Poet’s Notes - Barry Wallenstein

When I was a teenager and into my twenties during the ’50s and ’60s, jazz was the music for the young as well as for the old. Now definitely not young, I look back on a life enriched by jazz. Many of the poems I’ve written over the years are influenced by jazz, and some are half-way towards song. My first public reading, c. 1961, was, unbelievably, with the jazz accompaniment of Charles Mingus. I was 19 at the time and in awe of the great bassist. Almost fifteen years later I recorded my first LP, with another fine bassist, Cecil McBee, and the pianist Stanley Cowell. At the same time, I was finishing my Ph.D. in literature and was an adjunct professor of literature and writing at City College of New York. One of my better students was Gary Carner, a true enthusiast of jazz, who at the time was playing guitar and who introduced me to sax master Pepper Adams.

In 1984, I’d met Pepper and in l985 we were scheduled to do a performance at the Great Hall of Cooper Union. I visited him - already ill with the cancer that would soon take his life - at his house in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. We rehearsed my poems with his playing and everything felt just right, including talking with him about James Joyce. Pepper was an impassioned reader, a multi-dimensional man. Sadly, our reading/performance never took place; he went into the hospital weeks before the date and died not long after. Meanwhile, Gary was at work on his MA in English and I was an adviser for his thesis - on the life of Pepper Adams. That was a long time ago, but his interest, and his engagement in Pepper’s music continues.

When Gary asked me if I’d like to write the lyrics for a group of Adams’ ballads - not for money but for wine - I was excited and a little intimidated. A few years ago he told me about his project - to record a boxed set of Pepper’s music, played by contemporary artists. Gary mentioned that Pepper had always wanted someone to come up with lyrics for his ballads, and he asked if I’d try my hand at writing them. I work a lot with jazz players and composers, but usually the words come first and then some music is either written or improvised to fit the words. I’ve never set words to pre-existing music, so this was as much of a challenge as it was an honor to have been asked. Not being able to read music (teenage trumpet lessons long gone) I had to rely on tapes of the melody laid out simply on the piano. Adam Birnbaum, my favorite piano player to work with, played and recorded Pepper’s melodies for me. I took the recordings home, tried to fit words onto the notes, returned to Adam, and we then adjusted my words and their fittings, then I took the new version home and reworked that. The process went on this way until I had all seven of the lyrics done and ready to be tested on the voice of Alexis Cole. After sitting down with Alexis, a wonderful singer no matter what the material might be, we adjusted the words even further. Each step of this lengthy revision process improved what would turn out to be singable songs. This was a laborious process, but, by the end, so satisfying! I am grateful to Gary for bringing me back to Pepper Adams and prompting me to move my poetic urge even closer to - or right up against - such songs as “Julian” or “Civilization and Its Discontents.” Thanks to Pepper’s good titles, and Gary’s background information about them, I was able to make up stories or fragments of stories. These were, along with the melodies, of course, the main inspirations for each song.

Barry Wallenstein
April 2012

Vocalist’s Notes - Alexis Cole

I was so excited when I was asked to work on the Pepper Adams project. I didn’t know much about his music at first, which is, of course, part of the need for Gary’s five volume set! But the idea of helping bring to life new, original lyrics to songs that people have never sung before was an exciting prospect. The more I delved into it, learning the songs, and working with Barry Wallenstein, the more excited I became. It was actually a very collaborative process, through which I was able to shed a lot of my preconceptions about what I’d thought lyrics should be. Working together, we gently shook out Barry’s poetic velveteen cloak, so it laid right on the form of the melodies. I’d go through the songs at home, circling the parts where things were a little awkward or clunky, and then bring them to Barry.

At his gracious, old world Manhattan apartment, he’d pour us an afternoon drink and I’d play through the songs on his plunky piano, two or three per session, looking line by line, and rearranging them as minimally as possible to make them more singable. I wasn’t a total fan of the lyrics at first, because they were so different and obscure. But, later, I realized they’re not trying to be normal lyrics. They’re poems. Then I started reading more about Pepper, and the inspiration for the songs, and I learned that he loved literature; and that most of his tunes were inspired by and named after poems or stories. It all came into sharp focus. I realized Gary Carner’s genius in commissioning the lyrics from Barry, and really began appreciating them in a new way.

