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Pepper Adams was interested in everything: poetry, people, books, movies: he just devoured everything: Photos, Video

“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

08.10. – Happy Birthday !!! 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!

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.

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.

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,” Downbeat49 (August 1982).

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.

[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.”

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.
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:

“ – 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 SpotRiverside 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.

“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.

“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.

“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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