detroit had been playing in small bands, I still had the background of playing clarinet in chamber groups when I was a kid. I figured if I could play Poulenc's Clarinet Sonata, I should be able to read Stan Kenton's book. Having that kind of mechanical facility, which is all reading basically is, enabled me to make a living where otherwise I would have been forced into doing something else, because I certainly wasn't getting jobs as a soloist. The fact is, to this day, I still love rehearsals. I enjoy playing in big bands, particularly the first time, even the second or third time. Reading the charts down; all that fascinates me. It's when the band gets itself together and goes out on a gig. Then I get bored.

Did you ignore all the hype about Kenton being progressive? Yeah. Well, actually the band I played in was not that bad. We still had, at that time, a professional band. It was soon after that he started cutting his payroll drastically. But at that time, there still were a number of fine players. Mel Lewis was the drummer. Unfortunately we never had a solid bass player. We went through a whole bunch of them; briefly Red Mitchell and that was fine. So it was very difficult to make that band swing. But Mel was marvelous, of course. Whatever could be done he would do. We had some very good soloists: Sam Noto, Lee Katzman, Bill Perkins. And musically we did not play much of the, in quotes and capitalized, "PROGRESSIVE" type stuff. In other words, we never played any of those awful Bob Graettinger or Bill Russo arrangements. Maybe once or twice and that would be it. We would play a lot of Bill Holman arrangements which were always musical, and a lot of Johnny Richards things, some of which were just beautiful, gorgeous writing. We had three or four of Gerry Mulligan's charts; Limelight, which is a joy to play, that was a beauty.

So certain things were obligatory during my tenure once a night. But generally speaking we were playing quality music and playing it quite well. So it wasn't as bad as I thought, although it took me quite a while to get to play a solo in the band. I think that during my very first night with the band I was given just one brief opportunity to play a twelve-bar thing. So it is a blues form,' but without being exactly blues changes. It is three bars of D flat to one bar of D major, then that repeats, and then there's another thing at the end. So I just decided to lay across the changes: I'll just abstract it and play the D major across the top of the D flat, and stretch it out and make it eight bars of D. So that for three bars, it would be totally wrong, and then resolve itself through one, and then repeat the exact same process. I think I convinced almost everybody in the band that I was a total incompetent. When it came to playing solos, it was another six weeks or so until I had another opportunity. I don't think Mel had much of an opinion one way or another, but I think of the people in the band it was only Sam Noto and Lee Katzman who realized that what I was doing was in fact highly sophisticated, as opposed to being just plain dumb which it was at the same time.

I like to combine sophistication and dumbness sometimes. That can be a lot of fun. But I guess it was really as we went along, and occasionally we would get a chance to play in a jam session, when the other people in the band heard me playing in another context, that they finally started to realize that maybe indeed I did have some inkling of what I was supposed to be doing. It was great fun. I loved it, although I really chafed for a while, never getting a chance to play. By the end of the five months, I was a major, featured soloist. I was getting probably more solos than anybody else in the band, which was a gratifying experience."
[Pp. 6-7]

Despite his acceptance by fellow musicians, Adams’s hard-driving approach to the baritone saxophone was not accepted initially by music critics. His full, bright, and edgy timbre coupled with his astonishing technical facility set him apart from most other baritone saxophonists, most notably Gerry Mulligan. Critical reviews of his playing at this time were generally unfavorable and many critics were genuinely unimpressed with his style; however, in the 1980s Adams suddenly began to receive critical praise.

Although musicians admired and appreciated the way he played, critics continuously scoffed at his improvisational style and compared him in an unfavorable way to Mulligan. On the subject of the Adams/Mulligan comparison, Adams was quoted
as saying:

“…the fact that Gerry Mulligan is the famous baritone saxophone player, and I’m playing baritone saxophone yet I don’t sound a bit like him…people would take this as being that I can’t play very good [sic]! Because if I was any good, I’d play like this fella who everybody says is great! And I enjoy what Gerry plays and he plays it very well, but that’s not the way I want to play at all! I’ve got a whole different thing I want to do. We’ve got two levels of appreciation here: critics like who they like and then musicians like who they like. Sometimes there’s a wide differentiation.
[ Carner, “Pepper Adams: Interview Part 3,” Cadence 12 (March 1986): 12.]