The best thing about these songs is how they roll over you in waves. Like any great work of art, with time and a deep level of engagement, they blossom as you explore them further. Pepper’s incredibly beautiful and complex melodies, the ambiguous and moody lyrics of Barry Wallenstein, and the wonderful performances of the musicians that brought them to life all culminate in a true artistic experience of depth and passion.

Alexis Cole
April 2012

Leader & Arranger’s Notes - Jeremy Kahn

When producer Gary Carner offered me the opportunity (for a third time) to lead another of his recording sessions designed for the sole and admirable purpose of breathing new life into Pepper Adams’ compositional legacy, I was, of course, intrigued. As I recall, Gary described his concept to me: Pepper’s seven lovely ballads had been set to words by a poet who had been Gary’s college teacher. My job was to arrange all but two of them into non-ballad formats. To further complicate things, Gary proposed adding two tenor saxophonists (recalling classic tenor battles like Stitt/Ammons and Lockjaw/Griffin), and he had specific arranging ideas, though he graciously told me to use or ignore any of them. Intrigued and excited, yes, but my mind also turned to potential pitfalls. First, was the odd position of being the leader of a date for which the personnel, and tunes, had been decided by someone else. Next, was fear of the unknown. I hadn’t met half the band, they lived about a thousand miles away, and we’d be meeting for the first time on the day of the first recording session. Budgetary considerations made rehearsing impossible. How should I handle writing arrangements for musicians whose reading abilities were completely unknown to me? Plus, at six pieces, this was going to be the largest ensemble of my three Pepper projects, and the more people involved means more things can go wrong. Right?

I quickly decided that I would marginalize these concerns and do what was necessary to make the session a success. The three musicians I hadn’t met (vocalist Alexis Cole, and saxophonists Pat LaBarbera and Eric Alexander) were obviously of the highest caliber, so I was excited to cross paths with them. Drummer George Fludas had done my other two Pepper dates and would provide me with a known commodity - and an extremely valued one! Bassist Dennis Carroll is a fixture on the Chicago scene, and I always enjoy playing with him. In addition, Dennis and George have worked a million gigs together and they really have a collective “thing.” The bass/drums connection can make or break a date, and I knew these guys would bring creativity, clairvoyance, and support to this musical setting. So I set to my task: writing arrangements that would groove (but be slow enough to get the lyrics across), that would have room for solos (divided up in an equitable fashion), and that could be recorded after a few minutes of rehearsal (with horn players whose reading abilities were a complete unknown to me). Piece of cake, right? Or, as they say in France, morceau de gateau?

I’m pleased to report that everything went very smoothly. Everyone got along very well, focusing on the task at hand. Pat and Eric chatted nonstop about horns, reeds, ligatures, etc., right up until about two seconds before the start of each take, proving once again that reed players never run out of stuff to talk about. I’m very proud of the music that emerged from the session. We didn’t “dumb-down” the material, yet I think that the results are accessible. It just goes to show that good things can happen if you keep your mind tuned to the right channel. But here’s my question: Is there a patron saint who oversees the successful interpretation of Pepper’s music? Perhaps it’s St. Capsicum?

Jeremy Kahn
March 2012

     1.In Love with Night  
2.I Carry Your Heart
3.Now In Our Lives
4.Urban Dreams
6.Civilization and its Discontents
7.Lovers of Their Time
8.Reprise: I Carry Your Heart (duet)
Barry Wallenstein, Lyrics
Alexis Cole, Vocals
Jeremy Kahn, Arrangements, Piano
Pat LaBarbera, Tenor Saxophone
Eric Alexander, Tenor Saxophone
Dennis Carroll, Bass
George Fludas, Drums

