Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Adderley, Nat (Nathaniel)

Trumpeter and composer Nat Adderley had a surprising range as a performer, producing a growling tone at low G in one breath and then soaring through the hard bop stratosphere in the next. Always slouched with his cornet braced on his chest, he stood nearly a head shorter than his more famous older brother, sxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. Yet without Nat’s skill, the Cannonball Adderley Quintet would never achieved the earthy sound that was the signature of their innovative soul jazz.

Nat Adderley

Born on November 25, 1931 in Tampa, Florida, Nathaniel Adderley had a family-entrenched childhood guided by his mother, Sugar, and his father, Julian, Sr., who had played trumpet professionally as a young man. Nat grew up in Tallahassee after his parents moved there to take teaching jobs at Florida A&M University.

He made his musical debut at Tallahassee’s Edgewood Club at age twelve, singing with a soprano voice in his older brother’s band, The Royal Swingsters. Julian – “Cannon,” as his friends called him then - played trumpet in the band but later switched to alto sax, handing down his horn to Nat whose musical voice had deepened in adolescence. Studying with his brother and his father gave him a jumpstart on the instrument.

Yet his mother felt he wasn’t as gifted musically as his older brother, and she tried hard to steer Nat toward a degree in law. Instead, with four years of local gigging under his belt Nat enlisted in the Army in 1950 and played with his unit’s band during their tour of duty in Korea. After his unit relocated to Louisville, Kentucky he picked up the cornet, the horn associated with Joe "King" Oliver and other royalty of early jazz, which enabled him to combine a warm rich sound with a fluid tonality.

After his discharge from the Army in 1953, he returned home to Florida, and was spurred by his mother to enroll at Florida A&M in pre-law. He graduated with a degree in sociology and went on to graduate school, while earning acclaim at local jazz venues. It wasn’t long before he had an invitation from local trombonist, Buster Cooper, to join Lionel Hampton’s band on a tour through Europe. He called his mother after accepting the gig. She told him he was out of his mind.

In 1955, Nat returned home and was instantly spurred on by his brother to head out on a road trip to New York City. Julian had grown tired of teaching high school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Charged up by Nat’s success on tour, he convinced him the time was right to move north.

Word was out on the Adderley brothers, and on their first night at the Café Bohemia in New York, Cannonball was invited to the stage by bassist Oscar Pettiford to sub for his band’s sax player, Jerome Richardson. Cannonball ended his first solo in a lightening flurry. Later in the set, Pettiford asked, who was that guy standing off to the side with the trumpet? By the end of the evening, Nat had earned his place on the New York scene, praised for his skill by Pettiford, as well as drummer Kenny Clarke and pianist Horace Silver.

One month later, Nat Adderley made his recording debut at the Savoy studio on Kenny Clarke’s album Bohemia After Dark. Nat remained somewhat in the background on the LP, with trumpeter Donald Byrd also recording on his first album, taking most of the lead solos. Nat next performed on his brother’s debut album, Presenting Cannonball. This exposure was just enough to open the door for Nat’s own debut as a leader. Minus brother Cannonball on the alto, “That’s Nat” Adderley is considered a Savoy-era classic, with Jerome Richardson on tenor saxophone alongside Nat and pianist Hank Jones, bassist Wendell Marshall and Kenny Clarke.

Nat and Cannonball soon signed with Mercury Records and the Cannonball Adderley Quintet began. Amid a whirlwind of engagements, but with less income than expected, the quintet disbanded in 1957 Nat went on to play with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, next siding with trombonist J. J. Johnson for nine months. Nat then toured Europe with the Woody Herman Band in 1958. Also that year, he recorded the album Grand Street with tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

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 which included the funky, soulful waltz "This Here (Dis Here)."

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.” Indeed, this was a new sound, which found favor with audiences at the time. As with all of the Quintet’s albums, the covers were titled with the subhead: “featuring Nat Adderley.”The quintet followed up with another live album recorded in Hermosa Beach in October of 1960, At the Lighthouse.

This success enabled Nat to shine on his own, and led to the opportunity to record his first hit LP, Work Song with Riverside in 1960. With Wes Montgomery’s guitar driving home Nat’s bopping cornet sound, the title track became a pop favorite later put to words by Nat and songwriter and vocalist Oscar Brown Jr. in 1965, which led to the tune being recorded by numerous performers from Bobby Darrin to Nancy Wilson.

Three years later, Nat composed Jive Samba, another watermark for the Cannonball Adderley Quintet’s crossover fusion, immensely popular in nightclubs across the globe for its danceable bossa-nova beat. With music evolving with the emergence of pop culture in the 60s and 70s, Nat helped to keep the band in forefront of jazz-soul, performing, composing and booking the later Sextet, with the addition of notables like reeds player Yusef Lateef and pianist and composer Joe Zawinul, who wrote the band’s biggest hit "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" in 1966. Zawinul can also be heard with Nat on the album Fiddler on the Roof,, which also featured Charles Lloyd on tenor sax.

Nat continued with the group until Cannonball’s sudden death from a stroke in 1975. After finishing the band’s final tour in tribute to his brother, Nat returned to his parents’ school, Florida A&M and became an artist in residence where he helped in the founding and development of the annual Child of the Sun Jazz Festival. He formerly joined the school’s faculty in 1966.

Also following his brother’s death, Nat formed a new band with lifetime friend, Walter Booker on bass and young alto saxophonist, Vincent Herring. The band continued for twenty years with Nat at the helm, and included a who’s who of reedmen, including John Stubblefield, Sonny Fortune and Ken McIntyre. Nat also performed as soloist on tours in the U.S. and Europe and was always welcomed by admiring audiences.

Before bad health caught up with him in the late 1990s, Nat Adderley carved out a realm of his own, headlining in Japan, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. In 1997, he was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame in Kansas City, the same year diabetes claimed his right leg.

Further complications from the disease led to his death on January 2, 2000 at age 68.

Although he often chose to stand in his brother's long shadow, curious listeners will discover Nat's own unique legacy as a warm-toned and soulful innovator. This legacy lives on among his many compositions still favored by jazz performers, such as "Never Say Yes," and the work of musicians like Herring, who learned well from Nat's eminently musical example.

Select Discography

That’s Nat, Savoy, 1955

That's Right! Nat Adderley & The Big Sax Section, Riverside, 1960

Work Song, Riverside, 1960

Naturally! Jazzland, 1961

Autumn Leaves: Live At Sweet Basil, Evidence, 1997

Contributor: Dave Krikorian