From his earliest appearance on the New York jazz scene in 1955, alto saxophonist Julian “Cannon-ball” Adderley remained at the forefront of the jazz world—his blues-based tone, Charlie Parker-inspired modernist concepts, and African American religious themes helping to define several of the jazz trends of the postwar era. Paired with the tenor saxophone of John Coltrane in Miles Davis’s quintet during the late 1950s, Adderley emerged as a major exponent of hard bop, or what became known as soul jazz. As leader of his own group, Adderley landed two top-selling hits in the 1970s. During his 20-year career as a nationally known talent, Adderley maintained a remarkable devotion to his music and made great strides in the education and preservation of jazz as an American art form.
Son of a jazz cornetist, Julian Edwin Adderley was born on September 15, 1928, in Tampa, Florida. He took up the saxophone at age 14 and two years later, while completing his high school studies, fronted his own band at professional engagements. Originally nicknamed “Cannibal” by high school friends for his voracious appetite, Adderley’s sobriquet later evolved into Cannonball. Attending Florida A&M University, he became proficient on trumpet and numerous reed instruments. In 1948 he began a stint as a teacher at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, a job he held intermittently until 1956.
Drafted into the army in 1950, Sergeant Adderley became leader of the 36th Army Dance Band. Among the members of the 36th Army Band were jazz greats like trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Junior Mance, and Adderley’s younger brother Nat, a cornetist. As Nat Adderley recalled in Down Beat, “Cannonball made some arrangement with the General, so basically all we ever played was dance music and we did very little with the marching band. We played with it on some official functions but other than that we worked with the normal big band of jazz groups.” Living in Washington, D. C., Adderley studied music at Maryland’s U.S. Naval Academy, and from 1952 to 1953 led an army band at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Prompted by jump blues saxophonist Eddie “Clean-head” Vinson, Adderley and his brother traveled to New York City in 1955. The unknown Adderley soon sat in with the band of bassist Oscar Pettiford at the popular Greenwich Village club Cafe Bohemia. Allowed to take the stage due to the late arrival of bandmember Jerome Richardson, Adderley underwent a fierce initiation when Pettiford called out a furiously paced version of “I’ll Remember April.” But Adderley’s study of Charlie Parker’s alto saxophone solos had prepared him for the challenges of such a breakneck tempo. As jazz historian Leonard Feather wrote in the liner notes to Somethin’ Else, Adderley “met the challenge with a long solo that just about knocked Pettiford off the stand.”
For the Record …
Born Julian Edwin Adderley, September 15, 1928, in Tampa, FL; died of a stroke, August 8, 1975, in Gary, IN. Education: Attended Florida A&M University, until 1948; studied music at U.S. Naval Academy.
Began professional career, c. 1944; taught at Dillard High School, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 1948-56; served as bandleader in U.S. Army, 1951-54; signed with Savoy label, 1955; led group with brother Nat, 1956-57; member of Miles Davis band 1957-59; organized second group as leader 1959. Led jazz workshops throughout this career. Member of Jazz Advisory Board of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Following Adderley’s performance at the Cafe Bohemia, he signed a contract with the Savoy label and became a regular member of Pettiford’s band. Attending the band’s performances at the club, Miles Davis often sat and watched the 262-pound alto saxophonist perform. “Everybody knew right away that [Cannonball] was one of the best players around,” Davis said in his autobiography, Miles. “Even white critics were raving about his playing. All the record labels were running after him. Man, he was hot that quick.”
To the astonishment of many musicians, Adderley returned to his teaching job in the fall of 1955. But rave reviews and an increasing demand for his presence in New York encouraged Adderley to return to the city in 1956 and form his own quintet with his brother Nat, pianist Junior Mance, and bassist Sam Jones. Plagued by financial difficulties, however, the group disbanded in the fall of the 1957.
In October of 1957, Adderley replaced Belgian saxophonist Bobby Jaspar in the Miles Davis Quintet. Davis recalled his early interest in Adderley’s musicianship in Miles, remarking, “I could almost hear him playing in my group the first time I heard him. He had that blues thing and I love me some blues.” Adderley remembered, as quoted in the book Milestones, “I had gotten an offer from [trumpeter] Dizzy [Gillespie] to go with his small band. I was opposite Miles at the Bohemia, told him I was going to join Dizzy, and Miles asked me why I didn’t join him. I told him he never asked me.” After a few months, Miles hired Adderley and took him on the Jazz for Moderns tour. Soon afterward, Davis expanded his group to a sextet, bringing together the saxophones of Adderley and John Coltrane. As Davis explained in Miles, “I felt that Cannonball’s blues-rooted alto sax up against Trane’s harmonic, chordal way of playing, his more free-form approach, would create a new kind of feeling.”
For two years the saxophones of Adderley and Coltrane, backed by the drums of “Philly” Joe Jones and the bass of Paul Chambers, fueled the creative fire of Davis’s group, producing a number of brilliant recordings such as Milestones in 1958 and Kind of Blue in 1959, the latter featuring the jazz classics “So What” and “All Blues.” In March of 1958, Davis made a rare guest appearance on Adderley’s critically acclaimed solo album Somethin’ Else— a session that also showcased the talents of pianist Hank Jones, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Art Blakey. Reflecting on his experience with Davis’s group, Adderley was quoted as saying in Miles: A Biography, “I learned a lot with him. About spacing for one thing, when playing solos. Also he’s the master of understatement. And he taught me a lot about chords, as Coltrane did too.”