Gary Carner, Producer

Recorded at Transient Sound in Chicago, May 24-25, 2011
by John Larson and Vijay Tellis-Nayak
Additional Vocal recording by Katherine Miller at
Annandale Recording, North Plainfield NJ, July 14, 2011
Mastered by Alan Silverman, Arf Mastering, New York.
In Love With Night
It’s far too dark now for sorrows, for sorrows born before evening.
As hours spin to night, the tears born in the light of day have gone away.
It’s far too late now for worries, for troubles born before twilight.
As hours turn to night, the tears born under daytime’s gaze are soon away.
It’s later now, as we slide closer to close of day,
removing the velveteen cloak of day.
It falls away, as we slip deeper into the night.
A lingering touch in the dark now, is twice held,
is thrice held, here in the night’s end.
The night takes a lover, and the lover serves the night.
I Carry Your Heart
Twelve bells, twelve bells now, measure your heart,
the twin of my own, nestled deep within my rapture,
silver on silver, pure golden rapture.
You are the wonder keeping the stars apart.
Oh, I carry your heart, I carry your heart,
it’s safe where I keep it,
within my heart.
We are One. We’re the river’s branches,
splitting streams are one, flow over stones,
as we rise and ripple, to join with joy in the downhill valley, join with joy.
Twelve bells, twelve bells now, measure your heart,
the twin of my own, nestled deep within my rapture,
I carry your heart.
Now in Our Lives
Take down my heart, take it down and then prop up my heart.
Prop up my heart and collect the remains.
Time to last beyond the measure.
Now rise up my heart, so sad.
Sad are the grasses that we lie upon so still.
Until this evening we were under the dark.
Sensations now return to our grieving bed;
Carry us back.
Oh, please, raise up our hearts.
Raise them up and then celebrate heat.
Celebrate care and collect the remains;
Make some time beyond the present.
Now, sail up our hearts, so carefully.
We two were dressed for a day so bright.
We two were dressed for the night, but gave way to thorns of fright,
those little subtle thorns of fright.
Urban Dreams
Look up above to the giants looming high,
look up to crystal gods of steel.
They show the signs of our lusting,
our dreaming and our love,
with buildings breeding crowds above.
Now casting down shade for our glide in summertime,
for comforts so slow in the heat.
For as we slide in the summertime, our arms intertwined,
we cool down in the city’s shade.
Fast streets, bright corners, sharp edged and wild,
take me, oh, take me far.
From the icy cityscape, we escape
to the gentle warmth of the Lenox Lounge.
Look up above to the giants looming large,
look up to crystal gods of glass.
For as we slide into summertime, arms intertwined,
promenading in this urban dream.
Within the beat he drove his sound
from the cannon out to the stars.
He never knew fangs of fame.
For they played Mercy Mercy under his spell;
they played it well.
Within his heart he struck a match,
lit the wick, preserving the flame,
and Cannonball became his name.
Never was the end in sight. It never came;
he flew so high he never died.
And the music is now, now burnished bright.
Note follows note to be reborn.
The sounds in time do a free fall
into the folds, the folds of time.
Oh, shine on gold and silver horns,
staying true beyond all remorse.
Your inner breath beats so true.
Now untamed to the lonely soul,
too wild to lose, or to live without.
Civilization and Its Discontents
The world is old, the condition too new
to dream away from the weathering kiss
which it warns, and does not savor fear
of what the wind can or can not do.
The world is old, the condition so new.
We turn away from a brother’s sweet kiss
that was fine and did not touch on fear
of what war does or will never do.
The winds are strong, so very dark around our lives,
into our lives. The vivid past, the loving thriving past,
drops from memory and all else.
The world is old, the condition too new
to dream away from the weathering kiss
which comes close, showing us what is,
what fell away, and what will stay.
Lovers of Their Time
Lovers of their time clearly wanting more,
as in a taste beyond the tonic,
the spinning sands along the shore,
the far-off shore.
In movement, red-faced lovers waltz.
Spellbound to their cores gathering bliss, a magic kiss,
gathering bliss, a magic kiss.
Lovers of their time: tremble, smile and weep once more.
Holding off sleep, they hold the view.
They will not change, they dare not move.
Having the time, the blessing.
The rich gift of watching time comes to their hearts,
settles within the chamber’s mind.
You sailed beneath the 4th Street sky,
a loving flame I’d known forever / until December.
The shadowy sky along the branch,
the blooms recall as rich, as brief, as all of our days.
We feathered down in warm sweet love,
but every day the light faded beneath the evening sky.
Ephemeral dream, a part of the air,
a puff of wind, the love that was, was never there.