It's hard keeping a jazz band together. Most bands only last a few years before better offers or more stability step into break them apart. Baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, who appeared on over 600 albums, only worked with trumpeter Donald Byrd for three years. Those three years (1958-1961) happened to be during one of the biggest shifts in modern jazz and despite their short span as a unit, they managed to release 11 albums of classic hard bop. Local saxophonist Dale Fielder has always had a fascination with their brief collaboration and this Friday, as part of a nationwide Pepper Adams resurgence, he'll be paying tribute to the classic pairing at Soka University the best way he can, by bellowing his baritone saxophone through their songbook.
For Fielder, the Adams/Byrd band was an easy choice to idolize. "They were the first music that I heard. I grew up in the late '60s and early '70s and back in that time they were really popular with the average guy that worked in the mill all day. They played a form of music that was extremely acceptable. People loved it. It swang. It was uncomplicated to a certain extent but on the other hand it was cutting edge and intricate."
Fielder plays with a similar accessibility. His full-bodied sound has been in Los Angeles since the 1980s and he has managed to keep a steady group around him for much of that time. Pianist Jane Getz, an underappreciated chameleon on the piano, has been with Fielder for 17 years. "I wanted to get somebody with an old school sensibility," says Fielder. "She's played with everybody: Mingus, Roland Kirk."
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Although Fielder plays all four saxophones, the baritone has become his baby of late. "The baritone is an extremely interesting instrument to play. What I discovered is you don't have to play as many notes to be effective on the baritone. It has something to do with the lower register having more weight so you can play a simple eight note line and it can sound really good. If you did it with an alto or a tenor, people would be asking "have you had any lessons yet?" It slows your thought process. It's not about complicated patterns. You can lay back and concentrate on melody."
Adams, who passed away in 1986, had an endless stream of melody. The undersung baritone saxophonist managed to place himself in the center of every scene he encountered from New York to Detroit to Los Angeles but has faded from the history books. This year, biographer Gary Carner, who will be MCing for Fielder's show, released an annotated discography as well as a sprawling five disc box set featuring performances of Pepper Adams' tunes by current bands.
Although Fielder is not on the box set he does have his own homage released this week entitled Each Time I Think of You. "Part of why I put the tribute quintet together was just for stuff like this. I wanted to give my take on really unappreciated artists that came out of a time that was a golden age of jazz, the early '60s, and they just got kind of overlooked. This is what my band was created to do plus it was a perfect project for a baritone player."