Pepper Adams Talking Jazz
Baritone saxophone player Pepper Adams is, in Phil Woods’ expression “a bebopper down to his socks”. Pepper played with literally hundreds of key bebop musicians over the course of his career and provided a very strong alternative to the style of baritone saxophone playing that was most popular at the time, that of Gerry Mulligan. His sense of “swing”, or forward progress, in his improvisation was extraordinary, and his choice of notes always seemed to be the most intelligent alternative given the harmonic possibilities of the moment. Perhaps it was because of the somewhat odd nature of his instrument (the baritone can look a bit awkward around the neck of stringy guy like Pepper) that kept him relatively obscure, even through the heydays of the bebop movement. Also, as he candidly remembered while we spoke, there was the issue of having to please the jazz critics. He never did try too hard to do that, and the repercussions of their negative reviews stayed with him until the end. Pepper died of brain cancer several weeks after our talk.