Cannonball — Sax Supremo

Chris Welch remembers Julian Adderley, who died on Friday

ONE OF the best ways to pay tribute to a great jazz musician is to take down his records and listen. Jazz is a personal communion and records are the most direct, and often the only means of contact between the musician and his audience.

We did not see Cannonball Adderley as frequently as we would have liked in Britain (he was last here in 1972 for the Newport Festival concerts), but his message, his life and intelligence have shone through to us for some 20 years of success, popularity and artistic endeavour.

And yet Cannonball did not always have a smooth ride from critics. Looking back over his career it is chastening to observe the kind of petty yardsticks we too frequently apply to musicians.

In the euphoria that surrounds tragedy, we think of Julian Adderley the consummately powerful and convincing saxophonist; a great influence, a peer of such acknowledged giants as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, a man armed with that combination of hipness and authority that marks the jazz supremo.

And yet Cannonball could be coolly received when his activities did not suit the canons of criticisms.

His wonderfully warm partnership with his younger brother Nat, the alto sax and cornet voicings producing one of the most distinctive frontline sounds, was once described by an American reviewer as “efficient but rather colourless.”

He was taken to task for being hailed as “the new Bird,” when doubtless he had little control over the praise others chose to heap on him. And then one could sense the dissatisfaction when he attained not small measure of commercial success.

Jazz prays for recognition and is jealous of the acclaim and attention received by less meritorious pop talents. Yet when one of their own breaks through to the public at large, there is a mute feeling of distaste.

Back in 1967, at the height of flower power, Cannonball Adderley proved that jazz still had muscle and the ability to communicate with the public at large. He scored a top ten American hit with ‘Mercy Mercy, Mercy’, a compulsive, funky tune, written by the then up-and-coming Austrian pianist Joe Zawinul.

It took the singles chart by storm and sold over 700,000 copies in the face of competition from the Monkees and Electric Prunes. His Capitol albums of the period, like Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, and Why Am I Treated So Bad, were also big hits for the Quintet.

Capitol pressed on with this unparalleled success and encouraged Cannonball to record, Great Love Themes. And his own version of stage songs like ‘Fiddler On The Roof’. Not always great jazz perhaps, but never less than excellent contemporary music.

How else, when his Quintet included the gifted Zawinul, later a key member of jazz-rock band Weather Report? In fact, that jumping quintet presaged much of today’s jazz-rock.

Cannonball was a realist and he could sense the huge changes in music that took place in the Sixties. The man who hit the early part of the early part of the decade with “soul jazz” and instantly communicative performance like ‘Sack O’Woe’, ‘African Waltz’, ‘The Jive Samba’, ‘Waltz For Debby’, ‘This Here’, ‘Dat Dere’, ‘Del Sasser’, and ‘Work Song’, merely took the logical step of incorporating into his music the new developments in electric keyboards and rock rhythms.

There were no compromises, it was still Cannonball music. But as Adderley told Leonard Feather in 1967: “The jazz we knew and loved in the Thirties, Forties, Fifties — yes even the Sixties — is gone. The audience for it gradually fading away. We enjoy a great deal of success playing what we do, because people don’t get enough of a chance to hear it — there aren’t that many playing it.”

Adderley came from a musical family. Born in Florida in 1928 he studied music at high school and his first instrument was the trumpet. His equally famous brother, Nat, often recalled that Julian had originally guided him to the trumpet and eventually cornet.

Cannonball later became proficient on alto sax, clarinet, tenor and flute and became the musical director at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale in 1948, and led his own jazz group in Florida from 1948-50. He then served two years in the army, where he lead the 36th Army Dance Band. He earned his nickname during his college days. It was originally “Cannibal,” in tribute to his capacity for eating.

It was almost exactly twenty years ago that Cannonball first sprang to fame in the jazz world. He came to New York in June of 1955 with his brother and friends, and went to the Cafe Bohemia to watch bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Kenny Clarke.

Tenor player Jerome Richardson just happened to be late on the stand, and Cannonball had his horn with him. Tenorist Charlie Rouse had entered the club, and Pettiford told him to ask “the guy in the corner,” if he could borrow his sax. Cannonball said he’d sooner sit in himself, if possible.

Musicians are never over-keen on unknowns sitting-in. So Pettiford was determined to unload the young hopeful as soon as possible. He let him on the stand and then called out ‘I Remember April’ at maximum tempo.

Oscar expected the saxman to blunder and become embarrassed enough to quit. Instead Cannonball roared through the tune to the astonishment of all, and remained on the stand for the rest of the evening.

Later that evening Miles Davis came into the club and was so impressed by what he heard, borrowed Nat’s trumpet and joined in.

Shortly afterwards, Cannonball was signed to a record deal with EmArcy — without the company having heard him play, purely on the recommendation of his fellow musicians.

Adderley’s sound has been compared to both Charlie Parker and Benny Carter, with the speedy attack of the former and the romance and style of the latter. But he was basically a highly-modern disciple of the blues, with a fabulous technique and great passion revealed in the sheer energy of his blowing.

For many of his fans, his finest hours came when he worked with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Jo Jones back in 1958, and produced such sensationally storming performances as their version of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Straight, No Chaser’.

Throughout the late Fifties and early Sixties, Adderley was widely recorded with such men as Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Bill Evans, Blue Mitchell, Milt Jackson, Wynton Kelly, John Coltrane, Bobby Timmons, and Yusef Lateef.

One of his most interesting groups was with British vibes player and pianist Victor Feldman, and they recorded the album that featured ‘Sack O’Woe’, at The Lighthouse, Hermosa Beach, California, in 1960 with Nat Adderley, Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes (drums).

And then came work with a full orchestra, featuring Clark Terry and arranger Ernie Wilkins, producing the Riverside label’s ‘African Waltz’, in 1961. Joe Zawinul joined the Sextet in November 1961.

Cannonball was a catalystic force, and the jazz world has been stunned by yet another great loss of one of its finest exponents at a tragically early age.

© Chris WelchMelody Maker, 16 August 1975

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