By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Area bassist John Adams knows that creation can be a difficult feat--after all, he's been a free-lance jazz musician since college--but he still stepped into a double whammy: the worldwide debut of both his first album, Jump Shot, and his son, Andrew.
Andrew is doing fine at 3 1/2 weeks, but chances are the noises he makes are not as easy on the ears as Jump Shot, a fine 10-cut CD that sports six original compositions, four new arrangements of old standards, and features playing by the likes of Warren Bernhardt [best known to most as Steely Dan's music director] and noted Houston drummer Ed Soph. The first thing that strikes the listener is the disc's bright, brassy tone, sunnier than most contemporary jazz and almost aggressive--a result of using flugelhorn, trumpet, and trombone and avoiding the ubiquitous saxophone.
"Most jazz uses sax," Adams explains. "The saxophone has a darker, grittier tone, while the trumpet and trombone are sharper, brassier." His search for varied tones is mirrored by his arrangements of the disc's familiar tunes, like Oliver's "Where is Love?" "I wanted to make a conscious decision to take these standards and make them different, but still recognizable," Adams says. He also wanted to address a few pet peeves. "Take [Jimmy Van Huesen's balladic] 'Darn That Dream': On my disc it has this undercurrent beneath the music that has a double-time feel, with some added rhythms that are almost hip-hop, but done by a drummer using brushes.
"Most jazz guys'll start a song like this slowly, with a quarter-note flow, and when they solo they'll get into this busy, double-time thing that always bugs me. Why do a ballad if you're going to do that? I just started with that double-time thing right away, but in the background...on "Where is Love?" the song is such a beautiful ballad that I worked on the harmony some, but otherwise let it stand as it was."
Adams grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, where in the eighth grade he started playing acoustic bass. "Some friends got some jazz charts and said that we could learn to play them, and I jumped in without a clue," he recalls. "By high school I knew that I wanted to go to a good music school and continue with jazz." That led him to the University of North Texas [then North Texas State University] in Denton, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in jazz studies in 1982; after that, he took some time out to concentrate on and sharpen his playing.
"I didn't really intend to," he allows, "but I had good gigs going at the time, and at NTSU you were so busy, just so overloaded, that I felt like I needed to just concentrate on playing and get some practice--more for my head than for my chops." That decision eventually led to almost a decade of road work, first with Woody Herman and later with Zoot Sims and Sal Nistico. Adam has backed singers like Rosemary Clooney and Mel Torme and played with notable names such as Randy Brecker and Chet Baker.
In 1989 he returned to NTSU to work on his master's in jazz studies. "It was my excuse to get off the road," he admits. "I wanted to play and give lessons on the side...If my decision-making sometimes seems a bit diffuse, a lot of that has to do with my developing tendonitis in 1985. It never completely goes away; you just learn to handle it, like Nolan Ryan's arm." When Adams finally learned how to work with his condition, "it was like graduating all over again." His methods seem to be working: "Counting sideman gigs and my own deal," he calculates, "I probably play 5 to 12 gigs a week...I played six hours yesterday, but if it flares up again, I might have to go back to teaching."
In the meantime, though, things are looking up. Adams has just finished a brace of CD release parties, playing clubs like Strictly Tabu and Sambuca with New York trumpet player Marvin Stamm, Houston pianist Joe Locasio, and drummer Soph. Although Stamm and Locasio have returned to their respective homes, the combo will play on with a rotating roster of employees.
By releasing Jump Shot, Adams joins the ranks of talented area musicians like boundary-crossing harpist Cindy Horstman, folks facing the daunting task of trying to build regional cachet into national demand. Adams--currently a part-time adjunct professor of electric and acoustic bass at UNT--plans to take things slowly at first, establishing himself with local listeners, and then gradually expand.
"In jazz, it's hard to do more than one market at a time," Adams allows. "It's easy to get spread out real thin and not back yourself up. You can get airplay in New York or the West Coast, but if you don't play there, it won't really matter."
Not with a bang
No one involved will comment directly yet, but the members of Spot appear to be watching their deal with Interscope Records fall apart in front of them. Originally signed to Ardent Records--which had taken the band about as far as the label could, cashwise--the self-managed power trio had garnered quite a bit of attention with its catchy-dumb hit, "Moon June Spoon," off of its eponymous debut. Ardent, recognizing Spot's market potential, tried to parlay that into an alliance with a major label, in this case Interscope.