Cannonball Adderley’s Birthday

Cary Ginell 11-15-12Guest Blogger: Cary Ginell, author of Walk Tall: The Music and Life of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, sketches a brief overview of Cannonball’s life for his birthday. Also for your reading pleasure: an excerpt from Walk Tall.

“Walk Tall” is the first in the new Jazz Biography series published by Hal Leonard Books, which is designed to present biographies of jazz pioneers whose careers have not yet been fully documented. “Walk Tall” concerns saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, who changed not only the face of jazz in the 1950s and ’60s, but how musicians related to audiences. Beginning as a bebop alto man in the mold of the late Charlie “Bird” Parker, Adderley spent the early part of his career trying to establish his own sound by leading his own quintet, which included his talented brother Nat on cornet. In 1957 Adderley joined the Miles Davis Sextet, recording the landmark “Kind of Blue” session with John Coltrane the following year. Reorganizing his quintet in 1959, Adderley recorded a live album at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco that stimulated the soul jazz era in the 1960s. 

Adderley infused his performances with a mixture of driving hard bop and a gospel feel, influenced by his love for church music. His hit “African Waltz” was the first of many jazz instrumentals to crack Billboard’s best-selling singles list during the 1960s. Adderley’s most important contribution to jazz was as an educator. A former high school music teacher, Adderley gave brief, often humorous impromptu introductions to his songs during concerts, but more importantly, conducted clinics at schools and colleges on the history of jazz. His work in the civil rights movement also showed pride for his heritage. During the final years of his career, he explored other forms of jazz, including fusion, African high life, and Brazilian samba. 

In the fall of 1968 the Cannonball Adderley Quintet was invited to be artists-in-residence during Black Heritage Week at Georgia’s Albany State College, an all-black school. In the group’s frequent visits to high schools and colleges, Cannonball had become disturbed by ] how little black Americans knew about their own musical roots. “It’s amazing to find so many black people who are not interested in jazz at all,” he told the New York Times. “When college kids book a group, they don’t care whether it’s jazz, only whether it’s popular. What matters, is, are you on the charts?”

Cannonball used the group’s popularity to help educate young African Americans by offering a two-day program of lectures, seminars, and demonstrations on black music free to every college where the group was booked for a concert. On the first day Cannonball would lead a discussion with the students on the chronological evolution of black music. When the inevitable question “What is black music?” was asked, Cannonball’s simple answer was, “Music created by and oriented to black people.”

The second day would feature discussions of the sociocultural significance of black music and its effect on current popular musical trends. Qualified music students were able to participate in individual clinics conducted by the members of the Quintet. In 1969 the program was presented at a variety of schools, including Savannah State College in Georgia, Florida A&M University (Cannonball’s alma mater), Lanay College in Oakland, California, and West Virginia University.

The members of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet all joined their leader in assisting with the programs. Each was given a different topic to research and would then be asked to conduct individual seminars at the schools. Roy McCurdy, who studied percussion at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, gave lectures on African instruments and rhythm. Joe Zawinul, a graduate of the Vienna Conservatory, discussed the differences between European and African musical styles, explained the different kinds of scales used in each, and demonstrated the differences between Arab scales and the qualities of blue notes. As the only white person in the band, Zawinul came prepared for any probing and potentially embarrassing question, such as “Can a white person have soul?,” to which Zawinul would respond indignantly, “Are you kidding?”

Nat Adderley, who studied brass instruments at Florida A&M, covered the sociological aspects of black music, while Cannonball coordinated the entire series, handing out a bibliography of resources to study, a recommended list of recordings, and other instructional materials. In his inimitably breezy fashion, Cannonball crowed, “By the first of the year, we’ll have a syllabus in print and then we ought to be really swinging.” This remarkable educational series continued until the end of Cannonball’s life.

Walk Tall

Cannonball Adderley introduces his 1967 recording of “Walk Tall,” by saying, “There are times when things don’t lay the way they’re supposed to lay. But regardless, you’re supposed to hold your head up high and walk tall.” This sums up the life of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, a man who used a gargantuan technique on the alto saxophone, pride in heritage, devotion to educating youngsters, and insatiable musical curiosity to bridge gaps between jazz and popular music in the 1960s and ’70s. His career began in 1955 with a Cinderella-like cameo in a New York nightclub, resulting in the jazz world’s looking to him as “the New Bird,” the successor to the late Charlie Parker. But Adderley refused to be typecast. His work with Miles Davis on the landmark Kind of Blue album helped further his reputation as a unique stylist, but Adderley’s greatest fame came with his own quintet’s breakthrough engagement at San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop in 1959, which launched the popularization of soul jazz in the 1960s. With his loyal brother Nat by his side, along with stellar sidemen, such as keyboardist Joe Zawinul, Adderley used an engaging, erudite personality as only Duke Ellington had done before him. All this and more are captured in this engaging read by author Cary Ginell.



Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group, the trade book division of Hal Leonard Corporations, publishes books on the performing arts under the imprints Hal Leonard Books, Backbeat Books, Amadeus Press, and Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.

Posted on September 15, 2013, in Music Fans and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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