Pepper Adams

Pepper Adams was a baritone saxophone player who played with the drive and precision of hard bop. He also fueled the bighorn with a powerful intensity that earned him the nickname “the Knife” because of his “slashing, chopping technique.” This had an humbling effect on musicians who were fortunate enough to get to play with him. Pepper Adams was an integral part of the North American jazz ensemble from 1954 to shortly before his death in 1986. He released more than 20 albums, exuded a warm personality as a soloist and served as a strong support sideman as well as an accompanist. His powerhouse approach was similar to Leo Parker and Harry Carney. He is often mentioned alongside Gerry Mulligan and Serge Chaloff. Born Park Adams III in Highland Park, MI on October 8, 1930. He was five when his family moved to Rochester NY. There he developed a passion for jazz and began listening to Fats Waller (Jimmie Lunceford), Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. He was playing clarinet and tenor-sax at the age of twelve and soon joined local bands, including one that was led by Ben Smith, a veteran reedman. Pepper was inspired by Coleman Hawkins, a tenor archetype. Harry Carney also inspired him to become a baritone. Moving back to Detroit in 1946, he played in a group led by Lucky Thompson and worked in the house band at the African-American-owned Bluebird Inn with Barry Harris, Billy Mitchell, and Thad and Elvin Jones while holding down a job manufacturing automobiles. For a time, he sang tenor with Lionel Hampton and was a member of the U.S. Army between 1951 and 1953, which included a stint in Korea. He resumed his Bluebird routine and developed his stamina by working with Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt and Wardell Gray. His gratitude for their influence is something he has always acknowledged. Adams was part of a group that included Kenny Burrell as guitarist, and then he recorded with Lennie Niehaus, an alto saxophonist. The session with Paul Chambers, a bassist, and John Coltrane, an emerging tenor, was his most memorable of 1955. He moved to New York in January 1956 and recorded with Kenny Clarke (Curtis Fuller), and Quincy Jones. Pepper toured with Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, and jammed on the West Coast with Howard Rumsey and his Lighthouse All-Stars. In 1957, Adams recorded with Toots Thielemans, a harmonica ace; pianists Hank Jones, Ahmad Kharab Salim, Shorty Rogers, and Lee Morgan. He also played with Shorty Rogers and Lee Morgan, as well as saxophonists Dave Pell and John Coltrane. Later, the complete Debut recordings by Charles Mingus were reissued. Adams was a co-leader of a band that produced many albums, including with Johnny Griffin, Chet Baker and Manny Albam. Pepper released an LP in 1959 with trombonist Jimmy Knepper. He also led a group that was recorded at the Five Spot. Sonny Red and Art Pepper recorded their album Two Altos together. He also sat in for Philly Joe Jones’ Showcase. Adams was instrumental in establishing the orchestra that performed with Thelonious Montk at Town Hall. He also served as a living flame for trombonist Jimmy Knepper and the saxophonists Jackie McLean and John Handy during the session that produced Blues and Roots. This album is the most important artistic legacy of Charles Mingus. He began the 1960s by recording with multi-instrumentalist Herbie Mann, pianist Herbie Hancock, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, saxophonist Jimmy Forrest, and trumpeters Howard McGhee and Freddie Hubbard. He recorded with Red Garland and Duke Pearson, as well as helping Pony Poindexter record his first album. Mingus and Teddy Charles co-produced Pepper Adams Plays Charlie Mingus in 1963. Other collaborations include Ben Webster’s See You at the Fair and Oliver Nelson’s More Blues and the Abstract Truth. Also, dates with Stanley Turrentine and Joe Zawinul were part of this period. The 1966 album Mean What You Say was co-produced by Pepper Adams and Thad Jones. This was the start of Monday night performances by the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band at the Village Vanguard. An 18-piece band that would remain together for ten more years, this performance coincided. Pepper Adams was a trumpeter with Blue Mitchell in the late 1960s. He also performed at the Vanguard behind Jimmy Smith on Stay Loose…Jimmy Smith sings Again and on several albums by Lou Donaldson and Hank Crawford, Zoot Sims and Houston Person. The decade ended with him sitting in on the album Giblet Gravy with guitarist George Benson and with a large band that was behind Mose Allison’s on the LP Hello There, Universe. Pepper Adams showed up on several Blue Note sessions presided over by Elvin Jones from 1969 to 1973, on two albums with soul-jazz organist Johnny “Hammond” Smith, and with composer and multi-instrumentalist David Amram on various projects that materialized throughout the 1970s. As he helped Felix Cavaliere with Peaceful World, a jazz-rock crossover, Adams also signed on to perform with comedian Martin Mull. He was part of Normal’s 1974 album, Normal. There, he contributed ballast to a big-band arrangement called “Flexible”, which featured Joe Farrell, Thad Jones and Jimmy Knepper. In the 1970s, Adams was also involved in numerous engagements, including tours across Europe and the U.K., with pianists Arif Mardin, Ben Sidran, as well as guitarist Eric Gale, saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr., and Lalo Schifrin’s disco album Black Widow. On Nick Brignola’s Baritone Madness, sessions with pianist Walter Bishop, Jr., as well as Charles Mingus’ last albums, Me, Myself an eye and Something Like a Bird, in 1978, a return to jazzier territory was achieved. Lalo Schifrin’s disco album Black Widow marked the beginning of his final five years of artistic output. He recorded with Teo Macero’s Impressions Of Charles Mingus, along with pianist Bess Bonner, guitarist Peter Leitch and pianists Hank Jones, O’Brien and Kenny Wheeler. Pepper’s final recording, The Adams Effect, saw him reunited with Frank Foster, a saxophonist, and a rhythm section consisting of Tommy Flanagan and Ron Carter. Pepper Adams, a lifelong smoker, died in Brooklyn, NY from lung cancer on September 10, 1986.

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