After his tenure with the Kenton band, Adams formed a group with Detroit trumpeter Donald Byrd. From 1958-1963 Adams and Byrd recorded several albums together, employing the piano skills of both Duke Pearson and Herbie Hancock. In 1964,Adams created a new group with trumpeter Thad Jones and drummer Mel Lewis—a group that would start the momentum for the 1965 creation of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra [with the passing of both Thad & Mel, it is now referred to as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra after the iconic NYC club - The Village Vanguard].

It was during his years with the Jones-Lewis Orchestra that Adams began to record the first of a number of albums that featured his own compositions: Encounter (1968), Ephemera (1973), Julian, and Twelfth and Pingree (1975).

In addition to jazz, Adams was extremely knowledgeable on a wide variety of subjects, including classical music, art history, and literature. Adams’s interest in contemporary twentieth-century composers, especially the works of Arthur Honegger, influenced his compositions with regard to his use of distant modulations and controlled dissonance. These devices are then further exploited and varied within the scope of his improvisations. In the late 1970s he was invited to discuss the compositions of Jacques Ibert, Igor Stravinsky, Thad Jones, and others at a lecture entitled “Humor in Music,” underwritten by the New York Chapter of the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Shortly before taking his leave from the Jones-Lewis Orchestra in 1977, Adams married Claudette Hill and spent the last decade of his life touring as a soloist, using only local rhythm sections. His national and international reputation as a soloist grew exponentially at this time, due in large part to a busy touring schedule at home and abroad and the release of several more albums as a leader: Live in Europe (1977), Reflectory (1978), The Master (1980), Urban Dreams (1981), Live at Fat Tuesday’s (1983), and The Adams Effect (1989, posthumously). It was during this period of his career that he was nominated for four Grammy Awards, even making a special appearance on the 1982 Grammy Awards show as a performer. Adams developed lung cancer and died on September 10, 1986, in Brooklyn, New York.”
The remainder of Mr. Lington dissertation talks about three characteristics of Pepper style particularly as they apply to four tracks from the Muse Album – The Master [MCD 5213].

The four tracks are all original compositions by Pepper – Enchilada Baby, Bossallegro, Rue Serpente and Lovers of Their Time.
Pepper stated in 1984 that the albums Reflectory and The Master “are the best albums I’ve done, because they’re reflective of what I’m playing now, you know.
And I certainly think my playing has improved considerably since I recorded at first in the 50s; and changes, and to my way of thinking it’s improved as well [sic]. And they’re projects over which I had complete artistic control… [I’m] just terribly happy with the way they came out.” [Gary Carner, “Pepper Adams: Interview Part 4,” Cadence 12 (April 1986): 10, 90.]

The three stylistic devices employed by Pepper are succinctly explained by Mr. Lington in the section from the doctoral treatise entitled “Overview of the Improvisational Style of Pepper Adams” as follows [I have modified the paragraphing]:

“Throughout his career, Adams developed a logical improviational vocabulary containing several patterns and devices which became closely identifiable with his style. Many of the current generation of 
baritone saxophonists who emulate Adams’s style can be heard utilizing these same patterns and devices.

These improvisational patterns and devices are directly related to melodic material Adams would use in his compositions. His compositions are generally very lyrical, highly melodic, and reflect the sophisticated harmonies he utilizes in his improvisations. When writing original compositions—especially ballads—Adams likes “to use a strong melody which does not relate to the chords, but gives that feeling of tension across the chord which in the end gives it a very bittersweet kind of quality.”[Danson, p.9] Adams’s improvisations on his original compositions draw heavily from the material used in the melody of the tune, thus imparting a sense of logic, form, and structure throughout the improvisation. By alluding to the melody of a composition, Adams is able to aurally guide the listener through the creative improvisational process, using the melody to guide his forays into musically unexpected territory.