In September 1959, Adderley left Davis’s group to reform his quintet, reuniting Nat and bassist Sam Jones, along with pianist Bobby Timmons and drummer Louis Hayes. The quintet played hard bop, which, unlike the cool jazz sound of the West Coast, wrote Dizzy Gillespie in To Be or Not to Bop, “reasserted the primacy of rhythm and the blues in our music and made you get funky with sweat to play it.” Hard bop, Gillespie added, “with its more earthy, churchy sound drew a lot of new black fans to our music.” David Rosenthal, in his book Hard Bop, wrote that “without renouncing Be bop’s discoveries, [hard bop] won broad popular appeal, reestablishing jazz as a staple product on ghetto jukeboxes.
With the popularity of the hard bop sound, Adderley’s group achieved instant success. His ensemble attracted a number of first-rate musicians, including Austrian-born pianist Joe Zawinul, who joined the band in September 1961. The presence of Zawinul in turn enticed saxophonist/flutist Yusef Lateef to join Adderley, which expanded the group to a sextet. “We did nothing but work 46-47 weeks a year,” recalled Zawinul in Down Beat, “often under the best circumstances. A lot of the time we really had fantastic fun.”
In the liner notes to the 1963 album The Cannonball Adderley Sextet in New York, noted jazz producer Orrin Keepnews wrote, “The saga of Cannonball Adderley’s band … has unquestionably been one of the most dazzling success stories in modern jazz history.” Unlike many jazz groups of the decade, Adderley’s ensemble scored radio hits, with Zawinul’s compositions “Mercy Mercy Mercy” in 1967 and “Country Preacher” in 1969. During this time, Adderley also collaborated with singers Nancy Wilson, Lou Rawls, and Sergio Mendes.
Though afflicted by diabetes, Adderley continued to perform live and appear at jazz workshops throughout the 1970s. These seminars consisted of demonstrations and lectures pertaining to both the musical and sociological aspects of jazz. In 1970 Zawinul left the group and was replaced by keyboardist George Duke. In tribute to his ten-year stay with Adderley, Zawinul told Down Beat, “The parting with Cannon is friendly. I’ll love him forever. It’s been a beautiful association.”
The death of Cannonball Adderley from a stroke on August 8, 1975, ended the career of a brilliant musician who left an indelible mark on the postwar jazz community. On Adderley’s death, Dan Morgenstern wrote in Down Beat that the alto master was a “man whose horizon extended beyond musical matters. Cannonball was active in civil rights and support for the arts.” Adderley’s contributions to the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Operation Bread Basket and as a member of the Jazz Advisory Board of the National Endowment for the Arts reflected his commitment to the role of art and artists in social change. “Cannonball was a great artist,” commented Zawinul in Down Beat. “I never knew a musician who knew so much about different subjects. He always read Time and Newsweek, and he could discuss everything from heart surgery to politics. Cannon had more worldly wisdom than any musician I ever met.” This world vision and a true passion for music made Cannonball Adderley an educator of the human experience and a heralded genius during his lifetime and beyond.
Presenting Cannonball Adderley, Savoy, 1955.
Somethin’ Else, Blue Note, 1958.
The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco, Riverside, 1959.
Cannonball Adderley in Chicago, Mercury, 1959.
Cannonball’s Shooters, Mercury.
Cannonball: Jump for Joy, Mercury.
At the Lighthouse, Riverside, 1960.
Them Dirty Blues, Riverside, 1960.
African Waltz, Riverside, 1961.
Things Are Getting Better—with Milt Jackson, Riverside.
Cannonball Adderley Quintet Plus, Riverside.
Cannonball Adderley The Poll Winners, Riverside.
The Cannonball Adderley Sextet in New York, Riverside, 1963.
Live Session! Cannonball Adderley with the New Exciting Voice of Ernie Andrews, Capitol, 1964.
Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at the “Club,” Capitol, 1966.
Country Preacher, Capitol, 1969.
Inside Straight, Fantasy, 1973.
The Best of Cannonball Adderley: The Capitol Years, Capitol, 1990.
With Miles Davis
Milestones, Columbia, 1958.
Miles and Monk at Newport, Columbia, 1958.
Jazz at the Plaza, Columbia, 1958.
Kind of Blue, Columbia, 1959.
Carr, Ian, Miles: A Biography, William & Morrow, 1982.
Chambers, Jack, Milestones 1: The Music and Times of Miles Davis to 1960, William & Morrow, 1984.
Gillespie, Dizzy, To Be or Not to Bop: Memoirs, Doubleday, 1979.
Davis, Miles, with Quincy Troupe, Miles: The Autobiography, Simon & Schuster, 1990.
Hentoff, Nat, Jazz Is, Limelight Editions, 1984.
Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis, William & Morrow, 1984.
Rosenthal, David, Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music 1955-1965, Oxford University Press, 1992.
Down Beat, January 8,1970; September 11,1970; December 10,1970; October 28,1971; October 9,1975; June 15, 1978.
Jazz Journal International, May 1988.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from liner notes by Leonard Feather to Somethin’ Else, Blue Note, 1959, and by Orrin Keepnews to Cannonball Adderley Sextet in New York, Riverside, 1963.