Cannonball Adderley Biography

Julian Edwin Adderley, 15 September 1928, Tampa, Florida, USA, d. 8 August 1975, Gary, Indiana, USA. Cannonball Adderley was one of the great saxophonists of his generation. His fiery, blues-soaked interpretations of Charlie Parker’s alto legacy brought jazz to many people hitherto untouched by it. In the 60s he launched a new genre, soul jazz, whose popularity has survived undiminished into the new millennium.

Cannonball was derived from ‘Cannibal’, a nickname earned at high school on account of his prodigious appetite. He studied brass and reed instruments there between 1944 and 1948. Until 1956 he was band director at Dillerd High School, Lauderdale, Florida, as well as leader of his own jazz quartet. While serving in the forces he became director of the 36th Army Band, an ensemble that included his younger brother Nat Adderley on trumpet. Persuaded to go to New York by legendary alto saxophonist and R&B singer Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson, Cannonball created a sensation at the Café Bohemia, playing alongside bass player Oscar Pettiford. In 1958 he signed to Riverside Records and over the next six years released a series of albums, many of them recorded live, that laid the foundations of the soul jazz genre. As well as his brother Nat, Adderley’s first group featured a superb rhythm section in Sam Jones and Louis Hayes, supplemented by pianist Bobby Timmons, who also wrote the group’s first hit, ‘This Here’.

From 1957-59 Adderley was part of the classic Miles Davis Quintet, an astonishing group of individuals that also included John Coltrane (tenor), Bill Evans or Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums). As well as playing on Milestones and the celebrated Kind Of Blue, Cannonball recorded his own album, the magnificent Somethin’ Else, for Blue Note Records - Davis guested on the recording, a rare honour. He also made a major contribution to Gil Evans’ New Bottles, Old Wine in 1958. After leaving Davis, Cannonball re-formed his own band, with Nat still on cornet. In 1961 Yusef Lateef joined on tenor saxophone and stayed for two productive years. This band nurtured the talents of electric pianists Joe Zawinul, and then George Duke. It was Zawinul’s ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’, recorded live at the Club Delisa in Chicago, that provided Adderley with his next major hit, reaching number 11 in the US charts in February 1967. The title was indicative of the band’s fondness for gospel-orientated, black consciousness themes. Their last hit was ‘Country Preacher’, again a Zawinul composition, which peaked in early 1970 (number 29 in the R&B charts). Straight jazz never again enjoyed such mass appeal.

When asked about his inspirations, Cannonball cited the swing alto saxophonist Benny Carter and, of course, Charlie Parker - but his understanding of blues distortion also enabled him to apply the avant garde lessons of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. His alto saxophone had a special immediacy, a welcome reminder of the blues at the heart of bebop, an element that jazz rock - the bastard offspring of soul jazz - too often suppressed. Both Adderley’s playing and his excellent catalogue are overdue for serious reappraisal. It is no exaggeration to state that he was one of the giants of the genre and yet has not been fully recognised as one.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.