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A Deep Dive into the Music of Baritone Saxophonist Pepper Adams

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Courtesy of Gary Carner.
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Gary Carner
A new biography by Gary Carner tells the story of legendary baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams.

Back in the early eighties, jazz writer and historian Gary Carner was pursuing a masters in English at CCNY and was granted permission to do an oral history project for his thesis. He was a huge jazz fan and reached out to numerous musicians that he thought would be worthwhile candidates for the project. He heard back from just one - baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams.

Who was Pepper Adams? Some consider him to be jazz’s greatest baritone saxophonist, an unheralded genius who could take his place next to Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie as one of jazz’s greatest improvisers. Certainly he could hold his own with the other two lions of the instrument – Harry Carney and Gerry Mulligan.

Carner immediately struck up a warm friendship with Adams and has spent much of the last thirty-seven years writing and researching both a discography of his music and a comprehensive account of his life and career. The completed volume, called Reflectory: The Life and Music of Pepper Adams, is now available in digital form.

In this segment, Carner talks about what made Pepper Adams great and goes into some depth about his musical influences, his formative years in Detroit, his friendship with Thad Jones, his tenure with the Thad Jones Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra and his legacy as a composer.

If you are interested in taking a really deep dive into Adams’ music, check out the website that Carner has put together. It offers hundreds of rare concert broadcasts, some reminiscences by Adams and much more material that you can explore.

Peter Solomon is WESM's Music Director and host of Morning Jazz Unlimited, weekdays from 9 am to noon on WESM. He joined Delmarva Public Media in August 2021 after 22 years as a jazz host for an NPR affiliate in Richmond, Virginia.