Mitch’s Books: Author chronicles poignant tale of U.S. Army hero

In Shadow Commander: The Epic Story of Donald D. Blackburn (Casemate Publishers), author Mike Guardia presents his readers with a memorable story of an underdog whose career was a testament to dogged determination and the will to stay alive.

On the evening of April 9, 1942, the fires on Bataan burned with a primitive fury, illuminating white flags of surrender against the dark sky. Outnumbered and outgunned, remnants of the American-Philippine army surrendered to the forces of the Rising Sun. Yet U.S. Army Capt. Donald D. Blackburn refused to lay down his arms. With future Special Forces legend Russell Volckmann, Blackburn escaped to the jungles of North Luzon, raising a private army of 22,000 men against the Japanese. His organization of native tribes into guerrilla fighters would lead to the destruction of the enemy’s naval base at Aparri.

But Blackburn’s remarkable accomplishments didn’t end with the victory in the Pacific. He played a key role in initiating Army Special Forces operations in Southeast Asia, became commander of the 77th Special Forces Group and later took command of the highly classified Studies and Observations Group (SOG), charged with performing secret missions. Blackburn also revitalized the Special Operations campaign in South Vietnam, conducting full-scale operations against the NVA and Viet Cong in Laos and Cambodia. Following his return to the U.S., Blackburn was the architect of the infamous Son Tay Prison Raid, the largest prisoner-of-war rescue mission — and, indeed, the largest Army Special Forces operation — of the Vietnam War.

During a period when U.S. troops in Southeast Asia faced guerrilla armies on every side, America had a superb covert commander of its own. This book follows Blackburn through both his youthful days of desperate combat and his time as a commander, imparting his lessons to the new ranks of Army Special Forces.

An internationally-recognized author and military historian, Mike Guardia is also a veteran of the United States Army. He served six years on active duty as an Armor Officer. He is the author of the widely-acclaimed Hal Moore: A Soldier Once … and Always, the first-ever biography chronicling the life of Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore, whose leadership was popularized in the film We Were Soldiers starring Mel Gibson.  As a lecturer, Mike Guardia has given presentations at the U.S. Special Operations Command and the George Bush Presidential Library.  He holds a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degreee in American History from the University of Houston and currently resides in Texas.

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jazz music performances releases United States

Jazz historian Gary Carner journeys forth with Pepper Adams’ “Joy Road”

How do you bring attention to the compositional genius of a jazz artist, who, though internationally beloved by colleagues as one of the greatest baritone saxophonists to ever live, has been marginalized by history books and ignored as a composer? That, in sum, presents the quixotic challenge taken on by Gary Carner with his digital box set, JOY ROAD: The Complete Works of Pepper Adams (Volumes 1-5), available now from Motéma Music, and his exhaustively researched book, Pepper Adams’ Joy Road: An Annotated Discography, out simultaneously from Scarecrow Press.

In connection with these two grand undertakings, Motéma will also release two physical CDs: a stand-alone version of Volume 5, I Carry Your Heart: Alexis Cole Sings Pepper Adams, singled out because it documents the first-ever versions of Adams’ music to be paired with lyrics; and the JOY ROAD SAMPLER, a CD of highlights from the digital box set that shall be made available  in stores and online.

Via Carner’s new literary and musical JOY ROAD offerings, the world will get a fresh and unbridled take on this musical giant. Pepper Adams (1930-1986) “was loved by everyone in the industry,” says Carner, a noted jazz historian, as well as the owner of the gourmet wine brokerage, Sommelier Direct, LLC in a news release. “The fact that he allowed me into his confidence back in the 1980’s,” says Carner, “opened my entire life, my entire world into the jazz community.” After meeting in 1984, the two became close friends, with Carner doing extensive interviews to help Adams write his autobiography. Sadly, in 1986, Adams was cut down in his prime by cancer. In the wake of his loss, Carner’s literary intentions were forced to take a turn, resulting in the annotated discography eventually released by Scarecrow this August, as well as a full-length biography that is still in the works.

