Remembering Jack Adams

Jack Adams — the trumpeter who influenced thousands of Westport students and colleagues as a teacher, mentor and Southern-born mensch — died Wednesday night.

His music may be stilled. His distinctive drawl is gone. But his lessons and influence will live on for years.

Jack Adams

Jack Adams

“He was unbelievable — the best,” says Alice Lipson, who taught with him for 3 decades at Long Lots Junior High, and Staples High School.

In her 2nd year at Long Lots, Lipson was asked to direct “Bye Bye Birdie.” She was terrified. But with Adams directing the student pit, all was well.

“He had an extraordinary ability to bring out the best in kids,” Lipson adds. “He had a great way of communicating, and reaching everyone.”

Lipson loved hearing her colleague’s stories of his time as a young musician. In 1952 — newly arrived in New York from his native Kentucky — Adams met a similarly struggling Eydie Gorme. He knew greats like Miles Davis.

“He was a gift to everyone who met him. I will miss that sweet man,” she says.

Anthony Ryan — a 1987 Staples graduate — calls Adams “easily one of the top 3 teachers in my life. He inflamed my passion for music, rewarded my loyalty and hard work, and molded me into the man I am today.” The former junior high, high school and music camp student recalls Adams’ “guidance, discipline, humor and love,” and honors him not only for his lessons, but “my successful transition from boy to young man.”

Jack Adams teaches -- and plays with -- Staples freshman Ryan Price, in 1992.

Jack Adams teaches — and plays with — Staples freshman Ryan Price, in 1992.

Cindy Shuck took private lessons with Adams throughout middle and high school. “He was a big part of my growing up, and taught me discipline and responsibility through trumpet,” she says.

She still has her notebook, which he wrote in every week. She will always keep it “because it contains so many lessons, words of encouragement, lists that he lived by and overall music brilliance that he shared.”

A trio of Staples music department legends: band leader Jack Adams, choral director George Weigle and orchestra maestro John Hanulik.

A trio of Staples music department legends: band leader Jack Adams, choral director George Weigle and orchestra maestro John Hanulik.

Vern Sielert notes says of his band director and lesson teacher from 5th grade though high school:

I learned about the fundamentals of trumpet playing from him, but I learned so much more — about responsibility, professionalism, respect for the greats, discipline.

He took me to New York to see “42nd Street,” and introduced me to the trumpet section in the pit. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about concepts I learned from him, and share them with my students. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Mr. Adams.

Jon Owens began studying under Adams in 3rd grade, and continued through high school. Today he’s a professional musician. On Facebook, Owens wrote:

He taught me the fundamentals of trumpet playing that I still revert back to today. He always strived for excellenc,e and pushed me to become a better player. But more than that, he taught how to be a decent person. He had rock solid and unyielding standards of conduct and musicianship that were not waived for anyone. I pass on some of his sayings to my students: “It’s better to be an hour early than a minute late!”

As an adult, Owens cherished his visits with his former teacher. They shared stories of great musicians, played trumpets together, and listened to recordings.

Owens says Adams’ extensive record collection took up half his studio. He also collected rare instruments.

Jack Adams with Jonathan Owens, after the 1986 Memorial Day parade.

Jack Adams with Jonathan Owens, after the 1986 Memorial Day parade.

Owens sums up:

He was a legendary performer and bandleader as well as teacher. He made a positive impact on many, many lives, and that is something we should all strive for. He poured his heart and soul into everything he did, and our community was better off because of him. He was my mentor, and I would not be who I am today without Jack Adams. I let a few notes really hang out there tonight in his honor. I know he is looking down and smiling!




24 responses to “Remembering Jack Adams

  1. linda (pomerantz) novis

    Many good memories of Jack enjoying sitting in playing jazz sets with John Mehegan’s jazz trio,at a packed
    Dameon’s,(next to Mario’s),in the long-ago 1970’s.(& Jack & John both now still enjoying playing great tunes up there..:-)

  2. Wow, fond memories of marching in the Memorial Day Parade in the early 70’s, pounding the bass drum while Mr A led us in step to I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy! Very positive man, who was always smiling, or making others smile! One of those teachers i will always remember!!!! Play on Jack…

  3. This says something of presence, I really never studied music and had no connection to the 4 building back in the day, but I knew who Jack Adams was… He commanded presence and had a way about him that did garnered respect… Staples has lost one more bridge to the past that put it on its trajectory to its current day greatness

  4. What a blessing to have had Jack Adams as a band teacher at Long Lots followed by George Weigel and Bob Genualdi at Staples. Music education doesn’t get much better. I can still hear your Southern drawl Jack Adams.
    Thanks for the music and the inspiration.

  5. Roberta tager

    Thank you, Dan woof for this special article/tribute to mr Adams!

