© -Steven Cerra. Copyright protected; all rights reserved.
"On the baritone sax, he was the greatest we've ever had."
- Phil Woods, alto saxophonist
''He was a rare genius on the horn."
- Philip Levine, Poet Laureate of the United States 2011-2012
“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.”
- Gary Carner, Pepper Adams’ Joy Road: An Annotated Discography
I have had my copy of Gary Carner’s Pepper Adams’ Joy Road: An Annotated Discography for some time now, but I wanted to “test drive it” before writing about it.
This is not a narrative biography of the life of baritone saxophonist, composer and arranger, Pepper Adams.
What it is can be found in the following explanation:
Pepper Adams’ Joy Road: An Annotated Discography is more than a compendium of sessions and gigs done by the greatest baritone saxophone soloist in history. It's a fascinating overview of Adams' life and times, thanks to colorful interview vignettes drawn from the authors unpublished conversations with Adams and other musicians. These candid observations from jazz greats about Adams and his colleagues reveal previously unknown, behind-the-scenes drama around legendary recordings made by David Amram, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Elvin Jones, Thad Jones, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Duke Pearson, and many others.
All types of sound material — studio recordings, private tapes and broadcasts, film scores, audience tapes, arid even jingles — are listed, and Adams' oeuvre is pushed back from 1956 to 1947, when Adams was sixteen years old, before he played baritone saxophone. Because of Carner's access to Adams' estate, just prior to its disposition in 1987, much new discographical material is included, now verified by Adams' date books and correspondence.
Since Adams worked in so many of the great bands of his era, Pepper Adams 'Joy Road: An Annotated Discography is a refreshing, sometimes irreverent walk through a large swath of jazz history. This work also functions as a nearly complete band discography of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, the most influential big band of its time: Adams was a founding member and stayed with the band until a year before Jones left to relocate in Denmark. Finally, Carner charts the ascent of Adams as an original, yet still underappreciated, composer, one who wrote forty-three unique works, nearly half of them after August 1977, when he left Jones-Lewis to tour the world as a soloist. Pepper Adams' Joy Road the first book ever published about Pepper Adams, is a companion to the authors forthcoming biography on Adams.”
For those of you who may not be familiar with him, Gary Carner is an independent jazz researcher, is the author of Jazz Performers 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, collected at pepperadams.com, spans four decades. Carner has also produced all forty-three of Adams' compositions for Motema Music. For more about Gary, Pepper and the Motema Music project, I urge you to visit Gary’s Pepper Adams website.
I am by no means a Pepper Adams “Completist,” although I do have many of Pepper’s recordings including most of those that he made with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra.
It was a sheer delight to play Pepper’s music while reading Gary’s annotations about what led up to the sessions and what was involved in making the music of a particular recording [including, in some cases, some very revealing personal anecdotes]. Because there are not very many listeners’ guides to the music, it’s hard to remember a time when I had a more satisfying experience listening to recorded Jazz of a particular musician [although Gary’s annotated discography on Pepper brought to mind my posting on Noal Cohen and Michael Fitzgerald fine biography/annotated discography - Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce].
Not only was my listening pleasure enhanced by Gary’s attention to detail and his insights into Pepper’s music, but I also gained a fuller appreciation of what goes into the artistic life of a Jazz musician. Gary helps the reader understand Pepper Adams the person; a person who artistically expresses himself through the medium of Jazz.
Dan Morgenstern, the distinguished Jazz historian and now retired Director of The Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University further amplifies the focus of Gary’s study on Pepper in his Foreword to the book:
“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!
Gary provides his own thoughts about his endeavor on behalf of Pepper and his music in these excerpts from the Preface to his book:
“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. [Emphasis, mine] 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 www.pepperadams.com, the website I maintain as the historical record of his life and work.
Far too few, significant Jazz musicians have discographical guides to their recorded work. Thanks to Gary Carner’s dedication and his abilities at compilation and annotation, Pepper Adams fortunately is not one of them as is attested to in Pepper Adams 'Joy Road: An Annotated Discography.
Pepper is featured on the following video as a member of pianist Don Friedman’s quintet performing Sonny Rollins' Audubon with Jimmy Knepper [tb], Pepper Adams [bs], George Mraz [b] and Bill Hart [d].