Julian Edwin "Cannonball" Adderley (September 15, 1928 August 8, 1975) was a jazz alto saxophonist of the hard bop era of the 1950s and 1960s.
Adderley is remembered for his 1966 single "Mercy Mercy Mercy", a crossover hit on the pop charts, and for his work with trumpeter Miles Davis, including on the epochal album Kind of Blue (1959). He was the brother of jazz cornetist Nat Adderley, a longtime member of his band.
Early life and career
Originally from Tampa, Florida, Adderley moved to New York in the mid-1950s. His nickname derived originally from "cannibal," an honorific title imposed on him by high school colleagues as a tribute to his fast eating capacity.
His educational career was long established prior to teaching applied instrumental music classes at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Cannonball moved to Tallahassee, Florida when his parents obtained teaching positions at Florida A&M University. Both Cannonball and brother Nat played with Ray Charles when Charles lived in Tallahassee during the early 1940s. Cannonball was a local legend in Florida until he moved to New York City in 1955, where he lived in Corona, Queens.
It was in New York during this time that Adderley's prolific career began. Adderley visited the Cafe Bohemia (Oscar Pettiford's group was playing that night) where he brought his saxophone into the club with him, primarily because he feared that it would be stolen. He was asked to sit in as the saxophone player was late, and in true Cannonball style, he soared through the changes, and became a sensation in the following weeks.
Prior to joining the Miles Davis band, Adderley formed his own group with his brother Nat after signing onto the Savoy jazz label in 1957. He was noticed by Miles Davis, and it was because of his blues-rooted alto saxophone that Davis asked him to play with his group.
Adderley joined the Miles Davis sextet in October 1957, three months prior to John Coltrane's return to the group. Adderley played on the seminal Davis records Milestones and Kind of Blue. This period also overlapped with pianist Bill Evans's time with the sextet, an association that led to recording Portrait of Cannonball and Know What I Mean?.
His interest as an educator carried over to his recordings. In 1961, Cannonball narrated The Child's Introduction to Jazz, released on Riverside Records.
The Cannonball Adderley Quintet featured Cannonball on alto sax and his brother Nat Adderley on cornet. Adderley's first quintet was not very successful; however, after leaving Davis' group, he formed another, again with his brother, which enjoyed more success.
The new quintet (which later became the Cannonball Adderley Sextet), and Cannonball's other combos and groups, included such noted musicians as:
- pianists Bobby Timmons, Victor Feldman, Joe Zawinul, Hal Galper, Michael Wolff, George Duke, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans
- bassists Ray Brown, Sam Jones, Walter Booker, Victor Gaskin
- drummers Louis Hayes, Roy McCurdy
- saxophonists Charles Lloyd, Yusef Lateef.
The sextet was noteworthy towards the end of the 1960s for achieving crossover success with pop audiences, but doing it without making artistic concessions.
By the end of 1960s, Adderley's playing began to reflect the influence of the electric jazz avant-garde, and Miles Davis' experiments on the album Bitches Brew. On his albums from this period, such as Accent on Africa (1968) and The Price You Got to Pay to Be Free (1970), he began doubling on soprano saxophone, showing the influence of John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter. In that same year, his quintet appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival in California, and a brief scene of that performance was featured in the 1971 psychological thriller Play Misty for Me, starring Clint Eastwood. In 1975 he also appeared (in an acting role alongside Jose Feliciano and David Carradine) in the episode "Battle Hymn" in the third season of the TV series Kung Fu.
Joe Zawinul's composition "Cannon Ball" (recorded on Weather Report's album Black Market) is a tribute to his former leader.
Songs made famous by Adderley and his bands include "This Here" (written by Bobby Timmons), "The Jive Samba," "Work Song" (written by Nat Adderley), "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" (written by Joe Zawinul) and "Walk Tall" (written by Zawinul, Marrow and Rein). A cover version of Pops Staples' "Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?" also entered the charts.
Adderley was initiated as an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity (Gamma Theta chapter, University of North Texas, '60, & Xi Omega chapter, Frostburg State University, '70) and Alpha Phi Alpha (Beta Nu chapter, Florida A&M University).
Adderley died of a stroke in 1975. He was buried in the Southside Cemetery, Tallahassee, Florida. Later that year he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.
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