There are three specific devices used by Adams which will be the focus of this dissertation. These devices 
may be heard consistently in his improvisations throughout his career and in many ways comprise the defining characteristics of his improvisational style. Although the utilization of these devices within the context of jazz improvisation may be recognized in the improvisations of other jazz musicians, it is Adams’s persistent and compelling use of these devices, in congruence with the way in which he uses them, that distinguishes his improvisational style from others.

[1] The first recurring device is Adams's use of the melodic sixth scale. In both his compositions and in his improvisations, Adams tends to favor the use of the sixth degree of the scale not only as an emphatic and repetitive melodic pitch, but also as a pitch on which he would often end his phrases. This device was employed most often when the rhythm section was sounding a major chord, but usage of it can be found on minor chords as well.

[2] The second recurring device is Adams's use of a paraphrased portion of the popular song "Cry Me A River," written by Arthur Hamilton in 1953. The first two measures of "Cry Me A River" feature a descending melody incorporating a variety of intervals ...."

When used in the context of an improvised solo, this melody may be transposed or rhythimically varied. It can be utilized in any location within a measure and may be found either as an isolated melodic statement or as a part of a longer, complex improvised line. The only common intervallic variation that Adams makes to the original structure of the melody is changing the interval between the first two pitches from a major second to a major third. Thus, in the previous examples the second pitch, the C, would have been changed to a Bb. This variation is shown below in its minor function; although in practice it can be applied to all of the aforementioned chord qualities.

[3] The third improvisational device that Adams overwhelmingly incorporates into his solos is the use of the half-whole octatonic scale when the rhythm section is sounding a dominant seventh chord. The octatonic scale is often referred to as the “diminished” scale by jazz musicians due to the fact that every other note in the scale makes up a fully diminished seventh chord. The use of this scale in jazz contexts was popularized by John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, and other jazz soloists in the 1950s and it is very characteristic of much of Adams’s playing through the 1970s and 1980s [Carner, “Pepper Adams’s ‘Rue Serpente’,” 133]. The octatonic scale is an eight-pitch symmetrical scale comprised of a repeating pattern of whole-steps and half-steps.

Some of these stylistic patterns were even apparent in Pepper’s earlier albums such as Critics Choice: A real lost treasure from Pacific Jazz -- a rare late 50s west coast session from Pepper Adams, featuring the amazing baritonist in a group with Lee Katzman on trumpet, Jimmy Rowles on piano, Doug Watkins on bass, and Mel Lewis on drums! The sound is incredible -- on a par with that rare few of Adams' other magnificent albums as a leader -- modern, yet soulful, and with a fluid feel that makes it hard to believe that Pepper's working with a baritone sax. Adams' work is always top-shelf, but this album's an even further cut above -- and its proof that Pepper was one of the strongest talents burning in jazz in the late 50s! Tracks are all longish, and feature some nice unusual numbers that include "Minor Mishap", "Blackout Blues", "High Step", "5021", and "Zec". CD also features the bonus track "Four Funky People". © 1996-2009, Dusty Groove America, Inc.
And they are also to be found on The Cool Sound of Pepper Adams [Savoy Jazz Sv-0198] about which Jason Ankeny had this to say:

“ - the music contained therein is just spellbinding. A wonderfully soulful session featuring striking contributions from pianist Hank Jones and drummer Elvin Jones, its four lengthy cuts pulsate with energy and invention. Despite complementing Adams' baritone leads with Bernard McKinney's euphonium, the music never sounds bloated. Instead, it's supple and slinky, with a dexterity that's utterly winning. Still, there's no mistaking the physicality of Adams' tone. Songs like "Bloos, Blooze, Blues" and "Like…What Is This?" are as rich and smooth as crushed velvet..”