Pepper book cover “Days before Adams died,” Carner explains, “pianist Tommy Flanagan, Pepper’s closest friend, was by his bedside. He later told me that Pepper weakly motioned toward my unfinished manuscript on thenightstand, as if to say ‘please make sure my legacy gets out there.’ When I heard that story,” Carner continues, “I knew I had to finish this work. The guy was an absolute genius as a musician, as a stylist, and as a composer… incredible! I needed to let the world know about those three things, especially the compositions.”

Now, 28 years after meeting Adams, Carner’s labor of love is complete. But what about the amazing Pepper compositions that Carner discovered along the way, mostly on out-of-print discs? The only way to introduce the world to all 43 tunes as a collection would be to produce contemporary recordings of the Adams songbook — a passionate undertaking, to say the least.

Carner chose to highlight the versatility of Adams’ compositions by placing the music in different settings. He engaged Chicago pianist Jeremy Kahn to record Volume 1 in a trio format. Next, Carner tapped the fine Atlanta-based pianist Kevin Bales to assemble a quartet for Volume 2 with guitarist Barry Greene featured. New York based baritone sax man, Frank Basile, presides over a sextet for Volume 3; and for Volume 4, Carner brought Kahn back with his trio and special guest, Gary Smulyan, who is Adams’ chief acolyte and was just voted Baritone Saxophonist of the Year for 2012 by the Jazz Journalists Association.

With Volumes 1-4, the 43-composition oeuvre was complete, but Carner had one more mission to fulfill. He had heard of Pepper’s unfulfilled wish to have lyrics set to his seven ballads. So, for the vital fifth volume, Carner engaged poet Barry Wallenstein (one of his literary mentors) to pen original lyrics. Award-winning vocalist and one of five finalists in this year’s Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition, Alexis Cole (also a Motéma artist), performs on this session, arranged and led by Jeremy Kahn, with both Eric Alexanderand Pat LaBarbera featured on tenor saxes.

The fifth volume completes Carner’s massive tribute on a highly original note. Resetting Adams’ seven ballads in different tempos and styles, and pairing them with Wallenstein’s richly literary lyrics, serves as an especially fitting tribute to the creative, witty, well-read jazz legend who had named many of his compositions after famous literary works, such as “Lovers of Their Time”. The songs also add seven luscious new additions to the vocal jazz canon.

Carner’s historically detailed liner notes provide important career facts about the barigiant, who played with virtually every major jazz legend. There are also amusing anecdotes about the genesis of each song in the collection. The JOY ROAD SAMPLER includes an abridged version of the notes from the Complete Works set.

Gary CarnerTo launch his new book and music offerings, Carner has collaborated with Motéma to co-opt his regularly scheduled Sommelier Direct fall wine sales route, and turn it into a 30-city JOY ROAD release tour, in which he will preside over book and CD signings; emcee live music performances of Pepper’s music; do radio publicity stops; and give college lectures… with wine tastings all along the way!

Live music highlights on the tour include: Jeremy Kahn performing Pepper Adams at The Chicago Jazz Festival (Sept. 2); the star-studded PEPPER ADAMS JOY ROAD CELEBRATION NYC (Sept. 24 -30); an Adams’ birthday celebration led by Pat LaBarbera in Toronto (10/6), and a Pepper Adams week in Los Angeles featuring Gary Smulyan, Dale Fielder, and Eric Reed.

The New York City week is the most lavish. It kicks off with special big-band charts which will honor Pepper Adams, performed by the Grammy-winning Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (in which Adams once held the baritone chair); there is an Alexis Cole CD release at Smoke (Sept. 26); a spectacular performance dubbed “The Three Baris” at Ginny’s Supper Club in Harlem (Sept. 29) – The Three Baris are: Frank Basile, Ronnie Cuber, and Gary Smulyan. They will be backed by famed Pepper Adams’ collaborators, George Mraz (bass), Don Friedman (piano) and Kenny Washington (drums). And, to top off the Pepper feast, Birdland Jazz Club will present new Bevan Manson string quartet arrangements of Adams’ ballads; a tribute to Pepper by world renowned composer David Amram; and on that double-billed evening, a special feature with Arturo O’Farrill and Lew Tabackin.