Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams Quintet

Although they certainly knew each other in Detroit, Donald Byrd and Pepper Adams never played together until after both had moved to New York. In February, 1958, Byrd and Adams recorded with Thelonious Monk and Johnny Griffin, at the same time starting a residency at the Five Spot that lasted until June. During the four-month run, Byrd and Adams (with Detroiters Doug Watkins and Elvin Jones) were recorded live by Riverside, and the Donald Byrd-Pepper Adams Quintet was born. Six months later, the group recorded their first studio date, Off to the Races, for Blue Note, in this case augmented to a sextet with the addition of Jackie McLean.

From 1958-1961, Byrd and Adams were busy indeed, taking Quintet gigs, when available, and working and recording in other settings. Byrd and Adams, for example, were members of Monk's tentet in early 1959, and Adams had done two tours with Benny Goodman and another with Chet Baker before Byrd-Adams recorded Byrd in Hand, their second sextet date (with Charlie Rouse added) for Blue Note in May, 1959. By then, the Quintet had already worked two weeks at the Village Vanguard, and, in October, 1959, the band was touring throughout North America, playing gigs in Toronto and Pittsburgh.

The group recorded a sampler project for Warwick in April, 1960, but, beforehand, the Quintet had already worked their way from New York to San Francisco and back. By July, the group's superb, core rhythm section of Duke Pearson, Laymon Jackson, and Lex Humphries was established, and a second lengthy tour of three months took the group to Cleveland, Chicago (Bird House), Minneapolis, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, then back to Chicago and Detroit, before returning to New York in late October.

In November, 1960, Byrd-Adams recorded Motor City Scene for Bethlehem (again, as a sextet, with Kenny Burrell added). A week later, Blue Note recorded the Quintet live at New York's Half Note. This seminal two-record set (Live at the Half Note) is the group's only date that has never gone out of print, and it includes a stirring performance of Jeannine, Duke Pearson's most well-known composition.

By December, 1960, while on a one month tour of Chicago and Milwaukee (Curro's), Herbie Hancock replaced Duke Pearson. This was Hancock's first gig on the road, and Hancock moved from Chicago to New York to join the group.

The band recorded again for Warwick in January, 1961, then toured for most of the year, before disbanding in October. After the Warwick date, Out of This World, the Quintet returned to Chicago in January to work two weeks at Bird House. February and March saw the group touring throughout the Eastern U.S. and Canada, gigging at the New Showboat in Philadelphia, then Montreal and Toronto, back to the Bird House in Chicago, then Indianapolis and Rochester NY, before returning to New York in April to record two dates for Blue Note, Chant and The Cat Walk, within a two week period.

In July and August, 1961 the group worked Cleveland, St. Louis (Jorgie's), Kansas City, Chicago, and Detroit, leading up to Royal Flush, their last studio date, recorded by Blue Note in September. In October the band returned to Jorgie's in St. Louis, then played Kansas City, where the club folded and the group wasn't paid. That spelled the end of the Quintet. Adams cited the long road trips, that ate up all their profits, as the reason for ending the four year collaboration, but the Kansas City experience must have functioned as a telling metaphor, an embodiment of the group's pent-up frustrations.

All told, during the four year stretch, Donald Byrd-Pepper Adams recorded eleven dates--seven studio albums, one sampler, and three live LPs-- cementing their place in jazz history as one of the great groups of its time. The band launched the career of Herbie Hancock, and it gave Byrd, Pearson, and, to a lesser extent, Adams and Hancock, a forum to write original compositions, some (Curro's, Bird House, Jorgie's) that immortalized jazz clubs where they performed. It also helped Adams' career, since, with the band, he was heard widely in clubs around North America, and the Blue Note dates in particular were well distributed in the U.S. and abroad throughout his lifetime.