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,"
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
"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
15 Anderson Street, Trenton, 609-393-5875. Saturday, September
30, 9 p.m.
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