After Pepper resettled in New York following his brief stint on the "Left Coast," he was frequently in the company of trumpeter of Donald Byrd in a quintet that they co-led. Fortunately for us, their marvelous bands from this period have been well documented on records with the 10 to 4 at the 5 Spot Riverside album [OJCCD-031-2; RLP 1104], the two volumes by the group At The Half Note Café [Blue Note CDP746539-746540-2] and the Mosaic reissuing of the other Blue Note albums by the group as The Complete Blue Note Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams Studio Sessions [MD4-191; these dates include pianist Herbie Hancock’s recording debut].

Richard Cook and Brian Morton wrote this revelatory assessment of both 10 to 4 at the 5 Spot and Pepper’s significance on baritone sax in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD [6th Ed. p. 19]:

“The baritone saxophone was as unpopular with hard-bop musicians as it was with the original boppers and, come to that, with the swing-era saxophonists. Pepper Adams, more than anyone else, came close to making it a congenial instrument in the hot-house environment of hard bop. He had a dry 
unsentimental tone – very different from either Serge Chaloff or Gerry Mulligan – and a penchant for full tilt solos that gave no shred of concession to the horn’s ‘cumbersome’ reputation. The live sessions, made with a frequent partner of the time, Donald Byrd, is typical of Adams’ kind of date, with muscular blow-outs of ‘Hastings Street Bounce’ sitting next to a clear-headed ballad reading of ‘You’re My Thrill.’ ….”

And the always knowledgeable and always discerning Leonard feather offered these insights into the music on the At The Half Note Café albums [which also includes a little postscript from Michael Cuscuna who is the producer of the Mosaic series]:

“Volume 1

My Girl Shirt, a 32-bar minor-mode original by Duke Pearson, is an ideal opening track, amply displaying the group's individual and ensemble qualities. Note particularly the mastery of time in Donald's solo-in the release of his first ad lib chorus, for example, with its beautifully constructed phrasing that might have made an original tune in itself. Pepper keeps an identical groove going, so sympathetic with Donald's is his concept of phrasing and the beat. Don and Pepper trade eights with the firm and supple Lex Humphries before the closing ensemble.

Soulful Kiddy is a slower, moderato Byrd blues, with attractive use of the F Seventh and E Flat Seventh at the ninth and tenth bars. Duke Pearson’s contribution is noteworthy for its unpretentious economy of line, and for the funky fills during the closing ensemble.

Donald announces A Portrait of Jennie as 'a very beautiful ballad" and plays as though he means it. His first chorus, so close to the melody yet so completely personal, reminds me of a theory I advanced in an analysis of improvisation in the New Encyclopedia of Jazz: that it is not just the notes themselves that are important, but how they are placed and how they are played.

Cecile, though fundamentally a blues, is the most beguiling original in the set. Its main characteristics are the use of B Natural as a focal point in the theme (and again in parts of the solos), and the unexpected modulations to F that give the performance a dual mood, as well as a continuity that ties the long track together. The side closes with a snatch of the group's theme, a slow blues in F known as Pure D. Funk.

Volume 2

Jeannine, unrelated to the old pop waltz, is a Duke Pearson up-tempo piece kicked off by piano riffing that continues under the ensemble (which, appropriately in view of the club's name, begins with a series of half notes). There is a mildly Oriental flavor to this colorful composition, with a hint of a Miles Davis groove. There's also a simple yet exotic touch to some of the latter part of Donald's excursion here-as usual, he adjusts his overall blowing feeling to the mood set by the theme.

A full-length treatment of Pure D. Funk completes the side. A provocative aspect of the rhythm section’s work is the use of triplets with a difference - that is to say, a subtle difference that keeps them far from the rock ‘n roll groove. The second of each set of six triplets is doubled:

Triplets come prominently into play again on Kimyas, first in Lex's sticks-on-cymbal introduction, then in the main ensemble, with variety established this time by the omission of the first and last beats in a 12/8 meter.

