Cannonball Adderley is one of Jazz’s most celebrated performers. The alto saxophone player was a sensation when performing in the Miles Davies Band, and was known for some blistering playing. However, it was one of those strange quirks of fate that launched Adderley’s career.
Originally, Julian Edwin Adderley worked as a teacher in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He taught at Dillard High School, and it was there that Adderley first picked up a nickname, although not exactly the one he’d adopt in his music career. Because of his ability to eat lots of food, and eat it quickly, other school staff members named him “Cannibal.” This changed as the speed of his alto sax playing came to light, and “Cannonball” seemed more fitting.
It was in Florida that Adderley and his brother Nat, a Jazz comet and trumpet player, played with Ray Charles. These performances in Tallahassee helped Cannonball to gain a reputation for great playing in Florida. Cannonball Adderley moved to New York City. It was the mid-fifties, and Jazz clubs were really beginning to gain popularity. Many such clubs and cafés playing host to remarkable musicians who, like Adderley, are still revered today.
Cannonball Adderley’s path to fame
It was in New York that Cannonball Adderley’s prowess as a musician really began to be noticed, particularly on one fateful night in Cafe Bohemia, in Greenwich Village. Adderley decided to just drop by the café to enjoy Oscar Pettiford and his band. Because he was concerned that his saxophone would be stolen, he brought it in with him. It just so happened that Pettiford’s alto sax player was late, so he asked Cannonball to sit in for him.
He became a star of Cafe Bohemia for some weeks afterward, earning a record deal with Savoy, a label specializing in Jazz, in 1957. Soon after, he was discovered by Miles Davis, who instantly wanted him to join his group. It was the collaboration between the two artists that led to a lot of innovation in Jazz music, diversifying into uptempo pop stylings called hard bop.
This collaboration led to the recording of “Somethin’ Else,” considered to be one of the best Jazz albums ever made. It’s on this album that you can hear the incredible forward-thinking styles of Miles Davis, but it is Cannonball Adderley’s incredible alto saxophone runs that inspire.
Sadly, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley passed away in 1975, at only 46 years old. However, his skill as one of Jazz music’s finest musicians will never be forgotten.