MP3 Jeremy Kahn Trio - Pepper Adams: Complete Compositions Volume 2
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14 MP3 Songs in this album (75:25) !
Related styles: Jazz: Piano Jazz, Jazz: Traditional Jazz Combo, Solo Instrumental
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FROM THE PRODUCER: WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT
This is very likely the only time in jazz recorded history where all of the compositions of a jazz artist have been collected in one place. 43 tunes on 4 CDs survey the compositional landscape of baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams (1930-1986), who wrote small group features, many on his albums as a leader. Half of his compositional output was written after 1977, when he left the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra to tour the world as a soloist. The other half was written for recordings made over a 21 year stretch--some his, many on dates as a sideman. Virtually all of Adams's compositions are on long out-of-print, obscure record labels, such as San Francisco, Mode, and Spotlite, thus, completely overlooked and unheard. Adams's oeuvre can be loosely grouped into the following categories: Swingers (18), Ballads (7), Blues (7), Latin (6), Rhythm Changes (3), Waltzes (2). Possibly most idiomatic is his body of Strayhorneque ballads. Adams considered Ephemera to be his greatest composition. For this second of four dates, Chicago born pianist and arranger Jeremy Kahn has refashioned twelve Adams originals to showcase his playing and writing, as well as the extraordinary artistry of bassist Rob Amster and drummer George Fludas. Much like Tommy Flanagan's second chance with Coltrane's Giant Steps, Jeremy Kahn, some twenty years later, revisits many of the Pepper Adams tunes he played only once with the great baritone saxophonist.
FROM THE LEADER: PEPPER'S TAKE
Where is the Love?
Of all the horns that are associated with jazz, none occupies a more perplexing place than the baritone saxophone. It is essential to the success of a large ensemble: A big band without a great sax section is doomed to mediocrity, and a sax section without a great bari player can not be great. Would Ellington's band have sounded the same without Harry Carney? How about Woody Herman without Serge Chaloff or Thad Jones-Mel Lewis without Pepper Adams?
Why is the list of baritone saxophonists who have made their mark as soloists so maddeningly short? Look at any grade school's music program. You'll find a million alto and tenor players, and very few bari players. Often as not, the school's band director had to cajole an alto or tenor player into switching over just to have a complete section. (I know this first-hand. My 16 year old son is one such convert.) Bari players are greatly outnumbered by all the other instrumentalists. And, in a way, it's understandable. Have you ever tried schlepping one of those beasts around?
Another reason might be that, unlike other horns that are typically heard in jazz, the majority of the baritone's range lies outside the human voice. Perhaps that makes it less attractive to beginners. In any event, there have been just enough baritone sax soloists through the years to have left a legacy of great music. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to play with one of them: Pepper Adams.
How Many Miles?
My gig with Pepper Adams is well chronicled in Gary Carner's forthcoming book, Joy Road, but here are the Cliffs Notes. Tim Horner, the great drummer (and my old pal), took advantage of a connection that he had in Singapore (an ex-girlfriend, to be exact) and wangled a gig for us at a jazz festival there. It paid enough that he was able to hire a "name," and Pepper was his choice.
Tim, bassist Ed Howard, and I were all in our twenties, and Pepper was in his fifties, in the twilight of his outstanding career. I oscillated between youthful arrogance and sheer terror at the prospect of sharing the stage with him. It was supposed to have been a tour, with dates in Japan and Indonesia, but they all evaporated, except the date in Singapore. It was a long way to go for one gig: about thirty-six hours from New York. For me, though, it was well worth it.
Pepper was friendly enough to his fresh-faced, smart-assed rhythm section, but he was borderline curmudgeonly when things displeased him. The two things that I remember were not being paid in American dollars before the gig, and a perceived dragging of the tempo on "A Child Is Born." On the former, Adams threatened not to perform. On the latter, Adams pointedly suggested that the tempo stay where he had set it, before counting off the next tune.
Most of the concert, though, featured Pepper the Badass, the one we all know and love. He was tossing off some amazing, long lines of eighth and sixteenth notes, all with that in-your-face sound. The concert was a success. They loved Pepper. We made the tiresome journey home. I never saw Pepper again after that.
While living in Chicago, I've had the opportunity to play many times with Ron Kolber, the local patriarch of the bari sax. He enjoyed a close relationship with Pepper, and he very kindly offered to give me copies of about twenty Pepper tunes (written in Pepper's own hand) that he had acquired. I accepted, of course, and gladly added them to my personal library. Every jazz player welcomes the chance to add to his repertoire a bunch of well-written tunes that are seldom played by anyone else.
Upon learning, right around this same time, that Gary Carner's first book on Pepper was soon to be published, I passed this thought on to Gary: Why not promote the book by producing a CD of Pepper tunes, featuring someone very much along the lines of me? (That's something else that every jazz player welcomes: The chance to go into a recording studio under the financial auspices of somebody else.) To my delight (and palpable surprise), he agreed to it. At Gary's request, my contribution would be in the form of a piano trio.