Pepper and Donald are expansively creative in this track and Duke maintains a fine, pulsating continuity in a three-chorus contribution. As often happens, Donald shows how well he knows the value of understatement for the effect of contrast; he reveals, too, his thorough grounding in jazz, for in addition to the unmistakably modern passages there are phrases here that Roy Eldridge might have used. Lex's Zildjians [cymbals] speak an important piece here and the consistent support of Laymon Jackson is especially noteworthy.

When Sonny Gets Blue is a pop song of a few years ago that has earned a measure of acceptance among modern jazzmen. The theme is ingeniously divided into fast waltz and slow 4/4 treatment. Duke is in the spotlight, playing with a keen melodic sense without ever crossing the border into Cocktail Piano Land. At one point he plays rubato without drums, using the same contrast of meters that was employed in the ensemble.

At the end of this side Donald is heard thanking the Half Note clientele for being "a most receptive audience." It is fortunate for Donald, and for those jazz enthusiasts who are out of reach of the Half Note, that thanks to Blue Note Records the audience has now been multiplied many times in commemoration of a happy, relaxed and musically productive evening.


"The quintet led by Donald Byrd and the late Pepper Adams recorded prolifically under each leader’s name in the late fifties and early sixties. Generally considered their finest recordings, the two volumes of material recorded live at the Half Note yielded a third LP's worth of material. The extended playing time of the CD has allowed us to add that previously unissued material to these recordings. On Volume 1, two Duke Pearson originals "Child's Play" and "Chant" are added. Volume 2 now includes Henry Mancini's "Theme From Mr. Lucky’s” and the standard "Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.""

Of the recordings that Pepper made later in his career, he had a special fondness for those that he made with George Mraz on bass. These include the aforementioned Reflectory [Muse LP 5182] on which Pepper and Mraz are joined by Sir Roland Hanna on Piano and Billy Hart on drums. Here’s Kenny Berger’s review of the LP.

“Recorded on June 14, 1978 shortly after Pepper Adams left the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band to set out on his own as a soloist, "Reflectory" – both the single track and the entire album – includes some of Pepper's finest work. Being frequently teamed with the great George Mraz inspired Adams to write several intriguing originals pairing Mraz's bass in harmony or unison with the baritone sax."Reflectory," however, is a well-constructed 2-part invention in which the baritone and bass engage in an interesting call-and-response that, while cleverly conceived, is totally devoid of the cloying cuteness that afflicts most contrapuntal jazz tunes. As is the case with all Adams originals, it contains a great set of blowing changes that he devours like a hungry pit bull.Like all of Pepper's best solos, this one has a beginning, a middle and an end (what a concept!), building motivically off a quote from the old Billy Eckstine hit "Everything I Have is Yours" and accumulating a stunning amount of momentum. The way Pepper employs the horn's low register at the climax of his final chorus marks this solo as one that could have been played only on the baritone saxophone and only by the inimitable Pepper Adams.”

Listening to Mraz play on this album and on Pepper [Enja ENJ-9079], it is easy to understand why Adams chose to work with him as part of his regular quartet whenever possible. Mraz’s solo on Thad Jones’ A Child is Born is nothing short of miraculous both in terms of content and technique. Mraz has so much facility on the instrument that one gets the impression of listening to a guitar being played in the lower register instead of the larger, more cumbersome contrabass.

Walter Norris [p] and Makaya Ntshoko [d] round out the group on this album which contains four in-performance tracks from a 1975 club date in Munich and two tracks that Pepper later made as a featured soloist with Denny Christianson’s big band [about which, more later] including a very moving take on “My Funny Valentine” which was done when Pepper was only months away from his death on September 10, 1986.

