Fifty-four years ago this month, baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams was in a Hollywood studio for Mode Records. The date featured Adams, Stu Williamson on trumpet and valve trombone, Carl Perkins on piano, Leroy Vinnegar on bass and Mel Lewis on drums. West Coast baritone saxophonist Bob Gordon had died two years earlier in a car crash and Gerry Mulligan was in New York co-leading a quartet with Bob Brookmeyer. While guys like Chuck Gentry, Marty Berman, Ronnie Lang and Jimmy Giuffre were called for much of the baritone session work in Los Angeles at the time, Adams was known for a much more aggressive, East Coast sound. The result was The Pepper Adams Quintet, a very un-West Coast session recorded on July 10, 1957.
Adams was born in Michigan but relocated to Rochester, N.Y., with his family. At age 16, he moved to Detroit, and a year later he was playing baritone sax in Lucky Thompson's band. His first major recording date was in 1956, in Boston, with John Coltrane and Paul Chambers. The record was called High Step, for the short-lived Transition Records.
After a stint that year with Stan Kenton in San Francisco, Adams moved to Los Angeles to sop up some of the abundant and lucrative studio work, recording The James Dean Story film soundtrack in '56 with all-star musicians. In 1957, more work with Kenton followed, along with recordings led by Shorty Rogers and Quincy Jones. In April '57, Adams traveled to New York to record again with John Coltrane, this time for an album that would become known as Dakar.
Then in July, Pepper was given a chance to record as a leader for the first time. The Pepper Adams Quintet is exceptional stuff. For one, the guys on the date were among the hippest and moodiest West Coast jazz-studio guys on the scene. For another, this is pure East Coast music recorded just miles from the Pacific Ocean. What's interesting is that while the recording has all the heat of a New York date, there's still a plaid shirt and chinos feel, albeit subtle.
All in all, you can't believe how good this album is. Adams' ideas are spectacular, while his dig-deep, walrus-bark phrasing is offset by the lighter, open-horn style of Williamson.
The opener is a mid-tempo and sassy Unforgettable, followed by a rip-roaring Baubles, Bangles and Beads, on which Adams fires off idea after idea. Freddie Froo is pure bop, and here you'd have great trouble believing it was recorded in Hollywood if you didn't already know. My One and Only Love is taken as a ballad, with Adams all but singing the song through his deep horn. The album closes out with Muezzin', a minor-key tune that opens with a Latin beat and then switches to jazz time.
If you're unfamiliar with Pepper Adams, this album serves as a perfect introduction. If you're already hip to him, this recording will confirm what you already know about the saxophonist, only you'll likely be surprised by what a monster he was at a time when most baritone players were only too happy to iron out their edges.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find The Pepper Adams Quintet here as a download for $4.95. But if you opt for Pepper Adams: The Hollywood Quintet Sessions, you'll get The Pepper Adams Quintet plus the other equally excellent Adams quintet album recorded in Hollywood the following month called Critics' Choice, with a slightly different personnel: Lee Katzman (tp) Pepper Adams (bar) Jimmy Rowles (p) Doug Watkins (b) and Mel Lewis (d). This Fresh Sound release is available here.
JazzWax clip: Here's Baubles, Bangles and Beads from The Pepper Adams Quintet. Crank it up and dig Adams swing like mad...