Pepper Adams: Dylan’s Delight

10 Sep

Remembering Pepper Adams, born Park Frederick Adams, on the day of his death in 1986.

We’ll never know how musically inclined Adams might have been but for the Great Depression. When his father was unable to find work in Michigan, where Adams was born in 1930, the family split up, Adams’  father in search of work, Adams’ mother to live with her family in Indiana, according to Adams’ website. It was there in Adams’ early years that he was introduced to music, playing the piano.

Adams eventually came to champion the distinctive sound of the baritone saxophone in a career that included associations with Coltrane, Benny Goodman, Charles Mingus, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band and countless, countless others.

From Richard Cook and Brian Morton in the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD:  “The baritone saxophone was as unpopular with hard-bop musicians as it was with the original boppers and, come to that, with the swing-era saxophonists. Pepper Adams, more than anyone else, came close to making it a congenial instrument in the hot-house environment of hard bop. He had a dry unsentimental tone . . . and a penchant for full tilt solos that gave no shred of concession to the horn’s ‘cumbersome’ reputation.”

The “horn’s reputation” wasn’t Adams’; his was far more exciting.  “Bepob down to his socks,” is how Phil Woods described Adams, according to His nickname was The Knife, “because when he’d get up to blow, his playing had almost a slashing effect on the rest of us. He’d slash, chop, and before he was through, cut everybody down to size,” said Mel Lewis, according to the website

Adams was 55 when he died of lung cancer. The link above is to an Adams composition from the album The Adams Effect; it was recorded just 14 months before Adams died.



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