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Nat Adderley Jr. Launches Cannonball Quintet Tribute Project

Nat Adderley Jr.

“This is all so brand new to me,” laughs the pianist, arranger and composer Nat Adderley Jr., on the phone from a rehearsal space in Tallahassee, Fla. He’s discussing a new live tribute to the music of his uncle, saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, and father, cornet and trumpet player Nat Adderley, that hits San Diego’s ultra-posh Anthology tonight and Catalina’s in L.A. on March 24. “I can’t believe I’m talking to [JazzTimes] about it. I’m still in shock about the whole thing.”

His bewilderment is surprising, to say the least. After all, the young Adderley’s involvement with the historic Cannonball Adderley Quintet began early. At 11 he wrote and arranged a tune, the sharply grooving “I’m On My Way,” that was included on Cannonball’s 1967 release Why Am I Treated So Bad! At 15, he sat in with the group at the Monterey Jazz Festival, singing and playing his own “The Price You Got to Pay to Be Free,” a bold protest tune bordering on militant. It became the title track to an Adderley-band album in 1970.

As a kid growing up in New Jersey, such experiences didn’t register like you might expect. “That was amazing, [but] I was ignoring all of that,” Adderley says of “I’m On My Way.” “I was in school, and I spent those years just trying to just be a kid. Because my dad wasn’t home. During that time they were on the road like nine months of the year.” As for his Monterey debut, he admits, “I have a lot of memories of that age, but I do not remember actually physically being on that stage.”

Adderley’s own musical career followed a different trajectory than that of the relentlessly touring straightahead player. Although he’d studied jazz as an adolescent and returned to the music often throughout his life, Adderley has always been interested in pop and made his name in R&B. He counts among his “first musical loves” Motown, the Beatles and Bacharach & David, and had his first “road gig” with Ashford & Simpson as a teenager.

While still in college at Yale, pursuing a degree in African-American studies but taking “all the music he wanted,” Adderley got a call from a young singer he knew from high school, Luther Vandross. Adderley would go on to act as a musical director, arranger, composer, pianist and producer to the late R&B icon for a quarter-century. “Neither one of us thought it was gonna last forever, like it did,” he says, adding later that Vandross’ passing “left a big whole, a big void in all of our lives.”

The Vandross gig was steady, high-profile work that prevented Adderley from committing to a full-fledged jazz career. “There would be some periods when we weren’t in the studio or on the road, and I would be playing jazz around Manhattan,” he says. “But as soon as I would really get going, I’d get the call and it’d be time for us to go back in the studio or go on the road. I just never got going going [with jazz] until recently.”

Adderley’s line-up on the West Coast includes cornet player Longineu Parsons, saxophonist Diron Holloway, bassist Trevor Ware and drummer (and Cannonball Adderley Quintet member) Roy McCurdy. In terms of repertory, Adderley is casting his net wide, to include “anything they ever played,” in addition to the Adderley Quintet’s own earthy hard-bop and soul-jazz classics. In approach, he’ll bring his pop and R&B influences to faithful arrangements. “We’re starting closer than anybody else has-I think-to what the quintet was doing back then,” says Adderley, who highly regards drummer Louis Hayes’ Cannonball Legacy Band featuring a good friend, saxophonist Vincent Herring.

And what of the business end? Nat Adderley Sr. was legendary for his management acumen, reportedly taking over for Cannonball after he mismanaged the group’s finances. “I’m not much of a businessman,” he laughs. “We’ll see. I’ve always handled my own business, but I’ve always needed someone to come and take over.”

For tickets to the Anthology performance, go here. For tickets to the Catalina’s gig, click here.

Originally Published