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Cannonball Adderley Peers into the Future
Remembering a visionary recording by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet from 1967
Welcome music lovers to another edition of ‘Listening Sessions.’ A warm hello also to any new subscribers who have recently joined. So glad to have you here.
Today’s essay deals with one of my favourite albums by altoist Cannonball Adderley: 1967’s 74 Miles Away. The title track, written by Adderley’s pianist, Joe Zawinul, is a visionary chapter in the efforts to fuse jazz with rock. When I first heard it on the radio almost 25 years ago, I was astounded by what I heard. I remain so to this day and hope what I have written may bring this music some of the attention that it so richly deserves.
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Like many before him and after him, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley sought his music fortune in New York. A native of Florida, he had spent five years as the band director of Fort Lauderdale’s Dilliard High School before moving to the Big Apple in the summer of 1955. The initial plan was to undertake graduate studies at one of the city’s music conservatories, but one night at the Cafe Bohemia sitting in with bassist Oscar Pettiford’s band changed all that.
The news travelled all around town: the successor to the recently fallen Charlie Parker had arrived, here was the new King of the Alto. Graduate school was shelved in favour of the life of a working jazz musician, and Adderley formed the first of his small groups with his younger brother, Nat, on cornet. Immediate adulation turned to sustained leaner times. In 1957, Adderley disbanded his quintet and accepted an offer to take John Coltrane's place in Miles Davis’ group.
Coltrane soon returned to join Adderley in Miles’ band to record some of the most remarkable small-group jazz ever waxed: Milestones (with Red Garland, Paul Chambers and “Philly” Joe Jones), a May 1958 session (with Bill Evans, Chambers and Jimmy Cobb) that yielded, among other treasures, the definitive reading of ‘On Green Dolphin Street,’ and finally, the epochal Kind of Blue (with the rhythm section from the May 1958 session plus Wynton Kelly guesting on ‘Freddie Freeloader’). Newly emboldened, Adderley left the group to once again lead his own band. He never looked back.
Adderley's working group from 1959 to 1965 was anchored by Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums, an unshakable foundation of in-the-pocket swing for Adderley’s extroverted alto and brother Nat’s tarter, more deliberate, cornet. The preternaturally funky Bobby Timmons was initially in the piano chair and wrote the first of the jazz lines that Adderley turned into a standard: ‘This Here’ or with the hip spin Adderley gave to the title, ‘Dish Heah.’ After Timmons left to join Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers came Barry Harris then Victor Feldman and finally a 29-year old Austrian by the name of Joe Zawinul.
Arguably more than any other small group working in jazz at the time, Adderley’s group synthesised the many competing directions the music was taking, especially as the quintet expanded to a sextet with the addition of Yusef Lateef on tenor, flute and oboe in 1962 and after Lateef left a year later, Charles Lloyd on tenor and flute. In a single set, a listener could hear a blues, a gospel shout, a standard, a furious bebop line, a modal abstraction and at least one of several songs in Adderley band book that have become part of jazz’s lingua franca: ‘Work Song’ or ‘Dat Dere’ or ‘Jeannine’ or ‘Sac o’ Woe’ or ‘Unit Seven’ or ‘The Jive Samba’ or countless others. Indeed, it was the stage where Adderley’s band almost exclusively recorded with space always reserved for his soulful monologues offered with the cadence of America’s hippest baptist preacher. If jazz can be seen as a form of religion, Cannonball Adderley’s music showed how it can sooth, restore and ultimately fortify the soul.
The departure of Sam Jones and Louis Hayes in 1965 brought change to Adderley’s sound. In their place came Victor Gaskin on bass and Roy McCurdy on drums, bringing a heavier, harder swing along with a stronger emphasis on blues and gospel-inflected material. Instead of recording remotely in club settings, Adderley’s albums began to take on a hybrid approach—live in the studio with an audience—starting with Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!, a crossover sensation. The title track, written by Joe Zawinul and featuring a particularly memorable sermonization by Adderley, barely missed the Billboard top 10 singles chart. Zawinul’s use of the electric piano on the song is among the first of jazz’s overt flirtations with rock and soul, an association that became ever more direct when Johnny “Guitar” Watson and Larry Williams added lyrics and the Buckinghams, one of the first rock bands to fully integrate horns into their sound, recorded it and hit the Billboard top five. The band’s follow-up album, Why Am I Treated So Bad!, including a soulful workout on the title track made famous by the Staple Singers, was almost as popular. And then came 74 Miles Away, which took Adderley and his Quintet to the outer edges of jazz and rock.
Efforts to find a fusion between the two musics were still at an embryonic stage in June 1967 when 74 Miles Away was recorded, and they were focused on two distinct approaches.
The first was to treat a rock song like any other popular song and use its underlying harmonic structure, often much simpler than the songs that comprise the Great American Songbook, and adapt it for jazz syncopation and improvisation. Early examples include guitarist Grant Green’s recording of the Beatles’ ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ in 1965 and tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine’s interpretations of Sam Cooke’s ‘Shake’ and Bacharach and David’s ‘Walk on By’ in 1966. The second, more bold, tactic had little to do with repertoire and much more to do with adapting the rhythmic basis of rock, replacing the ding-ding-a-ding jazz beat with a straight beat—consider ‘Eighty-One,’ written by bassist Ron Carter and recorded by Miles Davis on 1965’s E.S.P. or Eddie Harris’ ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’ from his The Electrifying Eddie Harris. Vibraphonist Gary Burton’s 1967 album, Duster, took this further by employing a rock sheen over the entirely of an LP. Artists like guitarist Gabor Szabo and former Adderley band-mate Charles Lloyd were also pioneers in these efforts. The results are still very much jazz, but the feeling that a new movement was at hand is unmistakable.
