Cannonball Adderley was an affable, good-natured guy, and a great, folksy communicator. The blues-based tone he found on his alto saxophone was distinctive and helped to define the hard bop sound, a more intense, more melodic evolution from bebop. He was liked and respected by other musicians; he even played on Miles Davis’s influential Kind of Blue album. Later Adderley managed to cross over to the pop charts with a hit.
He was also an insatiable music fan and a talent scout who would give struggling musicians a break either by hiring them for his group or producing their records, sometimes both. Adderley was the one who brought Wes Montgomery to the attention of Orrin Keepnews at Riverside Records, and he produced the debut recording by Chuck Mangione.
Born in Florida, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley started his career as a high school band director in Fort Lauderdale, where he was a local celebrity. His nickname was a variation on Cannibal, a name given to him in his youth because of his appetite. In 1955, during a visit to New York City to look into continuing his music studies, he sat in one night with Oscar Pettiford at Café Bohemia. He grabbed everyone’s attention and was hailed as a potential star and most likely to be the next Charlie Parker, who had recently died. It was enough to persuade Adderley (and his brother, Nat, who played cornet) to move to New York and sign with Mercury Records. After an unsuccessful try at leading his own band, Adderley joined the Miles Davis Quintet, and stayed with Davis for four years. In 1959, he and Nat formed their own, very successful quintet, signing with the Riverside label and later Capitol Records, where he recorded close to twenty albums. There was a shift in Adderley’s sound through the years, and the recordings he made for Capitol have a highly appealing, gritty down-home sound based on gospel and blues.
It is difficult to recommend just one album by Adderley, as so much of what he recorded is worth hearing. But a good place to start is The Best of Cannonball Addewrley, The Capitol Years [Capitol/EMI #95482]. One wof Adderley’s strengths was his ability to recognize imaginative young talent, and he found it in Josef Zawinul, the young Austrian he hired to play piano. Zawinul turned out to be a prolific composer and often inspired pianist.
This album features one studio and seven live tracks recorded between 1962 and 1969. Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” (which went to number ten on the pop charts), “Country Preacher” (written about Rev Jesse Jackson), and “Walk Tall” are all soulful classics. Two of the songs here were recorded for the Riverside label, with flautist and tenor sax player—Yusef Lateef—“Work Song” (written by Nat Adderley) and “Jive Samba.” Don’t let the budget appearance of this package fool you; the contents are swingin’.