  6. William Adler

    Thank you for publishing this tribute, Dan. I was in the Long Lots band under Mr. Adams and he tried to make me a better trumpet player. He taught me that a band or orchestra member actually had to count the measures (vs., say, just guessing, or daydreaming while others played their sections.) I recall him giving the trumpet section practice exercises to keep saying “A-U-A-U…” over and over, to gain mouth flexibility. He instilled responsibility by making it clear that one had to earn the right to be first chair of a particular section, and sometimes he staged playoffs between competing band members and the band voted who should get the chair. I remember such a faceoff in 7th grade with Phil Gambaccini, and the sad part is that we were weren’t competing for first chair – it was to avoid becoming last chair. We were given the song “Double Your Pleasure” (as in the gum) to each, in turn, play. The band voted that we both belonged in last chair. (At Staples Phil and I switched to percussion and fared better.) I also remember seeing Mr. Adams enjoying jazz at Fat Tuesday, a former Westport restaurant that I believe was in the Acqua space. Phil and I spoke of Mr. Adams fondly as we played in bands into our 20s and 30s and I miss him. A-U-A-U will always bring memories and a smile…

  7. Wow, what a loss. Jack Adams was a fantastic teacher, and a generous, joyous, and loving man.

    Jack taught me to play the tenor sax at Hillspoint Elementary, and I continued to study with him at Long Lots, and at Staples when he conducted the pit orchestra in the Staples Players’ production of Guys and Dolls. To put it mildly, I was a disrespectful and not particularly diligent student (a real “cornball” in Jack’s lexicon). But Jack never gave up on me, and when I enjoyed a brief professional career – as John Mehegan’s bass player in the mid-70s – nobody was more proud of me. (Jack and John were mutual admirers. One night Jack requested “If I Were a Bell” from Guys and Dolls, and John asked him what key he’d like it in, since he could play it equally well in any of the 12 keys. Jack replied, “I bet you can, you mutha’!”, and I think they settled on the key of B – which did not exactly please me as the bass player.)

    In 2006, when Craig Barrett and I turned 50, we met in Westport (Craig lives in Pittsburgh, and I live in Seattle), and our conversation turned to how influential Jack had been to us both. So we decided, just for the heck of it, to get in the rental car, and drive over to Jack’s house on Long Lots Road to see if he still lived there (This was more than 30 years after we had graduated from Staples). Jack happened to be in the yard, and damned if he didn’t walk over to the car, greet us both by name, invite us in, and then spend the next two hours reminiscing about all of our classmates. “How’s Bob Freedman”? “Man, have you heard Tad Shull play?” “Hey Jim, you live in Seattle, you should look up Vern Sielert”. I got the distinct impression that day that Jack had never forgotten even one of his students.

    If you studied brass or woodwind with Jack, I bet you remember that tennis ball on a stick that he used to shove into our abdomens while we were playing (to make sure we had good “breath support”). That sort of thing was typical of Mr. Adams – he always got us to do a little more than we wanted to do, because he knew it would pay off later. On that day in 2006 when Craig and I visited Jack at his house, I jokingly reminded him about that dreaded tennis ball on a stick. He motioned to a corner of his studio: “There it is”. And so it was.

    • William Adler

      I got the tennis ball on a stick often. I was a cornball too.

    • I remember when Mr. Adams conducted the pit orchestra for Guys and Dolls. In those days the pit orchestra was all students…not like the “ringers” they have for Players productions these days. At any rate I remember one particularly trying rehearsal he expressed his frustration in typically comic way by singing “Fire me, fire me, please don’t rehire me, I’ve had it!” This was an adaptation of the song “Sue Me” from the show and predictably it cracked everyone up and lightened the mood. I love that memory! Miss you Mr. Adams!!!

  8. Gerry kuroghlian

    The 4 Building has always been the crowning jewel in the education crown that is Staples and Jack Adams was one of its brightest facets. We have lost a great colleague and friend. Move over Gabriel, Jack is blowing his horn!

  9. Scott Brodie (Staples '70)

    Jack Adams was surely one of the unsung and under-appreciated foundations of the great Westport music tradition, with his infinite patience and determination molding the fledgling band and orchestra at Long Lots into the skilled and disciplined musicians who’s playing blossomed at Staples and beyond. Indeed, leading Junior High musicians was often more like herding cats than interpreting music. Mr. Adams treated each of us as an individual, reminding us that even if our part was musically simple or uninspiring, we could still put the time to good use practicing the clarity of the attack, or supporting the sound better (with that tennis-ball-on-a-stick as a reminder). The lessons reverberate to this day.

  10. Mr. Adams taught my father in Kentucky and me in Westport. He was a great musician and teacher and will be missed.

  11. Jack was a spirited and kind colleague who “lived” down the hall in the Four Building. His stories of playing at the Whlte House and with other musicians of note were engaging. I watched as he helped former students as readily as he did those in his classes. He always reached for excellence and tried to push others there as well. The picture of John, George and Jack reminded me of just how much the arts were valued at Staples – what a trio. The Four Building was a haven for many and Jack helped make it so. Miss you and your charming drawl and your friendly smile.

