Jazz Profiles from NPR
Nat Adderley (1931-2000)
Produced by Ben Sidran

Nat Adderley  

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.

Together, the brothers drove the Cannonball Adderley Quintet to great heights, pionnering a sub-genre known as "soul jazz" along the way. Nat played cornet, composed, managed the band's money, and generally looked after his older brother.

Nat grew up in Florida during the 1930s in a household defined by family and education. The Adderley's moved from Tampa to Tallahassee during Nat's infancy because parents Sugar and Julian, Sr. planned to teach at Florida A&M. Both Nat and Cannonball excelled at academics and music as children.

Julian, Sr. played trumpet professionally throughout Florida, and he bought one at Sears for his oldest son, Julian, Jr. When Cannonball turned from trumpet playing to the alto sax, Nat got the hand-me-down horn which his brother taught him to play -- he would eventually master the coronet as well.

Listen to Nat Adderley talk about The Royal Swingsters, the brothers' first band

Sugar Adderley, a great influence in Nat's life, urged him to pursue law. "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," she once remarked.

Listen to Sugar Adderley describe her reaction when Nat chose to tour with Lionel Hampton over attending law school

Lionel Hampton  

When Nat returned home from the Korean War -- a duty both he and Cannonball fulfilled -- he told his mother he would not be attending law school. Instead, Nat accepted Buster Cooper's offer to play trumpet in Europe with the Lionel Hampton Band.

Listen to Nat Adderley tell of his experience performing in the Lionel Hampton band

In early July 1955, after a successful tour with Lionel Hampton's band, Nat met up with his brother Cannonball and, on a whim, drove to New York City to visit Buster Cooper. On their very first night in town, Nat and Cannonball made their way to the famous Café Bohemia.

Cannonball Adderley  

Cannonball (left) nerved his way onto the stage with bassist Oscar Pettiford, drummer Kenny Clark, and pianist Horace Silver, proving his musical mettle to the star-studded ensemble by the end of the second song. Before the evening ended, both brothers were onstage playing with their "new" band.

The Adderley brothers hadn't slept a single night in the city and before the end of the month, the freshly minted quintet recorded Bohemia After Dark (Savoy).

Listen to Nat Adderley describe the infamous night at Café Bohemia

For five years the Adderley brothers enjoyed tremendous success in New York. Cannonball's prodigious style -- marked by his ability to play blisteringly fast leads on alto sax -- gained him the apt nickname "The New Bird," after alto champion Charlie "Yardbird" Parker.

Parker's death in March of 1955 had left a huge void in the bebop movement, and Cannon's sound was a welcome reminder. Miles Davis immediately recognized the Adderley brothers' talent and urged manager John Levy to handle their careers. Later, Cannon would play on Davis' masterwork, Kind of Blue.

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet of this era featured Nat on trumpet and although the band met with critical acclaim, they struggled financially. John Levy readily admits that Cannon handled money poorly, "Cannon believed in really taking care of his musicians...so...we just didn't make it."

Nat took over the financial responsibilities for the band, managing all of the band's tours beginning in 1960 and earning himself the reputation of "straw boss." Cannon fronted the band while Nat made sure they turned a profit.

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco  

In 1960, the group pioneered the "soul jazz" sound with the groundbreaking disc The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco. It bridged the gap between bebop and funk while simultaneously introduced the album-buying public to a "live" sound.

Listen to jazz critic Orrin Keepnews talk about The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco

Jazz critic Orrin Keepnews said "it...was the birth of contemporary live recording. That was such a phenomenal success that not only did I do a lot of such recordings afterwards, but I think that virtually all jazz producers felt that it was a good thing to do."

The brothers' familial bond provided great strength to the band: "Everyone got along together very well," drummer Louis Hayes remembers. "That was one of the main components to the band that made it such a great organization, that everybody was in tune with each other--on stage and off." By now, Nat played lead trumpet for the quintet, kept the books, and wrote a majority of the songs -- including its greatest success, "Work Song."

In 1966, the group, now the Cannonball Adderley Sextet, achieved the unthinkable when their hit "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" -- written by keyboard player Joe Zawinul -- sold over one million copies.

Listen to drummer Roy McCurdy describe the moment he realized "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" would be a hit

When rock and roll took over pop culture in the late 1960s, the band changed with the changing times without compromising their music. Nat booked the band in venues like the Fillmore East where their funky "soul jazz" reached a wider audience.

After Julian "Cannonball" Adderley's death in July 1975, Nat Adderley finished up the final tour with the remaining members of the sextet. Nat played with different bands until 1989, and along the way he continued to discover and promote new talent -- including saxophonist Vincent Herring.

Nat Adderley  

In 1990, Nat found a new outlet in which to share his music: the classroom. He taught musical theory at Florida Southern College for ten years, sharing his knowledge and love of jazz until poor health took him into retirement. Nat Adderley died in Lakeland, Florida, on January 2, 2000, from complications of diabetes. He was 68.

Nat Adderley


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More InfoBrowse the NPR Jazz Web site -- NPRJazz.org

Listen to the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library entry for Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else (Blue Note)