Jazz pioneer Cannonball Adderley made Tallahassee proud
Cannonball Adderley playing the alto saxophone (Photo: Special to the Democrat)
In Tallahassee, in the early 1940s, one might have heard Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood,” or Frank Sinatra crooning a love ballad on the radio. But, if you were in the right place you might have heard Julian Adderley and his brother Nat playing the saxophone and cornet live.
Julian Adderley Jr., or “Cannonball” as he was professionally known, was one of our most famous jazz musicians. He got there by having great parents, a solid education, and checking all the boxes along the way such as a stint in the Army and as a high school teacher.
While he was born in Tampa in 1928, Julian’s family moved to Tallahassee when he was young. His father, Dr. Julian Adderley Sr., and his mother, Jessie, were educators and had obtained teaching positions at Florida A&M University. As a cornetist himself, Dr. Adderley instilled a love of music in his sons Julian Jr., and Nat.
By the time Julian was 14, he was playing with his own band at local venues in the historic Frenchtown section. By one account, he played with the great Ray Charles here before either were known.
After graduating from FAMU in 1948, Julian became a high school band director at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale. Uncle Sam called in 1950 and he was drafted into the U.S. Army where he became the leader of the 36th Army Dance Band.
The Big Apple
With his military service over, he moved to New York City in 1955 planning to pursue graduate studies in Manhattan. However, one night his destiny changed after finding his way into the famous Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village accompanied by his brother Nat, a cornet player like their father, and was asked to sit in for the band’s regular saxophonist.
The Cafe Bohemia was considered the mecca for finger-snapping jazz and progressive music conception. At the end of the evening, the manager called out to Nat “Who is that guy?” Nat shouted back, “Cannibal!” which was a nickname he had been given because of his ferocious appetite. The manager misunderstood and introduced him as “Cannonball” to the jazz patrons. The name stuck.
The Adderley brothers prepare for a performances (Photo: FAMU Black Archives (Phil Sears))
Shortly thereafter, he began to be referred to as the next Charlie Parker, who died earlier the same year, and was later immortalized in the movie “Bird” directed by Clint Eastwood.
Not unlike most musicians, Cannonball was involved with different bands performing with other fledgling performers such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Sarah Vaughan for the next few years. Along the way, he made his coast-to-coast television debut on NBC’s the Tonight Show, hosted by Steve Allen, in July, 1956.
Julian Adderley or “Cannonball” is buried at Southside Cemetery in Tallahassee. (Photo: David Brand)
Performing with Nat
In September 1959, Cannonball reunited with Nat and formed the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. The quintet recorded live one month later at the San Francisco Jazz Workshop and became an immediate success. For the next 16 years the quintet performed in venues all over the country.
Cannonball’s personality also played a role in making the band popular. He loved to interact with the audience with commentary that explained the music. According to the New York Times, he once said, “I prefer nightclubs to concert dates because I dig the sound of laughter, the murmur of the crowds and that cash register – there’s something Freudian about the ringing of a cash register. I feel that when people pay to hear music, I owe them something.”
John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis performing together. (Photo: FAMU Black Archives (Phil Sears))
One of Cannonball’s most famous record albums was “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at the Club” recorded in 1966 and received the Grammy Award for the best instrumental jazz performance in 1967.
Cannonball recorded 55 hits as the band leader, seven with his brother Nat, and 25 with other greats such as Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, and Miles Davis.
Even after becoming nationally known, he took time to return to Tallahassee to perform at FAMU’s Lee Auditorium in February, 1957 at a benefit for a fraternity scholarship fund. Tallahassee was his home. Though widely traveled, he visited his family often. First at their home on West Pensacola Street, where the FSU law school is now, and later on Young Street near FAMU campus.
Sadly, Cannonball passed away after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while performing in Gary, Indiana on Aug. 8, 1975 at the age of 46. He is buried in Tallahassee at the Southside Cemetery.
At the beginning of my senior year at Leon High School we had a new guidance counselor, Dr. Julian Adderley. I was a saxophone player, albeit a bad one, so he was like a god.
On the few times I interacted with him I was completely in awe and could barely speak. He was an experienced educator, used to dealing with kids, so instead of just staring at me like I had two heads he gently coaxed the responses he needed.
Cannonball, you are remembered and missed. You did us proud!
David Brand (Photo: David Brand)
David Brand is a retired police officer who works for a nonprofit that represents the interests of law enforcement. He lives in St. Teresa Beach, Florida.