Corrections or additions?

This article by Richard Skelly was prepared for the September 27,

2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Clifford Adams: Good Ride for an Upfront Trombone

Some jazz fans know Clifford Adams for his work with

the late drummer Art Blakey and "the Mighty Burner," the late

Hammond B-3 organist, Charles Earland. Still others know him through

his work with the likes of Kool and the Gang and Patti Labelle. How

ever they know Adams, it’s clear they appreciate his approach to the

trombone, to be sure not the most glamorous of instruments.

"I’ve kind of crossed over, back and forth, throughout my career,

between pop, R&B, and jazz," explains Adams, 47, from his home

in Ewing Township.

Several weeks ago, for the grand opening of Trenton’s new alcohol-free

nightclub, Casino’s After Dark, Adams performed with his


jazz group, which includes pianist Sam Dockery, bassist Charles


and drummer Allen Nelson. He and another, more eclectic group, Inner

Flight, will return to Casino’s this Saturday, September 30. More

traditional jazz fans should also look for Adams’ traditional jazz

group at places like the Urban Word and Maxine’s in Trenton, and at

Havana in New Hope.

"With the modern R&B stuff, because I know the genre and I came

up in the midst of it, it’s not a foreign thing to me," he


of his ongoing work with Kool and the Gang, a group that never really

broke up, but has had varying members over the years since its


in the mid-1970s. Kool and the Gang are best known for their


hit, "Celebration Time," but also for "Jungle Boogie,"

and "Get Down On It," all hits from the late 1970s.

Work with bands like Kool and the Gang certainly helps

to pay the rent, Adams readily admits. But most people don’t


his extensive jazz credentials, including work with some of the most

respected jazz vocalists and musicians around, among them Slide


a fellow trombonist, vocalists Nancy Wilson and the late Ella


organist Earland, pianists Bross Townsend and Dr. Billy Taylor,


Max Roach and Elvin Jones, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band.

"I like to tell people I work with Kool and the Gang because I

have a jazz habit that needs to be satisfied," he says, chuckling.

"Even though the trombone is not a glamorous instrument, and it’s

not naturally what people gravitate towards — usually it’s being

a singer or playing saxophone — I’ve been fortunate to be able

to carve out some kind of niche for myself through the years,"

he explains.

Of his gig this Saturday with his group, Inner Flight, which includes

his wife, Renatyah, on vocals, drummer Chuck Holloway, guitarist Gary

Little and pianist Ted Plunkett, Adams says the group is by no means

a straight-ahead jazz group.

"It’s danceable yet musical, for a general audience who are jazz

purists," Adams explains. "We perform tunes that are a good

cross-section of genres." The group Inner Flight took flight


years ago at his sister’s wedding, he explains. "People liked

the trombone up front and we realized that this has some


he says. That was before the group actually turned into a working

band several years ago. Adams likes the variety in his musical life,

and divides his time between road shows with Kool and the Gang, who

are still a popular concert draw, and his straight-ahead and crossover

jazz groups.

"From time to time I like to bring the music to my hometown and

I like to do it so there’s a real groove in there," he says,


"I’ve always liked James Brown, War, and these Motown things.

I like to sing from time to time, too. It’s a fun band and we’ve


developed into a solid working unit over the last few years."

In the fall of 1998, Adams released his debut CD under his own name

as a bandleader, "Master Power" (Naxos Jazz), which includes

contributions from retired Rutgers jazz professor and pianist Kenny

Barron, bassist Ray Drummond, drummer Lewis Nash, and saxophonist

Antonio Hart. In November of last year, Adams and his group made waves

at the Cape May Jazz Festival as they performed on the main stage

in Congress Hall.

"Master Power" has been well-received at public and


jazz radio stations around the country and the tunes are a smorgasbord

of contemporary jazz, bebop, and other tradition-based jazz forms.

Adams estimates the Naxos Jazz label has sold about 10,000 units of

his debut CD, enough to follow up with another recording in the next

year or two.

