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Kool and the Gang Trombonist Clifford Adams Dead at 62


Kool and the Gang trombonist Clifford Adams died this morning after a battle with liver cancer, friends close to the family said.

Adams, a Trenton native, needed a liver transplant and did not have health insurance. His health severely declined over the last year.

On Christmas Eve, friends held a press conference to raise awareness about his health problems and raise funds to cover the cost of a transplant. Supporters collected money through Jazz Bridge, a nonprofit crowdfunding site that supports musicians.

Born in Trenton, Adams played with many of the jazz greats of the 20th century. In 1968, he got his professional start in Trenton, in the horn section of a band called the VSQs. He, Michael Ray, and Jimmy Stackhouse comprised that horn section. By the age of 17, he was playing on the road with Patti Labelle and the Bluebells. After spending the summer on the road, he returned home to further his education in music theory at Trenton State College. He sat in at the Fantasy Lounge, a Trenton Jazz club where young musicians were groomed, and played for matinee audiences. Clifford played there with Sonny Stitt, James Moody, George Benson, Shirley Scott, Gene Ammons, Don Patterson, and Charles Earland, who took young Adams out on the road.

While playing at Harlem’s famed jazz spot, The Club Barron, Clifford met many jazz greats, including Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. In 1973, Adams Adams, Mike Ray, and Larry Gittens were the horn section for The Stylistics world tour. Adams then went on a two-year stint with the world famous Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Big Band. After playing with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, then headed by the Duke’s son Mercer Ellington, he did a European tour with Max Roach, and then formally joined Kool & the Gang.

Generations of people are familiar with the Clifford Adams trombone solos on “Joanna” from Kool & the Gang, “Someday We’ll All Be Free/Save the Children” from Regina Belle, and the much celebrated “Slam Dunk,” released in the spring of 1996 by Kool & the Gang, featuring Clifford Adams on the “NBA at 50″ multi-platinum selling album. The following year, Adams released his debut solo project; a classical Jazz CD entitled “The Master Power,” which did very well throughout Europe, which is home to an enormous Adams’ fan base. His second  solo CD was “I Feel Your Spirit.”

Condolences were posted on Facebook and other social media sites and websites today as news spread of Adams’ death.

“This is a devastating loss for so many people and the world of music,” wrote Jim Holton. “He was one of the most amazing, kind, caring and gentle people I ever knew. I will miss him dearly.”

“The world lost an amazing human being today in the passing of legendary trombonist Clifford Adams, but I lost a wonderfully supportive and inspiring friend,” wrote Anthony Branker, the director of jazz studies at Princeton University. “It was my honor and joy to have worked with and learn from Clifford for over twenty-five years and I will never forget his beautiful spirit, his laughter, his otherworldly musicianship, and his love for life. May God Bless and Protect his Family and hold them close now and always.”

Written by
Krystal Knapp

Krystal has been a journalist in the Trenton area since 1999. A graduate of Smith College and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is from Detroit. She likes baseball, cats, jazz, ukulele, typewriters, chai, and good coffee. Follow her @planettrenton.

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  • A Celebration Of Love For
    The Late Great
    Clifford Adams

    When: Sun.,March. 8, 2015
    Where: Nottingham Firehouse Ballroom
    Mercerville, NJ. 08690
    Time : 4 pm-9 pm
    Tickets: $ 50.00
    *ALL Proceeds Will Offset Medical & Other Expenses Incurred ..PLEASE SUPPORT

    Cliff Was One Of Our Own

    Many Musical Guest

    Sponsored by: Sheila Sherman-Baldwin. & FRIENDS OF CLIFFORD

    CONTACT: Sheila. 609-954-6440 or. 609-393-0242 for tickets & information

  • I had the honor of meeting you in Chile , you have a great soul .
    thanks for your talent , thanks for your charisma , thanks for your humility , thanks for being part of my favorite band.( Kool and the Gang )
    Rest in peace dear Cliffford , see you in the future

    Orlando Funk T.
    (Chile )

  • I was cutting the grass at Ms. Joanie Adams’s house on Burton Avenue when her nephew Clifford Adams asked me “hey Algie is it hard to play a horn, Im thinking about trying it ?”. I was learning to play the trumpet in the Junior High School #1 Orchestra. I said, “nah it’s not that hard, give it a shot”. When I saw him again a little while later, I asked him how it was coming along, he said, ” I tried the trumpet but I like the trombone better because the mouth-piece is bigger and easier to play”. In what seemed to be a extraordinarily short time Cliff had learned to play the ‘bone, not just make sounds, I mean play whole songs well. He had the uncanny ability to focus at a young age on developing his talent, and he did, very quickly. He joined a local band named the “VSQ’s” with Trumpeter Mike Ray and Saxophonist Jimmy Stackhouse and the rest is history. The ‘bone took Clifford Adams around the world, but he was always a humble and kind person. He had that most elusive of traits among celebrities – class.

Written by Krystal Knapp