Eatin’ It All Up

I have to admit, I ran across the name “Cannonball” Adderley for the first time on an album by the Miles Davis sextet.  Kind of Blue  is probably the best selling jazz album in history, and like many musicians, I have memorized every note.  Miles had fired John Coltrane for continued drug problems, and had filled the saxophone spot in his quintet with the bluesy sound of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley.  When Coltrane appeared to have gotten clean, Davis brought him back into the group and expanded his quintet to a sextet.  It was another stroke of genius by Miles, as the two saxophone players interacted brilliantly with each other.  (It also was a bit of insurance, if the new sobriety of Coltrane wasn’t as long lasting as hoped.)

Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian “Cannonball” Adderley

Adderley was a big man, born and raised in Florida before moving to New York.  It was in high school that his schoolmates gave him the nickname “cannibal”, after his enthusiastic appetite for food.  Over time this morphed into “Cannonball”, and stuck with the alto saxophonist for the rest of his career.  Adderley was recognized in New York as one of the greatest alto sax players since Charlie Parker, and had some success as a bandleader with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet.  One album that just hit me in the gut like a cannonball is Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!, Live at The Club.  Released in 1966, I have an endless appetite myself for listening to the bluesy, soulful playing on this record.

Cannonball is the leader of the group, and plays alto saxophone.  The rhythm section is Roy McCurdy on drums, Victor Gaskin on Bass, and Joe Zawinul on piano and electric piano.  The cornet player is Cannonball’s brother, Nat Adderley.  Nat always preferred the darker sound of the conical shaped cornet over the trumpet, and played on every record of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet I know of.  Now I dig this entire record, but my favorite tune and the big hit of the release is the title tune,  “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”.  I can listen to that one on repeat all day long.  The album is a live recording, and you can hear Adderley preach a little to the audience as he introduces the tune.  The crowd is engaged, and is eatin’ it all up.  The groove of this number, composed by Zawinul, just scratches right where it itches.

Cannonball Adderley Quintet, “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”

There is a bit of salesmanship on the album.   The original notes to the LP describe the album as being recorded at Club DeLisa in Chicago, which had recently been renamed “The Club”.  It wasn’t until I read the updated liner notes to the CD release that I learned the album was really recorded at Capital’s Hollywood studio, with a live audience.  Adderley was friends with the manager of “The Club”, and was willing to give a little free publicity to his friend by fabricating a tale about where the album was recorded.  In the end, I guess I don’t care where it was recorded, I am just very glad it was.  It is one of my favorites.

Nat Adderley
Nat Adderley

Nat Adderley always seemed to be a little bit in the shadow of his brother.  Among musicians, he is a very respected cornetist and composer.  While Julian died of a brain hemorrhage in 1975, Nat Adderley continued his career for another 25 years.   I absolutely love the playing of Nat Adderley, with its swinging blues based sound, and soulful tone.  He led small groups of his own, composed and taught at several colleges (including Harvard).  Like a number of jazz musicians of the time, he found himself more appreciated internationally than at home in the United States.  One of his most successful compositions is “Work Song”, a tune that has become a jazz standard and recorded by dozens of musicians.  Nat joked that it was his “Social Security’ song, as the royalties he earned from it would insure his bank account into his old age.

Cannonball Adderley Quintet, “Work Song”

Cannonball and NatAs a musician, I can tell you it is a special experience to play in a group with your brother or close friend.  Rubbing shoulders with other musicians, you meet some wonderfully colorful characters.  You get to know people both as persons and as musicians.  Playing music is an emotionally expressive experience, when done well.  To share that bond with a brother (or spiritual brother) is a connection that can’t be found in other places in life.  That is part of why listening to the albums of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet is so very good.  I highly recommend seeking out and listening to any recording of the group you can find.


Cannonball Adderley Quintet, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!  Live at the Club on Spotify




23 thoughts on “Eatin’ It All Up

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  1. I really appreciate your post, not only for the music history, but you proved a very good point. You have shown your readers that when we find the music we love, no matter whether it be classical, blues, jazz, or whatever we like, we are emotionally connected to the music, and music is a wonderful source of healing, and we feed off its energy. Thank you so much for that wonderful post

  2. Wow, I feel dense. I never realized Zawinul wrote Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. Being a keyboardist and great fan of Weather Report I’m surprised I missed it.

  3. I really enjoyed this post. I have an LP and a CD of “Kind of Blue” but I’d never really looked into the backstory of Mr. Cannonball or his other recordings. I think that’s one of the things that makes jazz so fascinating: all of the little-known collaborations between artists and the stories that brought those historic moments to life.

  4. Well,once again my ol buddy refreshes my memory and brings me back to the days of the Afram Jazz Ensemble, featuring our humble blogger on trumpet,myself on keys,the immortal Jim Cadotte on bass,Tim Brockett on tenor sax, and our guru, the incredible Scott Peterson(RIP)on Soprano sax. I remember playing “Mercy…” and wondering why it was so familiar,as I was not a real “jazz cat”. Then it dawned on me; Joe Zawinul,Weather Report!! With lyrics! It was one of the first tunes I ever comped on, and although I never became an accomplished jazz player I enjoyed the challenges presented in this wonderful genre. And I’m grateful searching this out also led me to a YouTube offering of the Cannonball Adderley Sextet from ’63, I love live stuff!
    And our humble blogger also remembers my brother and I have been playing together for our entire lives,and its great to see Nat and Cannonball enjoying their time onstage together. Thanks for a musical morning, my brotha!

  5. So far, I seem to be the only one who has posted here who had the absolute privilege to see many of these guys live and more than once. I was a kid who never got asked for ID and Shelly’s Manne-Hole, in Hollywood. It was almost a home away from home for a lot of years. I loved the smoke, the booze, the small tables and the 2 drink min. per person per set. The musicians would hang out in a little area kind of behind the stage that was between the front room and the restrooms.
    I could tell you everyone I saw and talked with. Probably the two I saw the most were Horace Silver and John Coltrane, (but not together.) I got Elvin Jones’s drumsticks and kept them for years. Damn, I still remember some of the conversations. Such good memories.
    I first heard Nat Adderley’s playing Work Song with his own group. Later, I saw him with Cannonball. I really came to enjoy hearing it put to words and sung by Oscar Brown, Jr., (who I saw but not there.) Those were the days,
    Thanks for this.
    (I hope you don’t mind my having gotten carried away.)

  6. Thanks for stopping by! My father-in-law is a professional grade trumpeter and I had to send him the link for your page and of course the Work Song! AWESOME! 🙂

  7. One of the great memories of our field trip from Winnipeg to Chicago was a night at a club (maybe the Blackhawk? I don’t quite recall. The year was the spring of 1969 or 1970 I think. But I do remember Canonball Adderley, and Joe Zawinul on keyboard, and Mercy, Mercy, Mercy…I am not a great jazz afficionado, but I will never forget that particular evening, and those extraordinary musicians…. I do have a recording of Canonball Adderly and Joe Zawinul and they play that piece among others… I must listen to it again!!! Thanks for the great post, and rekindling this great musical memory!!!

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