Every now and then, the Florida Monthly blog likes to honor historic Floridians. Today, we’re discussing Cannonball Adderley. For more intriguing Floridians, check out the magazine!
Born September 15, 1928, Julian “Cannonball” Edwin Adderley had a voracious appetite for music, life and food. Originally nicknamed Cannibal due to his constant hunger, it was mispronounced once, which led to his ongoing nickname of Cannonball. The new name was more fitting, as his musical styles commonly soared through audiences, landing with an enormous explosion of applause.
Adderley was born into a musical family in Tampa. There, he quickly grasped the saxaphone and took music classes at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale. He moved to Tallahassee when his parents took jobs with Florida A&M University. Later, he went there as well, and became a member of the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America Infoporated, the largest and oldest music fraternity in America. While there, in the 1940s, he regularly played music around town with his brother, Nat Adderley. They were accompanied by Ray Charles, while he was in town.
In 1950, Adderley was drafted into the army and became the lader of the 36th Army Dance Band. he also led his own band while studying music at the U.S. Naval Academy, and led an army band at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Wanting to further pursue music, he left the army and moved to New York City in 1955. It was there that his musical asperiations truly took the stage.
While visiting the Café Bohemia one night to see Oscar Pettiford’s band, Adderley got his big break. The saxophonist of the band was late, so, seeing Adderley with a saxophone (as he was too afraid to leave it in his car), the band asked to use it. Adderley strongly said that no one plays his instrument other then him.
Instead of turning him away, the band encouraged Adderley to play with him. Irritated by Adderley’s refusal to revoke the instrucment, band leader Oscar Pettiford had his band play a fast and furious tempo. Adderley easily kept up, and even added his own solo during “Bohemia After Dark.” Musicals loved him, calling him the next Charlie Parker. Practically overnight, he became a sensation.
Adderley’s jazz style was creatly influenced by Charlie Parker and Benny Carter. He quickly became an influence on the hard-bop genre, creating fast tempos and also soulful ballads on his saxophone. He was skilled at improvising musical numbers, and helped promote soul jazz and bop.
From 1956 through 1957 he led an ensemble with his brother, cornetist Nat Adderley, as well as pianist Junior Mance and bassist Sam Jones. He left the group after being scouted by trumpeter Miles Davis, with whom he played with from 1957-1959. The group expanded to a sextent when saxophonist John Coltrate joined.
In his autobiography, Davis reflected, “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,”
During that time, Adderley recorded some of his best work, appearing on albums such as Milestones and Kind of Blue. He created his own record in 1958, which featured a guest appearance by Miles Davis, as well as many other musicians.
Adderley left the ensemble and formed his own quintet in 1959 with his brother, as well as Sam Jones, pianist bobby Timmons and drummer Louis hayes. In 1962, they added Usef Lateef. By 1973, Adderley had recorded 60 albums, and was featured on more than 120.
Some of his most famous songs that topped the charts include “This Here,” The Jive Samba,” “Work Song,” “Walk Tall,” and “Mercy, Mercy Mercy.” Two years later, after a rich and fulfilling life, Adderley died on August 8 from a stroke. He was buried in Tallahassee.
Adderley’s influences in music are still found today, from his improvisational tunes, to his gospel harmonies. He created a soundtrack for his generation, and was quite aptly a cannonball of sound.