August 8, 2015

Still the One

Cannonball Adderley
Everyone has a short list of memorable events, occurrences that make such an impression that we can recall exactly where we were when they happened. I was born in 1950, so my list includes the Kennedy assassination, the first landing on the moon, and the Beatles appearances on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Also on my list is the date August 8, 1975. Forty years ago today, I was in my car outside Rome, New York when I heard the radio announce that Julian “Cannonball” Adderley had passed away.
I’ve written about Cannonball before, and he is still my all-time favorite jazz artist. As an up-and-coming saxophonist I was first influenced by the cool toned and somewhat dispassionate Paul Desmond, who became popular alongside Dave Brubeck. But Cannonball offered something else: a perfect balance of technique, tone, and passionate delivery. The fact that he was an engaging speaker and invited the listener into the music was a big plus.
I was so into Cannonball’s recordings that I noticed when he switched saxophones, from a King Super 20 to the more iconic Selmer. I was not the only fan who noticed. During my interview with Charles McPherson, a major player in the world of jazz saxophone, we discussed this change.
MR:   Can we get a shot of you holding your horn? I’m trying to recognize what kind of horn it is.
Charles McPherson
CM:   It’s a King. Most people play a Selmer, and this is a King Super 20.
MR:   Yeah. Cannonball used to play it.
CM:   Yeah Cannonball and Bird. Yeah. And it’s a very nice horn, it’s very human-like. Very much like the human voice.
MR:   It’s interesting you say that because when I hear your tone — actually the thing that attracts me to a player is the tone first. And I hear that in your sound. And I noticed when Cannonball switched from King to Selmer that I was disappointed.
CM:   Unbelievable. I mean I know that. But I’m surprised that — well you said you play saxophone.
MR:   Yeah, but I heard it.
CM:   Isn’t that something, because I did too. And so you really do know. Because that’s a subtle thing, but it is a difference. And I remember it as a CD or record, whatever, where he did play Selmer for a while. And it was great, and it’s still great ‘cause he’s great. And I remember that oh this is great, but it doesn’t have that pop or that warmth either. And the Selmer is a great horn, and he sounded great on it. But this King, it was just something about that that, I don’t know just Cannonball sounded great on this. And Charlie Parker sounded great on this horn. I’ve heard other people on this horn that don’t sound so great, and I hope I’m not one of them.
I’d like to take a brief look at three recordings that personified the Cannonball Adderley legacy.
Cannonball burst into the New York jazz scene in the mid-1950s and his 1957 recording of the uptempo “Spectacular” demonstrated his mastery of the demanding and sometimes frantic bop style. He had so absorbed the language of Charlie Parker that the critics jumped on the bandwagon and hailed him as the new Bird. “Spectacular” is an impressive display of technique and chordal-based improvisation.
Ten years later Cannonball and his quintet had progressed into a style that critics called “soul jazz.” From the album “Mercy Mercy Mercy,” “Sticks” provides a striking example of Cannonball in full blues/gospel/soul mode. “The Sticks” is a 12-bar blues with an ear-catching melody. Brother Nat plays three exciting choruses; near the end of his third he engages in some stuttering double-tonguing. Cannonball, always aware of his musical surroundings, jumps on Nat’s phrasing at 1:27, roaring into a solo that has the live audience completely in his corner.
One year later, again in a live situation, Cannonball displayed his masterful approach to a ballad. The song “Somewhere” from “West Side Story” provided him with a highly expressive vehicle and his huge tone filled the room. If you listen to Cannon’s voice at the end of the song, it sounds like he actually choked himself up with the intensity of the song.
Drummer Roy McCurdy spent twelve years with Cannonball and spoke enthusiastically about his experience. Here he speaks of a unique method for keeping in sync with the brothers:
Roy McCurdy
RM:   Did you ever see Cannon and Nat live?
MR:   Oh, yeah.
RM:   They were really funny to me, because I was behind them all the time, looking at them. And this brother was short and Cannon was tall. And they had a way of snapping their fingers and moving, and their behinds were both in sync you know. And they would be snapping and the behinds would be in sync.
MR:   It’s almost as if you guys were creating a style as you went along.
RM:   Yeah. It was.
MR:   Did you have a name for it or did you let other people name it?
RM:   We just let other people name it. It was just music for us you know. We didn’t want to be in one particular slot all the time, like just straight ahead jazz or something. We wanted to be able to do all kinds of things and have some fun. And not only did we do funk and soul and Gospel and jazz, we also experimented with different time figures and things too at that time. Like 7/4 time, 5/4 time and things like that. We did “Seventy-four Miles Away.” That album was 7/4 time.
Vocalist Nancy Wilson credits Cannonball with jumpstarting her career, and during our interview I told her of my enthrallment with one of her early albums, “Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley.” Oddly enough, the critics were not kind to this recording.
MR:   This particular album, I can’t imagine anybody saying anything bad about it.
Nancy Wilson
NW:   Oh it was the fact that Cannonball Adderley had kind of stepped out of the jazz thing, into the pop. Because this was a huge across the board album. It was not just a jazz album. “The Masquerade Is Over,” “Sleeping Bee,” these songs just popped out everywhere. And that was the good thing about radio in those days and music is that the focus wasn’t so narrow then. We were able to play concert venues, Carnegie Hall where we were also able to go into, the south side of Chicago and play The Southerland. So you could do so many more things then than you can today. The labels kind of keep you out of places. Whereas before we tried to broaden the scope. I believe that Cannonball Adderley took jazz out of the sawdust and he was one of the more commercial jazz artists. And he made his audience understand what he was doing.
It’s hard to say what Cannonball Adderley would be doing with his musical career if he had lived. Other artists, such as Benny Carter and Milt Hinton remained productive into their eighties and nineties. The avante garde saxophonist Kidd Jordan offered his opinion on what Cannonball’s music might have evolved into, and gave us a bit of insight into his personality:
Kidd Jordan
KJ:   Cannonball was one of my favorite players too. And look, changes didn’t mean nothing to him, you know that huh? Cannonball was playing by ear. I mean he could hear changes like that, and that’s why he went and locked in all them patterns that people was playing. Well you know Cannonball, and he sounded like a first alto player, that was another thing.
MR:   That’s for sure.
KJ:   That’s right. Cannonball could lead us saxes man. I listened to that Cannonball and they’re talking about first alto players, as a soloist he’s got the same thing that all those first alto players had. You know? And changes didn’t mean nothing. Believe me. Cannonball could play through ‘cause he could hear ‘em. Now that’s a case that that’s a complete musician. And look, before he died he told me he said, “Kidd, you know what? I’m going to play some of that crazy stuff, you see the next album I do? I’m gonna do some of the crazy stuff you’re doing.” But he died before that. Now that would have been something.
MR:   What kind of guy was he?
KJ:   Oh easy, happy-go-lucky, I mean one of the most beautiful cats I ever knew. And I got — he and Alvin Batiste was great friends. And me and Alvin was brother-in-laws you know, we’ve been brother-in-laws for 50 years now, so every time Cannon would come in they’d be cooking gumbo and all, and it would be party time when he’d come to town.

I know I’ll spend this weekend listening to some of my favorite Cannonball from the LPs that I saved my money for back in the early 60s. You can read our previous blog on Cannonball entitled, “Mercy Mercy” from May of 2009.

No comments:

Post a Comment