Friday, December 19, 2014

Books: Pepper Adams (& Gigi Gryce)

Listen to the opening notes of this tune:

That is one of the most widely heard jazz sounds ever, even though many wouldn't know that they're actually listening to Pepper Adams, a giant of the baritone sax who blasts through the whole piece playing that vamp almost constantly. Now we also know how grinding this session was for him, because the musicians in this Mingus band had never played together until that day in the studio, and there was a lot of repetition and many false starts involved in the recording.

That is the kind of detailed, first-hand information you can read on Gary Carner's Pepper Adams' Joy Road - An Annotated Discography (Scarecrow Press, 2012), a true labour of love by the author, who's been justly awarded with the 2013 award to the best jazz discography by the Association of Recorded Sound Collections, ARSC.

Joy Road is a discography, all 550 pages of it, which can make the prospect of owning it as enticing as buying a fat phone directory. However, it is much more than that. The annotated in the title makes all the difference. The reader will have the raw data about all the recordings (with online updates at Carner's website), including an almost complete discography and itinerary of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, yes, but the annotations, comprising an inordinate amount of interviews, including with Adams himself (Carner and Adams worked together on the latter's memoirs during his last two years), carried out since 1984, will give the reader such a realistic, even poignant, overview of the world of jazz as I have rarely encountered anywhere else. The art, the craft, the trade of jazz; the studios, the road, the travails, the moneys. Everything is there, warts and all.

The work Carner has put into this is just unmeasureable, truly staggering, and does justice to a neglected giant, a musician respected by his peers, for his harmonic prowess, his energy with the larger saxophone, his enthusiasm for music, his imagination... like drummer Bill Goodwin describes him: "someone who played as if there was no tomorrow; at all times!"

For more information on the book and the author, visit 

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Over ten years after it was first published and long out of print with scarce second-hand copies going for over double the original price, authors Mike Fitzgerald and Noal Cohen have finally released a second edition of the extraordinary Rat Race Blues (Current Research in Jazz, 2014), their seminal biography of alto sax, arranger, composer, and too-brave-for-his-own-good impresario Gigi Gryce. As they explain in their website,, there are minor corrections and additions, the discography has been moved (it's now on-line only, which makes sense regarding the unavoidable amendments and desirable additions), and the typesetting and layout have actually been improved (Fitzgerald's own job, which avoids all the trappings of self-publication). If in the least interested in its subject or in 1950s jazz in general, you'd better get it before it vanishes again.

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