Over the years, Pepper would team up with George Mraz and either Hanna or Norris on piano and either Hart or Ntshoko on drums on a number of albums. Among these is Julian [Enja CD 9115-2] about which Scott Yanow has this to say on

“Recorded five days before Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's death August, 1985], the title cut of this album was re-titled and dedicated to the late altoist. The powerful baritonist Pepper Adams is well showcased with a quartet comprised of pianist Walter Norris, bassist George Mraz and drummer Makaya Ntshoko on three of his originals, one by Norris and two ("Three And One" and "'Tis") by Thad Jones. Adams is in typically excellent form, playing intense solos that push but stay within the boundaries of hard bop.”

Pepper was always very keen to integrate the drums into his music and spent a great deal of time on his recordings trading 4, 8 and 16-bar breaks with them, as well as, allocating to them full choruses on which to improvise. This approach can really be heard to full effect in the exchanges with drummer Billy Hart on Three Little Words which appears on the Urban Dreams album [Palo Alto LP 8009; Quicksilver CD 4006]. Another very pleasant surprise on this recording is the presence of pianist Jimmy Rowles. Here is Derek Taylor’s review of it on

“Musicians frequently become associated with the attributes of their instruments. Charles Mingus was hulking and imposing, just like his bass. Art Blakey had the propulsive, authoritative personality of his drums. Paul Desmond was urbane and laidback, just like the sound of his sweet-toned alto.

There are, of course, exceptions to these sorts of correlations. Take Pepper Adams for instance. Slight of frame, particularly in his later years, Adams physical presence was the apotheosis of his chosen axe. Hefting his baritone horn with rail-thin arms, he coaxed out growling guttural lines seemingly at odds with his stature and appearance. Like a lion tamer subjugating a savage beast, he made the weighty sax a complete instrument of his bidding. His tone and phrasing, muscular and blues-based, were far removed from his generation's other skinny guy with a big horn, Gerry Mulligan.

Sadly, for whatever reason, Adams’ opportunities to record as a leader were far less frequent than those afforded Mulligan. The situation likely has a lot to do his willingness to lend his talents to the causes of other colleagues. Even the quintet he co-led with Donald Byrd at the dawn of the' 60s found him taking a second slot on the marquee. The '70s and '80s weren’t much better, but Adams did find the occasional resources to record. This newly reissued Palo Alto date comes from relatively late in his career, but his abilities are hardly diminished. A blue chip rhythm section fronted by pianist Rowles, an Adams associate since the '50s, does more than simply supply support, and each member of the quartet has room to solo.

The six chosen tunes are all fine blowing vehicles and Adams makes certain that there’s space for amicable improvisation. “Dexter Rides Again” finds the band at rollicking gallop with clocking a brisk pace through the changes beside Rowles’ light comping and the steady bobbing bass line of Mraz. Hart stokes the aggressive beat further with steady snare accents. “Urban Dreams,” the brief original ballad of the set, rolls out the leader’s romantic side. His throaty tone braids through the melody as Hart’s brushes further embellish on the amorous implications.

Two standards arrive next – “Three Little Words” voiced velociously and “Time on My Hands” taken at another slow drawl tempo – each one showing off the band’s consummate skill with repertory material. Adams can’t resist packing an ample amount of blues punch into both. Rollins’ racetrack worthy “Pent Up House” proves even better terrain for the band’s high-speed inclinations. Adams once again burns through the changes leaving a smoldering melodic trail in his wake. His lush Latin burner “Trentino” takes the session out. No alternate takes or unreleased tunes, just the original album served up with warm 24 bit mastering. Pepper Adams' memory lives on in this immensely enjoyable and easily recommendable album.”

Ephemera [Spotlite A6; ZIM Zls 2000] was recorded in 1973 at the EMI Studios, Manchester Square, London, while Pepper was on tour with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, an album that Scott Yanow calls “A fine example of the deep-toned baritonist at his best.”