Adams, the son of an auto mechanic father, owner of Adams’ Auto


and state government employee mother, was born in 1952 in Trenton.

His mother encouraged his appreciation of jazz through her


playing of the recordings by jazz masters in the Adams household.

He began singing in the school choir at age 12 and began playing


at age 14. He ran cross-country in high school and that stimulated

his interest in meditation and later helped him in his trombone


he says. Adams serves as co-director of the Trenton Jazz Youth


His wife Renatyah is a teacher at Holland Middle School; they are

the parents of two children, ages six and eight.

As anyone who has seen Adams perform live can attest — as I did

last fall at the Cape May Jazz Festival — when he’s on stage,

he has a focus about him that allows him to ignore everything else

that’s going on except the tune he and his band happen to be playing

at the moment. Not surprisingly, Adams tells us his interest in


grew out of his time in high school as a runner.

"Being a cross-country runner is a thankless kind of sport to

get involved with," he points out, noting there are no crowds

cheering the runners on at most events. "It’s just you and the

elements, out in the woods, you don’t get screaming fans like you

would at a basketball or a football game. So whatever inspiration

you get has to come from within, and it proved to be very positive

and inspirational in my development."

Adams meditates regularly, and "that helps me focus when I’m


so that I’m in constant pursuit of excellence and perfection in my


Adams says he’s happy to play for people like Gino Maccaroni, the

co-owner and manager of Casino’s After Dark, because he’s been on

the Trenton scene, supporting and understanding a variety of jazz

and blues musicians, for a long time.

"Years ago, he had his own place called Gino’s Casino and it did

really well," Adams recalls. "All the musicians really enjoyed

playing for him, even though it wasn’t a whole lot of money. It was

just this feeling you got from him of being appreciated as a musician

and a human being," he says, adding, "and he does cook a


good pasta, too!"

Adams says his first big break came about when he got

to know Hammond B-3 organist Charlie Earland at one of his many gigs

at the Fantasy Lounge in Trenton. He met Earland, who died last fall,

in 1971. Earland asked Adams to go on the road with his group, and

Adams’ trombone playing can be heard on Earland’s


and "I Ain’t Jivin, I’m Jammin" albums on the Muse label.

Adams didn’t join Kool and the Gang until later. The band was founded

in Jersey City in 1977. Since the 1970s, Adams has performed and


with organist Jimmy McGriff, the Spirit of Life Ensemble, Regina


LaToya Jackson, Sonny Fortune, Sonny Rollins, and in 1980 he joined

the late drummer Art Blakey’s band.

"Because I had gotten to know all these people at the Fantasy

Lounge, when I got to New York, I was not a stranger," he says

of his time in the late 1970s and early ’80s when he lived in New


"Also in that period, one of my greatest honors was being on this

album with [trombonist] Slide Hampton, `The World of Trombones,’ which

included nine trombonists that Slide hand-picked to work with


he says. "That album sounds like there’s trumpets and flugelhorns

on it, because of the registers he had us playing in."

Patrons who attend Saturday’s show should be prepared for an eclectic

set of tunes with the trombone and vocals front and center. Fans of

modern R&B and Motown will be as happy as the jazz fan who isn’t too

much of a purist.

"It’s pretty much a potpourri and a fusion of jazz, R&B and pop.

I’ll be showcasing all the different experiences I’ve had as an


he says, "in a way that kind of meshes them all together."

After all, Adams adds, "I’ve played trombone with everyone from

[organists] Bill Doggett and Wild Bill Davis to [the late


Sun Ra to Kool and the Gang and Patti Labelle, so I’ve kind of covered

the spectrum. It’s been a good ride, and I’m still riding."

— Richard J. Skelly

Clifford Adams and Inner Flight, Casino’s After Dark,

15 Anderson Street, Trenton, 609-393-5875. Saturday, September

30, 9 p.m.

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