To begin the interview, I asked Nat about three songs he wrote, inquiring as to their origins. After I asked him about the second song, I couldn’t resist asking him about one final song of personal interest to me: “Hummin’.” The following is Nat’s recounting of the basis of that song. The bonus is his mother’s response to it:
NA: [T]here are many many stories to go along. In other words, as far as I’m concerned, most of the music that I have ever written all has — there’s a reason, for it to be the way that it is. Now you’ve got two. If you’ve got another one, speak up.
NA: “Hummin’” — actually, wow. “Hummin’.”
MR: And then I’ll let somebody else talk.
NA: You pick a — “Hummin.’” Boy. Well I guess the only way to do it is to tell you the way that it really was. “Hummin’” was written about an old woman who lived on my street when I was a little boy again in Tallahassee. Miss Sally was her name. Miss Sally. Southern people have strange ways of saying things. But there was Mrs. Coleman lived there, Mrs. Lasser lived up the street and Mr. Lasser. Miss Sally was about 80 years old but she was “Miss Sally” there was no man there. She was a tall, Black woman and I describe it — she looked like they look in “Roots” like the ladies looked. She wore that long dress, as long as an evening gown and she wore an apron, and the apron was as long as the dress. Miss Sally must have been about six feet tall. She was a tall, African-looking black woman. Miss Sally sat in this rocking chair on her porch. And her front porch was of course the houses were boards, little wooden houses. She sat in this rocking chair on the front porch and she had a loose board on that porch. And that’s where she had the rocking chair. And Miss Sally would sit there and rock, and like, for example, shell peas, shelling peas. You take the peas out the shells. She’d take the peas out the shells, drop the peas in the pot that she was holding in her lap, and the hulls in the apron behind the pot. Now and then she’d move the pot and dump the shells on a piece of paper on the floor and then go back to shelling peas. Meanwhile she would rock. And on that loose board when she’d rock forward, the board would hit — bomp. And when she’d rock backwards the board would hit from the front and rear — bu bomp. So she’d be rocking — bomp, bu bomp — bomp, bu bomp — bomp, bu bomp. All us little boys used to come by. We used to like to, because Miss Sally was a bit eccentric — at least I know now that she was eccentric, we just thought Miss Sally was crazy, but after I went to college I learned that there was such a word as eccentricity. Once she’d keep this stuff going, we’d say “Miss Sally you want us to fix that board?” Miss Sally say “get the hell out.” So we’d leave. Now, years, later when I was thinking about that again, I wrote this song. Oh, I left out a part. Miss Sally used to humm little churchy sounding things, [humms], kinda Gospel sounding. Meanwhile, — bomp, bu bomp — bomp, bu bomp.
MR: [to Romy, off camera] You’ve gotta hear this song.
NA: So I wrote the song. A little later on, and this is the addendum to it. I was living in New Jersey and had this big house, and my mother was visiting. And my mother came downstairs one morning, and she’d been listening to the radio at night. My momma said “listen — why don’t you write a song that’s got some meaning, like ‘Stardust?’” She said “you and your brother write them little ittilie boobly songs and they don’t have no meaning.” I had just done it. I said “you know that song I got called ‘Hummin’,’ the new one?” She said “yeah.” I said “you know, Quincy Jones recorded it, Cannonball recorded it, I recorded it?“ I said “you know that song is about old Miss Sally.” She said “what?” I said “you know the rhythm represents that board hitting — bomp, bu bomp — bomp, bu bomp — and melody is something like an old, Gospel sounding thing [humms].” And Momma say “yeah,” kind of skeptically, “yeah, sure.” But that night we were working down in the Village at a place called the Village Gate. Momma came down that night, and we played “Hummin.’” Momma, she called me over to the table: “hey, come here, boy” she said. “You know I listened to that song, and now that you told me what it means,” she said, “I could just see that old woman sitting on the porch and the board hitting,” and she said “you know old Miss Sally been dead about fifteen years now, but we all remember that old board hitting.” So she said “now that I see that, you know, and I’m gonna get off your case.” That’s when I knew Momma was hip. She said “I’m gonna get off your case and I’m going to say, I agree, your songs have meaning.” And that is the one for that one. Now I gave you three examples, let’s get somewhere else.
Click on the title, “Hummin” and you will be transported to the section on my website where you can click “Nat Adderley” that tells about the song “One for Nat” which I composed following this interview. Also there is brief biographical information about Nat and Cannonball.