It’s the first album with the favored quartet of pianist Sir Roland Hanna and bassist George Mraz, although on this one, Mel Lewis occupying the drum chair for a date that includes four originals by Pepper [including the title tune and another entitled Civilization and Its Discontents that probably was an indication that Pepper was reading this short essay by Freud around the time of this recording], two great versions of the Jazz Standards Bouncing with Bud and Jitterbug Waltz, and a tender interpretation of Thad Jones’ ballad, Quiet Lady.

Mark Gardner, the eminent British Jazz writer, wrote the liner notes for the album in which he included the following observations:

“… This is jazz the way it should be played; as it is meant to be played – loose yet disciplined, swinging but complex, hard though melodic, fresh yet still part of a living, growing tradition. This music is played by four true professionals, at once artists and craftsmen, creating in the moment an experience that will outlive the creators and those of us who are fortunate enough to share in it. …

Ephemera suggests things of a transitory nature. All jazz is transitory by its very nature but it endures thanks to the medium of recording tape and the particular piece of Ephemera will be with us for a long, long time, I maintain.

Like all the pepper Adams albums this is one to cherish. When he makes a date it is for keeps; for you to keep, too. …”

Encounter [Prestige P-7677; OJCCD-892-2] is also a favorite from earlier in Pepper’s career for as Richard Cook and Brian Morton note in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD it is: “A very good one. The band is absolutely stellar, full of Detroit homeboys [Tommy Flanagan, piano, Ron Carter, bass and Elvin Jones, drums], and Zoot Sims was a fail-safe choice as a front-line partner.” [6th Ed., p.11].

The album features two superbly beautiful solos by Pepper on the ballads, Star-Crossed Lovers and I’ve Just Seen Her and as Ira Gitler comments in his liner notes:

“Pepper Adams and Zoot have different approaches but they do not vary radically as to prevent them from complementing each other beautifully. Tenor and baritone are not usually combined but here it works well and is a stimulating sound. However, the emphasis here is not on the ensemble but on the soloists and the interaction of the soloists. …

Pepper Adams has an owlish look. He’s definitely got some Bird in him. Pepper’s hip to books, flicks, and football. You’re liable to meet him at a Rangers game in Madison Square Garden rooting for the Red Wings. Monday nights you’ll find him at the Village Vanguard, dropping his quiet humor on friends at the bar between sets, or sitting in the saxophone section of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, hidden behind a formidable past. Nevertheless, you feel his presence, and when he emerges from his corner to solo he lights up the club. Pepper Adams is a wise owl. Jazzwise and otherwise.”

One of Pepper’s more unique recordings came as his life was nearing an end when Denny Christianson featured him with his big band on the Justin Time [# 15] recording entitled Suite Mingus. Ken Dryden offered this review of it in

“Baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams is added as a special guest with trumpeter/flügelhornist Denny Christianson's big band, a session that resulted from Adams being featured in a concert and also appearing with the band on a radio show. Adams is in great form, with his robust, melodic solos featured extensively throughout this studio session, highlighted by "My Funny Valentine." Several compositions by Alf Clausen prove to be equally inspiring performances. Curt Berg's suite tribute to the late Charles Mingus, "Mingus — Three Hats," incorporates three well-known Mingus compositions (the amusing blues "Slop," the mocking "Fables of Faubus," and "I X Love"), joining them with a brooding original theme. The band is superb throughout the date, with many fine soloists, especially bassist Vic Angelillo and alto saxophonist Joe Christie, Jr. This was very likely Pepper Adams' final recording date, as he died six months after its completion.."
One of the most significant, individual accomplishment for any Jazz musician is to create an instantly recognizable identity or what is often described as creating their own “voice.” It is not any easy thing to do: to be a part of an art form that emphasizes group collaboration and cooperation while, at the same time, standing apart and establishing a singular style and sound.

When you listen to Pepper Adams play Jazz, you will hear someone who has achieved this extraordinary status for what has become known as – “The Pepper Adams Sound.” This was Pepper’s lasting gift to Jazz and to all of us who love the music.

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