Not a Drive through Wine Country
The next step in the process would be to familiarize myself with these tunes well enough so I could play them comfortably. Not to "dis" Pepper, but I found that they didn't flow as easily as tunes by, say, Jerome Kern or Kenny Dorham or Antonio Carlos Jobim or Wayne Shorter, at least as far as my own facilities were concerned. I got the feeling that many of Adams' melodies had arisen from lines that he might have played in a solo and was pleased enough to fashion a composition around, kind of like Charlie Parker in that way. And remember, Pepper was a quirky and idiosyncratic player, so it makes sense that his compositions would be too. This means that, as tricky as they are to play on the sax, they're even trickier on other instruments (like piano, for example).
Aside from the melodies, the other important aspect for me to consider was the relative ease (or difficulty) with which the chord changes flow, because that's what the soloist is dealing with during the bulk of the performance. Pepper's chord changes, while obviously well thought out, take a lot of twists and turns that deliver you to some unexpected destinations. If you're not comfortable playing rapidly changing chords in tonal centers less traveled, you're going to be in deep "doo-doo." Or, as Jaki Byard used to say, it will be obvious if "you're lying on those changes." Pepper's tunes deserve better than to be skated through. They are masterworks, written by one of jazz's greats, containing rock-solid ideas and a unique, lyrical individualism, albeit wrapped in challenging frameworks.
Challenges are good, though. That's why Bird and Diz occasionally practiced out of oboe method books. Passages that are meant for other instruments will likely be awkward on your own, and successful navigation will make you a better player. Feeling somewhat secure on Pepper's tunes was a gratifying feeling, because they were nothing if not challenging.
Be careful what you wish for, right? My next step was to deal with this stack of Pepperabilia and come up with cogent, coherent, playable, and enjoyable piano trio arrangements. To my mind, there were a couple of fine lines to be negotiated. First, I knew I wasn't re-inventing the wheel. I wanted to be faithful and respectful of Pepper's intentions by playing his tunes fairly close to the spirit in which they were written.
There was one notable exception. "Doctor Deep," a jazz waltz, gave me artistic constipation. I just couldn't get anything going with it. I decided to give the tune a totally new set of chord changes, and morphed it into a McCoy Tyneresque Afro-Cuban kind of thing. Forgive me, O Ghost of Pepper's Past.
I also didn't want to be a rubber stamp of previously recorded versions. So I dressed them up with some new intros, tags, and background figures, and I also tweaked a few of Pepper's original tempos. I wrote all of these arrangements over the course of a couple of weeks, while sitting in the orchestra pit, waiting for my steady gig of the Broadway musical "Wicked" to begin. The result filled my head with a very unusual combination of music. Pepper Adams and Stephen Schwartz: Now that's an odd couple worthy of Neil Simon!
The other fine line was negotiating the writing versus "blowing" conundrum. You can listen to a jazz record with the sense that the music is so controlled and pre-determined, that any sense of unencumbered improvisation is all but snuffed out. The other end of the spectrum is when you sense that things are so loose, that it seems like no serious preparation has been given to the music. Either way results in an unsatisfying experience for the consumer. My solution was to make sure that the written aspects of the music stayed within my decided parameter of doing the dates without benefit of rehearsal. For this to succeed, it was crucial to have the right personnel.
Bring in the Stunt Rhythm Guys: Rob Amster and George Fludas
Before this session, the only time we had played together as a trio was when we were brought in to comprise the rhythm section on a horn player's recording date. The challenging part was the fact that we were laying down tracks to some big band arrangements before the rest of the band was scheduled to record their parts. This was hard, because, without being able to hear what the fully realized music sounded like, we were asked to create something in a vacuum. I thought we did a good job with it, though, and I felt like the three of us established a strong musical rapport.
Drummer George Fludas won me over some years back when we were playing together at a jazz salon kind of thing. We'd play for some rich patron of the arts, then answer questions and expound on the state of jazz and the creative process, then play some more. Someone asked George what was his favorite music to play, and he responded, "Ballads." It blew my mind to hear a drummer give that answer because ballads don't present drummers the chance to show off all their party tricks. You'll often see young drummers roll their eyes when a ballad is called, because they really don't know what to do. George clearly does. He can play convincingly in all jazz styles because his musical vocabulary covers an astounding range. He has been asked to make music with Ray Brown, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Cedar Walton, Milt Jackson, Eric Alexander, and Diana Krall, just to name a few. Mainly, though, he swings his ass off. We're extremely lucky that he lives in Chicago, and I'm very grateful that he was available for this session. His presence added more than I can say.
Bassist Rob Amster and I have played a ton of gigs over the years, from wedding bands to jazz clubs. I remember that (shortly after I moved back to Chicago from New York in 1993) while we were setting up to play our first gig together, he took a look at my somewhat antiquated electric keyboard and started laughing at me. That was how Rob welcomed me to town, and it still gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling when I recall it. He is surely one of the only bassists to have played in Buddy Rich's band to emerge un-fired. (Buddy went to The Big Crash Cymbal in the Sky before he had a chance.) Rob also had a stint in Maynard Ferguson's band, but his main gig, over the last few years, has been to tour the world with vocalist Kurt Elling, an intensely creative endeavor.
