Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Adams, George (Rufus)

Tenor saxophonist and flutist George Adams combined elements of blues, funk, jazz and rhythm and blues with his own primal timbre, contributing provocative moments to sessions led by bassist Charles Mingus, composer Gil Evans and others. He also formed memorable ensembles with Don Pullen, Dannie Richmond and

George Rufus Adams was born on April 29, 1940 in Covington, Georgia. Adams began his initial musical education at the age of seven by playing the piano and by the time he was a teenager, he was gaining considerable performance experience by playing the tenor saxophone with local funk bands. As a teenager, George attended Clark College in Atlanta where he received instruction on the flute from Wayman Carver, an alumnus of drummer Chick Webb’s orchestra.

In 1961, Adams accompanied singer Sam Cooke on a tour. By the early 1960s, George was based out of Cleveland where he spent a great deal of time studying and working with organ trios alongside pianist and organist Bill Doggett. The two men played a form of music that juxtaposed rhythm and blues with jazz. In 1968, he decided to expand his career and move to New York City to participate in the city’s fertile jazz scene.

The following year, Adams joined the band of drummer Roy Haynes, playing with him until 1973. Shortly after, George performed with drummer Art Blakey before joining the band of Charles Mingus, an association that would last until 1976.

His first appearance with Mingus was on his 1973 album Mingus Moves alongside trumpeter Ronald Hampton, drummer Dannie Richmond and pianist Don Pullen. The following year, Adams performed with Mingus on the albums Mingus at Carnegie Hall, Changes One and Changes Two.

In 1975, while touring Europe with Mingus, George made his first recordings under his own name with Pullen, Richmond and bassist David Williams. The same year, he began a working relationship with Gil Evans, a relationship that lasted until 1978.

1975 also saw Adams performing on Evans’s album The Gil Evans Orchestra Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix, an album dedicated to the compositional efforts of rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix. The album features orchestral versions of songs such as “Angel,” “Castles Made of Sand” and “Voodoo Child.” George continued to record with Gil throughout 1975 by contributing to the composer’s album There Comes a Time.

In 1976, Adams began to perform with pianist McCoy Tyner, performing with him on and off until the late 1980s. The following year, George performed with trumpeter Marvin “Hannibal” Peterson at the Antibes Jazz Festival in Antibes, France. In 1978, he appeared on the Tyner recording The Greeting alongside bassist Charles Fambrough and drummer Sonship.

In 1979, Adams and Pullen began to co-lead a quartet, which included Richmond and bassist Cameron Brown. In December 1979, George recorded the album Paradise Space Shuttle with his personal quintet that featured pianist Ron Burton, drummer Al Foster, bassist Don Pate and percussionist Azzedin Weston.

Adams' contributions to this ensemble are best heard on the album’s title track. After a brief introduction from Foster, Adams enters the arrangement playing a disjointed and primal melody. He then plays a more traditional bebop figure before supplementing it with a strident sounding motive. He continues to utilize several different textures throughout the song including multiphonics, blues riffs and even phrased melodic devices. The result is a performance that includes a multitude of saxophone history into four and a half minutes.

In February of 1980, Adams and Richmond recorded the album Hand to Hand for the Soul Note label. The album featured the musical talents and trombonist Jimmy Knepper, pianist Hugh Lawson and bassist Mike Richmond. In August 1980, Adams and Pullen recorded the album Earth Beams. The ensemble is at its best on the album’s title track. Adams’ immediate performance provides a great deal of melodic presence throughout the song that is easily enhanced by Pullen. George’s deep resonance helps to thicken the harmonic quality of the song. The fundamentals of the ensemble are anchored expertly by Dannie Richmond, who’s rhythmic precision provides the impact of the song.

In 1983, Adams began to expand on his career as a sideman by recording with trombonist Craig Harris on his album Black Bone. The following year, George recorded as a member of the Mingus repertory group Mingus Dynasty at the Village Vanguard. In April 1985, Adams and Pullen recorded the album Live at Montmatre, though it was not released until 2000. The album features a guest appearance by guitarist John Scofield. The group is particularly noteworthy on the song “Well, I Guess We’ll Never Know.”

After a brief introduction from Richmond, the ensemble goes into a variation of “Rhythm Changes” with a different take on the bridge. The unison line of Adams and Scofield gives the overall melodic stance of the song more body and power. During his solo, George shadows Don’s “sheets of sound” solo by performing with the same unbridled bravado and style. The addition of Scofield adds even more of a foundation for Adams to work off of with the outcome being an even more confident melodic statement.

The following year, Adams and Hannibal Peterson recorded the album More Sightings for the Enja label. In 1987, George recorded the album Where Were You? with the group Orange Then Blue. The album also featured trumpeter Ken Cervenka, trombonist Peter Cirelli and French horn player Gunther Schuller amongst others. The same year, he became a member of the band Phalanx alongside drummer Rashied Ali, bassist Sirone and guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer and released the album Original Phalanx.

In 1988, Richmond passed away and the Adams/Pullen group briefly decided to replace him with drummer Lewis Nash, then disbanded. Adams then formed a new quartet with Cameron Brown, Hugh Lawson and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. The same year, George recorded an album of ballads and spirituals entitled Nightingale alongside Lawson, Sirone and drummer Victor Lewis. The albums features renditions of “What a Wonderful World,” “Moon River” and “Ol’ Man River.” 1988 also saw the release of the Phalanx album In Touch.

In 1989, Adams performed in a duo with Tyner as well on the pianist’s release Things Ain’t What They Used to Be for Blue Note Records. The album also features contributions from John Scofield. During the early 1990s, George toured internationally in the orchestra of Mingus’ reconstructed symphony Epitaph.

In 1991, Adams released Old Feeling, his last album as a leader. Joining him on the record was Lewis Nash, Hannibal Peterson, guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly, bassist Santi Debriano and pianist Ray Gallon. On July 8, 1991, George appeared with trumpeters Miles Davis and Quincy Jones at the Montreux Jazz Festival along with the Gil Evans Orchestra and the George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band. The performance was recorded and released as Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux.

For the last year of his life, Adams was experiencing difficulty breathing, though he continued to perform with the Mingus Dynasty. George passed away on November 14, 1992 in New York City.

Select Discography

As a leader

Paradise Space Shuttle (1979)

Hand to Hand (1980)

More Sightings (1984)

Nightingale (1988)

Old Feeling (1991)

With Miles Davis & Quincy Jones

Miles & Quincy Live at Montreaux (1991)

With Gil Evans

Gil Evans Plays the Music of Jimi Hendrix (1975)

There Comes a Time (1975)

With Craig Harris

Black Bone (1983)

With Charles Mingus

Mingus Moves (1973)

Changes One (1974)

Changes Two (1974)

With Orange Then Blue

Where Were You? (1987)

With Phalanx

Original Phalanx (1987)

In Touch (1988)

With Don Pullen

Earth Beams (1980)

With McCoy Tyner

The Greeting (1978)

Things Ain’t What They Used to Be (1989)

Contributor: Eric Wendell