Cannonball Adderley

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Tampa, Florida
Birth Sign
Tampa, Florida

Cannonball Adderley was a prominent jazz alto saxophonist of the 1950s and 1960s who sparked a rage amongst the audience with his ground-breaking music. Blessed with an open and affable disposition, his music mirrored the same. What made Adderley arch-different from other musicians of his age was his engaging and communicative character that controlled his professional and personal life. He is best remembered till date for his super-successful tune, ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ which went on to become a crossover hit at the pop charts. His friendship with Davis was equally significant, the latter establishing a strong impact on his career and music. Together the two came up with the epochal album, ‘Kind of Blue’. Other than working as a musician, he also worked as a talent scout in his lifetime, and introduced several notable musicians, by both employing them in his ensemble and functioning as a studio record producer for them. He was also a renowned ambassador for jazz and contributed considerably for the progress in the field of jazz through television broadcasts and as a teacher at numerous universities.

Early Childhood & Life

Cannonball Adderley was born as Julian Edwin Adderley on September 15, 1928 in Tampa, Florida, United States.
Academically brilliant, he acquired his early education at a respected school. Thereafter he completed his musical studies. During his early years, he was a voracious eater and had a huge appetite. Due of this, seniors and friends at his school kindly given him the nickname ‘cannibal’.

Career of Cannonball Adderley

Concluding his studies, he took up employment at the Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida as an applied instrumental music teacher.

After a couple of months, he moved to Tallahasse, Florida, where his family had migrated to. His dad took up teaching job at Florida A&M University. In the early 1940s, he along with his brother Nat played with Ray Charles.
It was in 1955 that he ultimately shifted to New York City. While at New York, he visited Cafe Bohemia, where Oscar Pettiford’s trio was playing. Incidentally, he carried his saxophone with him that day, chiefly afraid it being stolen. However, he was asked to fill in as a saxophone player. The performance was so compelling that it earned his reputation as a saxophonist.

He subsequently created his own group along with brother Nat. In 1957, he signed onto Savoy Jazz Label, before being seen by Miles Davis who impressed by the former’s blues-rooted alto saxophone, encouraged him to play for the quintet.

He formally joined the Miles Davis Sextet in October 1957. These were the foundation years of his spectacular career ahead. He played on the iconic Davis records ‘Milestones’ and ‘Kind of Blue’.

Three months following his entrance into the Miley Davis group, John Coltrane returned to the group. It was notable by the entry of pianist Bill Evan as well. Together, they recorded the records, ‘Portrait of Cannonball’ and ‘Know What I Mean?’

Meanwhile, he did not let go of his passion for teaching music and carried over this passion into his albums. In 1961, he narrated The Child’s Introduction to Jazz on Riverside Records.

He partnered with his brother Nat and came up with his first quintet, the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, in which he played on alto sax while his brother performed on cornet. Though the first quintet was not entirely successful, it was the second quintet that gained considerable great attention. It includes famous pianist, bassists, drummer and saxophonists.

Later in his career, electric jazz and avant garde experimentation impacted much of his compositions. He was inspired by Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’ album as well.

Influenced by the music of Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, he came up with two musical albums during this period, ‘Accent on Africa’ and ‘The Price You Got to Pay to be Free’ in which he doubled on his soprano saxophone.
In 1970, his quartet was showcased at the Monterey Jazz Festival in California. Simultaneously, it was also featured in the psychological thriller, ‘Play Misty for Me’

Other than singing, he moved into other types of entertainment as well, and was seen acting in the episode ‘Battle Hymn’ in the television series, ‘Kung Fu’ opposite Jose Feliciano and David Carradine.
Some of his hit numbers are, ‘The Here’, ‘The Jive Samba’, ‘Work Song’, ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ and ‘Walk Tall’

Recognition & Achievements

He was initiated as an honorary member of the Phi Mu Apha Sinfonia fraternity and Alpha Phi Alpha.

Personal Life & Legacy

He died of a stroke on August 8, 1975. He was buried in the Southside Cemetery, Tallahassee, Florida.
Posthumously, he was admitted into the Down Beat jazz Hall of Fame.
Following his passing, a number of prominent vocalists and musicians came out with songs to pay respect to the legendary saxophonist that Adderley was. Weather Report’s ‘Black Market’ album released in 1976 contained a track under the name of ‘Cannonball’ in tribute of the legendary saxophonist. It was composed by Joe Zawinul.
Just days after his death, Pepper Adams and George Mraz dedicated the piece ‘Julian’ on their 1975 Pepper Adams album called ‘Julian Day’s’.

Estimated net worth

The estimated net worth of Cannonball Adderley is unknown.


This legendary saxophonist’s stage moniker was taken from the nickname, ‘Cannibal’ which he was given by his seniors in high school due to his ravenous appetite.