Amster does what great bass players do: He can take the music to surprising and wonderful places, or he can just lay it down and make sure that things are simply locked in and swinging hard. He picks good spots for knowing what muscles to flex. He never mails it in, and he's one of my all-time favorite bass players because he's always reaching and challenging. I've done some of my best playing due to his on-the-bandstand motivating. I was thrilled to be able to record with him in this trio setting.
You will, however, find one non-trio tune on this recording. We invited tenor saxophonist Eric Schneider to join us on "Beaubien" as a special guest. Eric is one of a diminishing breed of sax players who can acknowledge in his playing that there was music before 1960. In fact, he can play in styles that go WAY back! But, whatever kind of music he's playing, Eric's flawless time, limitless ideas, and his ability to inject humor into his playing have always inspired me.
We've tried to do justice to Pepper Adams and his compositions. I hope that these tunes provide you with an enjoyable listening experience.
FROM THE PRODUCER: ME AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC
In 1984, at the age of 28, I had the good fortune of meeting saxophonist Pepper Adams. He was coming off a serious leg accident, that had kept him incapacitated and house-bound for six months, and I was looking to interview a jazz musician at length for a masters thesis I needed to complete for my degree at City College. Little did I know that he would die two years later and that I would dedicate the rest of my life to preserving his legacy.
We met at regular intervals throughout the summer, taping interviews about his glorious life. He was very prepared, and he spoke in depth about his early life, his experiences with some of the great musicians of our time, and his various recordings. Things were moving along beautifully; so much so that I felt we had the beginnings of a terrific co-written autobiography. Seven months later, however, on a tour of Sweden, Adams was diagnosed with lung cancer, and for almost two years he would fight for his life. We saw each other and spoke on the phone sporadically. Without his active participation, the project took a different turn as I moved to Boston to pursue a Ph.D. I knew I was well along on the biography. Now it was time to focus on the discographical and musicological aspects of Adams's work.
I began the intense archeology necessary to assess forty years of recordings. I listened closely to his playing. I learned about his terrific body of 43 compositions, scattered about on obscure LPs made by even more obscure labels here and abroad. I began to interview his musicians and friends. I got a contract from the Smithsonian to write Pepper's biography. But, most importantly for me, something happened that changed my life forever. Pepper's closest friend, pianist Tommy Flanagan, visited Pepper at his home four days before Pepper died. On Pepper's nightstand, Tommy told me, was my manuscript, about 300 pages of interview material. Flanagan told me that Pepper was very frail and lapsing in and out of coma. But once, when he came to, he tried feebly to nudge with his fingers the stack of material in Tommy's direction, as if to draw attention to it, as if to give it weight, as if to suggest that this was what would be left behind about him after his death. Then and there, as the power of Flanagan's story washed over me, I knew that I would dedicate my life to preserving Pepper's legacy.
It's now 24 years later and this is exactly what I've done. Adams has become my life's purpose. I have collated his papers, his music, and the remains of his estate. The first of two books I'm doing about him, an annotated discography, is now completed. I'm well along on his full-length biography too. But those amazing tunes? I had done the work and unearthed them. What was I to do?
About five years ago I thought of something. A saxophonist in Chicago, Ron Kolber, told me that Pepper had sent him copies of most of his leadsheets about three weeks before he passed away. Pepper told him, "Protect them with your life!" and, fortunately, he had. Maybe I should produce a CD of Pepper tunes? That seemed interesting. But one night at the Village Vanguard, it hit me like a thunderbolt: "ALL of them!" I thought. One recording wouldn't be enough. "It's about the legacy," I remembered." I would have to record all of them.
So this is what I've done. I've self-produced, at my own expense so it's done the right way, all 43 compositions by four different small groups. I handpicked the musicians and tunes for each to play. Two CDs, for trio and quartet, are led by the terrific Chicago pianist and arranger Jeremy Kahn, who has done so much to breathe new life into Pepper's music with fascinating introductions and codas. One of his dates features baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, widely regarded as today's leading soloist. A third recording, led by Atlanta pianist Kevin Bales, uses the the guitar of Barry Greene as the lead voice in a quartet setting. It's rare in jazz that two top soloists play at this high a level. Bales transcribed several tunes from the original recordings, as did saxophonist Frank Basile, who laboriously transcribed even more of Pepper's early tunes, which he arranged on his date for trio, quartet, quintet, and sextet. On his date is bassist Dennis Irwin, who would pass away about a half a year later.
What we have here is the complete body of work by a gifted and original jazz composer. Four terrific recordings as played by musicians exceedingly passionate about the music. What a joy this has been for me! And for the musicians too, since many of them played with Adams when they were young and impressionable.
Pepper Adams died at 55, much too young, and with so much music still inside him that we'll never know. What we can know is his great body of work that he left for us to discover. In his last few years of life, a new generation of musicians--some of whom are on these recordings--were hired by Adams for club dates. They knew in their bones that his book of music was innovative. As Mendelssohn did for Bach so many centuries ago, I'm trying to tell the world, with these musicians as my vehicle, about this extraordinary collection of tunes that has for far too long been completely overlooked. I think it's time for Pepper's star to ascend. Thanks for your help!
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