Cannonball Adderley

b. Julian Adderley, 15 September 1928, Tampa, Florida, USA, d. 8 August 1975, Gary, Indiana

A DISCIPLE OF Charlie Parker, alto-saxophonist Adderley developed a rhythmic soul-jazz in the mid-’60s, notably on ‘Mercy Mercy Mercy’ (1966). Among the members of his group was Weather Report founder Joe Zawinul, while Adderley himself played on Miles Davis’s classic Kind of Blue (1959). With the more R&B-based King Curtis, Adderley was the key influence on the later school of rock saxophonists exemplified by David Sanborn.

After studying music at school in Tallahassee and college, Adderley became the musical-director of Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale in 1948. While serving in the army in 1952–3 he led dance bands, moving to New York as a professional musician the following year. He first recorded with his trumpeter brother Nat and Kenny Clarke for Savoy in 1955. A quintet featuring Adderley’s brother Nat (b. 25 November 1931, Tampa, Florida, USA) was commercially unsuccessful and in 1957 Cannonball joined Davis’s group. Their first recording together was Somethin’ Else (Blue Note, 1958), released under Adderley’s name. When the Davis group became a sextet with the addition of John Coltrane, they recorded Milestones (Columbia, 1958), on which Adderley took one of his most praised solos on ‘Straight No Chaser’. He also worked on the restrained Kind of Blue and the orchestral version of themes from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1960).

He left Davis in 1959 and during the early ’60s recorded frequently for Riverside, having a jukebox hit with pianist Bobby Timmons’ funky ‘This Here’ (1960) and reaching the R&B Top Thirty and pop Top Fifty with Galt MacDermot’s ‘African Waltz’ (1961), a British hit for John Dankworth. ‘The Jive Samba’ (1963) also made the charts while Adderley went on to work with singer Nancy Wilson on records for Capitol.

His most famous quintet, comprising Nat Adderley, Zawinul (keyboards), Vic Gaskin (bass) and Roy McCurdy (drums) cut Zawinul’s riff- and crescendo-laden ‘Mercy Mercy Mercy’ (Capitol, 1966), a Top Twenty pop hit. A vocal version of the tune was an R&B hit for Marlena Shaw on Cadet, while the Adderley Quintet had R&B success with the Staple Singers’ ‘Why Am I Treated So Bad’ (1967). Adderley’s ‘Sack o’Woe’ became a standard in the repertoire of later R&B and soul-jazz groups.

Adderley continued to record prolifically, with Zawinul’s ‘Country Preacher’ (1970) an R&B success. Later group members included Yusef Lateef and George Duke, and Adderley’s final records – Phenix (1975) and Big Man (1976) – were made for Fantasy.

© Phil Hardy, Dave LaingThe Faber Companion to 20th-Century Popular Music, 2001

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