  12. If I am not mistaken (an I know I am not because I still hear it in my sleep most nights), Jack was fond of his ACME Thunderer metal whistle 🙂 And while the tennis-ball-on-a-stick trick was well known, you haven’t lived until you’ve played a trumpet lesson lying on the ground with a classmate standing on your abdomen.

    I didn’t go on to play trumpet too long, but Jack did instill a love & appreciation for the craft and its discipline. Just a couple months ago I took my musically-inclined son to see trumpeter Chris Botti, and all night long was interspersed with Jack Adams stories 🙂

  13. Jim Honeycutt

    At one time, the Symphonic Band was not part of Candlelight. I can’t imagine this wonderful holiday concept today without hearing three pieces by Mr. Mariconda’s musicians. That changed because of Jack Adams. I remember that Jack decided the horn players should be part of Candlelight but his initial requests to have his musicians join the other on stage fell on deaf ears. So Jack had the band set up in the lobby and as people came in to attend Candleight, they got to hear his band perform. Soon after, the format of Candlelight changed and the band joined the choirs and string players for the Candlelight celebration. I remember many great things about Jack Adams. But his decision to have the band be part of Candlelight is one memory worth sharing.

  14. Jonathan Maddock

    Jack Adams the teacher and friend. Not just musician. Not just music teacher. He had talent that went beyond those limits. Jack had the ability to form relationships that lasted a lifetime, and the inspiration to help others form a life with meaning.
    I met Jack as a fifth grader in Hillspoint. He helped me to pick out the instrument that I would continue to play for years to come, and lead to a life-long appreciation of an eclectic variety of musical styles. Throughout Junior High at Long Lots Jack was a yearly influence. He created continuity throughout those years. His influence reached into Staples, while in my senior year he conducted the pit orchestra in the Staples Players’ production of Guys and Dolls. No other teacher had a greater,longer positive influence on me.
    In the late 1990’s I sent him a Christmas card and thanked him for all that he had done. Imagine my surprise when he looked up my phone number and called me to thank me! He really had that backwards.
    When my good friend Fred Robinson’s father “Robbie” passed and we had a memorial concert for him at the Levitt Pavilion, Jack was there again. Smiling, drawling, and asking about our lives. He had a great humility, or “other-centeredness” about him.
    I hadn’t had the honor of speaking with him for a few years now. That was my shortcoming, not his. I’ll miss him.

  15. Eddie Stalling

    An amazing man, Jack gave me the encouragement and shaping that fueled my life-long passion for drums and percussion, which I am still active in. Among many concepts, Jack’s mantra “drums should be felt, not heard” was above my head in 1972 Long Lots, but stayed with me and totally influenced my style and got me the gigs. I’ll never forget him showing up at my father’s funeral ten years ago: hearing that distinct drawl “Eddie – how’s the drumming going, man?” and looking up to his broad smile. I remember living my kids watching Sesame Street in Alaska and who shows up on the screen but Jack Adams and his trumpet! Jack, thanks for influencing so many of us, you left us with such a gift. RIP

  16. Eddie, you just gave me another happy Jack Adams flashback – I recall him teaching that there is a natural tendency for a band to slow down when the dynamics grow quiet, and one has to push through as if one has percussion in our brains and keep that beat no matter the volume. What an impact to have those lessons still bubbling up 50 years later !!!

  17. Toooka, toooka, toooka, tooo, Jack! The best.

  18. Jack was not only an amazing educator and talent, he was a rock solid anchor for many of us that needed it during a free spirited time of self-governance (1970’s and 80’s). Wow… He demanded the best from each of us and brought a sense of responsibility and discipline that refreshingly smacked in the face of laissez-faire education, increasingly common in local teaching methods. Showing up for a lesson or rehearsal without adequate preparation rarely happened. It was simply too painful and embarrassing to disappoint. He truly cared. Raking his leaves and planting trees at his place on Long Lots Road in exchange for lessons, was an amazing bargain. I could go on and on… He was a great guy!

  19. I studied with Jack (Mr. Adams to me) throughout Long Lots and Staples education. He helped me select my Bach strad (which I still play daily) and was a great influence on me as a musician and leader. He will be missed.

  20. I’m so sad to hear of this loss to Staples and the music community in Westport. Jack Adams was, without question, one of the most important teachers in my life. I started lessons with him when I was 10 and stayed with him all through high school. He got me into the Julliard Pre-College Program and took me to music events in NYC. He recommended New England Music Camp, where I spent my summers. He instilled in me a great love of music, and of hard work. His sense of humor was amazing! I will never forget him. Those lessons at his house on Long Lots Road were some of the best hours of my young life.

  21. Marc Selverstone

    I’m late to the conversation, but wanted to echo all the wonderful things that have been said about Jack Adams. Simply going over to his house and being immersed in music with a real pro who cared about his students’ development was special. He always challenged us to be better, and to expect more from ourselves. Bravo to Jack Adams for being such a positive an enduring influence on so many lives.