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Artist of the Month: Nat Adderley

I never heard of a jazz musician who retired. You love what you do, so what are you going to do?
Play for the walls?

                                                                                                                   -Nat Adderley

Cornetist Nathaniel (Nat) Adderley was born in Tampa, Florida, in 1931, and grew up in Tallahassee where his parents moved to take up teaching jobs at Florida A & M University.  He grew up in a home surrounded by music and academics.  Nat’s father, Julian Sr., played trumpet professionally and purchased a trumpet from Sears for his eldest son, Julian Jr. (Cannonball).  Nat made his musical debut at age 12 as a soprano singer in his brother’s band, the Royal Swingsters, in which Cannonball played trumpet. Nat’s voice deepened when he reached adolescence, and he became a horn player in 1946 when he acquired his brother’s trumpet after Cannonball switched to the alto saxophone.  However, Nat’s mother, Sugar Adderley, had hoped he would pursue a career in law.  She once remarked, “Nat was just as musical and musically inclined as Cannon, but I said, 'One musician in the family is enough'...and I thought that law would be a good field, cause he liked to argue.”  In 1950 Nat switched from the trumpet to the cornet, going against the current trend.  The cornet had been the preferred horn for New Orleans players in the early days of jazz, but it had fallen out of fashion in favor of the trumpet in the bop era.  Kenny Mathieson at writes, “ Adderley evolved a distinctive signature on the instrument, blending a rich tone and earthy warmth with the horn's inherent touch of astringency to great effect.”

During his military service in the Korean War from 1951-1953, Nat played in an army band.  After discharge, he accepted an offer to join Lionel Hampton’s band on a European tour.  When he told his mother he had accepted the gig, she informed him he was out of his mind.  After returning from the successful tour, Nat made his first recording in 1955 on the Savoy label, Bohemia After Dark, in a band led by drummer Kenny Clarke.   He then performed on his brother’s debut album, Presenting Cannonball.  That gave him enough exposure to allow him to record his first album as a leader, That’s Nat Adderley, now considered a classic of the Savoy era.   Shortly thereafter, he and Cannonball signed with the Mercury record label and the Cannonball Adderley Quintet was born.  Although the quintet played many engagements, Cannonball was not a good money manager and when the income did not meet expectations, the group disbanded in 1957.  Nat went on to play with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and then as a sideman with trombonist J. J. Johnson for nine months.  In 1958 he toured Europe with the Woody Herman Band, and recorded with tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

In 1959 Nat reunited with Cannonball to reform the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. At Dave Krikorian writes of their reunion, “Nat put it simply. ‘I left Woody and Julian left Miles, and it happened.’  For the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, the second try was the charm. Now with Nat handling the band’s finances and tour management, things took hold and by the end of 1959 they were making good money. In 1960, they released a pioneering LP, The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco… Jazz critic and producer Orin Keepnews effused that the album, recorded at the Jazz Workshop in October of 1959, marked the birth of contemporary live recording as well as the birth of soul jazz.”  Their gospel-tinged jazz became very popular with hard bop and soul jazz fans, and in 1966 the band, now a sextet, scored its greatest hit, ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,’ which sold over one million copies.

Nat continued to record under his own leadership, and in 1960 on the Riverside label made his most famous album with a band that featured guitarist Wes Montgomery.  Kenny Mathieson comments, “The resulting album, Work Song, included the tune which remains his best known composition, 'The Work Song'. Its bluesy call-and-response chorus was an emblematic example of the hard bop style of the period, and is still widely played.  It became a mainstay of the Adderleys’ as well as the hard bop repertoire, but was not the only composition by the cornetist to do so. His significant contributions as a composer also include widely performed tunes like 'Jive Samba', 'Hummin'', 'Sermonette', and 'The Old Country'.”

Nat and Cannonball played together until Cannonball’s untimely death in 1975 from a stroke.  The band finished its final tour in tribute to him.  After losing his brother, Nat formed a new band with Walter Booker on bass and alto saxophonist Vincent Herring.  The band continued for twenty years under Nat’s leadership with numerous reed players, including John Stubblefield, Sonny Fortune and Ken McIntyre.   Nat also toured as a solo performer in the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia.

In 1990 Nat followed in his parents’ footsteps and entered the classroom.  He found a new way to share his knowledge and love of jazz by teaching music theory at Florida Southern College.  He taught there for the next ten years, until poor health forced upon him the retirement he never wanted.  He died of complications of diabetes in 2000 at age 68.

Trumpeter, composer and bandleader Nat Adderley redefined the idea of "brotherly love" in a musical context. Fueled by his desire to "be remembered for having led a committed life," Nat devoted his creative energies to collaborating with his saxophone-playing brother, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, producing one of jazz's greatest sibling success stories.”    
    -NPR Jazz Profiles

Biography sources:

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