Pepper Adams’ Joy Road

  An Annotated Discography, by Gary Carner.
The Scarecrow Press, 552 pp. ISBN 978-0-8108-8257-7.
For the past three decades Gary Carner has been researching Pepper Adams’ extensive recording legacy and this enthralling book is the result. The author had access to Pepper’s date-book while they worked on his memoirs thus making Joy Road a revealing insight into the recordings of one of the music’s most outstanding baritone soloists.
It was previously thought Pepper Adams’ first recording took place in 1955 with among others that fine violinist Dick Wetmore. Carner has found evidence of earlier sessions as far back as September 1947 with Pepper on clarinet - three months before he took up the baritone. The listing includes all known Adams recordings – studio dates, private tapes, broadcasts, film scores and jingles together with (where known) full personnel, date, location and repertoire for each entry. A novel and most helpful feature is the author’s decision to highlight the titles with an Adams solo and discographical information is further enhanced by personal anecdotes from musicians who recorded with him. Together with the subject’s comments they are a source of fascinating behind- the-scenes detail throughout.
Soon after leaving his home-town of Detroit for New York Pepper joined Stan Kenton’s band in late 1956. Oscar Pettiford, “Damn near strong-armed me into that gig - Oscar was convinced that was what I should do and so, by God that’s what I wound up doing for about five months.” At that time the baritone was not a featured horn with the band but Lennie Niehaus and Bill Perkins readily gave up some of their solo spots to him. Perkins always acknowledged him as an influence and years later when he played baritone he sounded very much like Pepper Adams. The following year on a date for Johnny Mandel, Pepper played bass clarinet which he hired for the session. Mel Lewis who was also on the date told the author that he regularly tried to encourage him to double on the instrument as it would make him more marketable but he always refused.
Pepper worked for a while with Benny Goodman in 1958. “He always treated me very well. Rehearsals were interminable but they were fun because there was a good quantity of good music.” That was the year he started performing extensively with Donald Byrd. The group was usually billed as the Donald Byrd-Pepper Adams Quintet but when recording for Blue Note, Byrd was shown as the leader because he was the one who signed the contracts. Thelonious Monk’s 1959 Town Hall concert with the amazing ensemble passage on Little Rootie Tootie is discussed at length. He occasionally worked with Lionel Hampton but he considered the band to be a side-show, “It was showbiz! I think everything was done about as cheaply as possible and the payroll kept about as low as it conveniently could be kept which explains a lot of the turnover that happened all the time.”
There are a number of anecdotes concerning the disastrous 1962 Charles Mingus Town Hall concert. Clark Terry probably said it best, “It was the most bizarre and chaotic scene I have ever witnessed!” A year later Mingus visited the studio where Pepper and Thad Jones were recording. He was astonished that a session could run, “Smoothly without rancour - no screaming and no throwing things”.
Initially reluctant, he became a charter member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band in 1965 for their Monday nights at the Village Vanguard remaining with them until 1976. He was with the band for their European tour in 1969 which included an engagement at Ronnie Scott’s in London. Thad of course was one of those amazing arrangers who did not need a piano, often writing charts on long bus rides between venues. In 1974 Pepper and Cecil Bridgewater apparently got into a money hassle with Mel Lewis over a concert recording in Tokyo which the band were unaware was being recorded. Interestingly though Per Husby told the author in 1987 that Pepper was not expensive to hire. He used to say, “If I can go home with $1000.00 per week in my pocket, I’m happy”.
This meticulously detailed discography, certainly the best I have seen is the prelude to a full length Pepper Adams biography which is currently being researched by Gary Carner.
Gordon Jack.