Like its predecessors, 74 Miles Away was marketed as a live album but was actually taped in the studio with an attentive and appreciative audience. The effect is that of a party, the band and audience feeding off of each other.
“On with the music, on with the show.
Ladies and gentlemen with a nice round of applause, may we say, the Cannonball Adderley Quintet.”
Jay Rich, disc jockey
At first blush, the opening track, ‘Do, Do, Do (What Now is Next),’ seems to be an amalgam of the best elements of three of the gems from Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!—the rhythmic stops of ‘Fun,’ the descending theme of ‘Games’ and the galloping beat of ‘Sticks.’ What takes the tune from beyond mere imitation is a wicked B section in a minor key anchored by infectious Afro-Cuban comping by Zawinul. Both Adderleys solo for two choruses, unloading a series of rhythmic riffs with a soulful attack that is both leisurely and intense. Listening to Cannonball’s improvisation, one is struck by the evolution in his sound: the tone is rougher, the vibrato is broader, ebullience has given way to edge, a feeling that is heightened by an extended interlude in which Roy McCurdy’s drums dance around the B section with a series of embellishments on the toms that never boils over but makes clear that it is this part of Nat Adderley’s composition that makes ‘Do, Do, Do (What Now is Next)’ such a distinguished exercise in boogaloo.
‘I Remember Bird,’ penned by jazz critic Leonard Feather, which follows, brings Adderley full circle, both in terms of memorializing the legend (Charlie Parker) to which has was initially compared, though by this time, Adderley had long since shedded that association and became his own man, and in the bluesy, languid feel which recalls his sound at the beginning of the sixties. Both Adderleys build their solos around Feather’s indelible theme and Zawinul offers some late-night meditations.
“There are times when things don’t lay the way they’re supposed to lay. But regardless, you’re supposed to hold your head up high and walk tall. Walk tall!”
Adderley’s exhortation at the beginning of ‘Walk Tall’ is a sign that the struggle for Civil Rights lies at the heart of the song, as does the propulsive, forward motion of the song’s release and the lockstep groove of Zawinul, who wrote it, Gaskin and McCurdy. All we get here is the theme—no improvisation whatsoever—and it’s more than enough. I warmly recall a late summer Saturday walking in Toronto in which ‘Walk Tall’ asserted and reasserted itself as an impossible-to-shake earworm. It was a good day!
If ‘Walk Tall’ keeps the music compact, ‘74 Miles Away,’ also penned by Zawinul, goes to the outer limits. Quite possibly the first long-form exploration in jazz of how a rock foundation can drive a series of improvisations, Zawinul sets in motion a movement that, even if this song and this recording of it remain largely unknown, that would soon envelop his future collaborator Miles Davis as well as his future partner-in-crime in Weather Report, Wayne Shorter.
Bold chords from Zawinul open the performance with Gaskin and McCurdy then falling in with him into a 7/4 groove. Cannonball and Nat weave long notes across each other before playing the main theme: two recitations of a sing-songy phrase ending in a brief moment of rubato which is then repeated.
A couple of cymbal crashes by McCurdy lead into Cannonball’s start of his solo, his alto having a sharp vibrato. His long phrases alluding to the thematic material gradually build in intensity. Nat picks up a tambourine to further the energy level, the rhythm section pushes along with a rock beat, especially McCurdy who adds well-timed snare bombs and cymbal eruptions. A sustained high note by Cannonball at the outer edge of the alto’s register is the peak of his statement as things settle into a mellower groove and he offers a few quiet riffs to conclude his masterful solo. After a short, grooving interlude, Nat plays a probing and meditative phrase to commence his solo. The trajectory of his improvisation mirrors that of Cannonball’s. Nat’s lines build in fervour along with the rhythm section, Cannonball joins in on tambourine, there is a climax and then wonderous sounds appear to dazzle. He blows several bars way down in the cornet’s register and then, unexpectedly, starts to yodel before blowing a few final burry, low phrases on his horn. The audience applauds and then there's bliss.
Gaskin slides notes up and down the bass and the tambourine has been placed inside Zawinul’s piano so that it vibrates as he plays. McCurdy’s cymbal work becomes trance-like. One can almost picture a psychedelic light show being projected behind the band, audience members getting up and dancing, swaying slowly to the music, especially as Zawinul slips in some funky comping before the San Francisco Be-In feel resumes. It’s after one of those chordal stabs that Zawinul’s solo officially begins, a series of repeated riffs and rapid, single-line runs spanning the entirety of the keyboard that concludes with an almost Cecil Taylor-like barrage before he pounds out the chordal passage that opened ‘74 Miles Away.’ The Adderleys return to play the theme once more before a thunderous ending. After almost 14 minutes, Adderley can only offer, “‘74 Miles Away.’ That’s out there.”
After such a bold statement pointing to where jazz was heading, it perhaps seems inevitable that the album concludes by circling back to one of the sounds from which jazz was spawned: the blues. As Cannonball introduces ‘Oh Babe,’ he shares that it’s his band’s policy to include a blues in every set. Here, the blues is pure gut bucket with Nat singing, the audience invited to join in and Cannonball showing his profound feeling for the form.
In the span of five songs, Adderley points to the past, present and future, not favouring one over any of the others, and capturing how jazz was splintering in 1967, with some soon to embrace the promise central to ‘74 Miles Away,’ others drawn to the more soulful permutations of ‘Walk Tall’ and a contingent ready to probe the elemental feel of ‘Oh Babe.’ It is, to put it plainly, an incredible historical document that has attained a certain level of invisibility in the Adderley legacy. To the best of my knowledge, it was never reissued on CD domestically though is available on streaming services. But if you want to understand the merging of jazz and rock and Adderley's role in it, you need to know this record.
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