Julian “Cannonball” Adderley – Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

By Russ:

While Jazz lovers will remember this alto saxophonist for his brilliant work in the 1959 Miles Davis album “Kind Of Blue”, a broader base of fans will likely identify with his crossover pop chart single…

1966 Mercy Mercy Mercy / Capitol / Billboard #11 / – recorded at Capitol’s Hollywood studio with an invited audience and an open bar

Adderley came up through the ranks of jazz icons such as Charlie Parker. In fact, the impetus and inspiration for this musician’s style came almost exclusively from Parker’s be-bop approach. Yet, he emerged as a major exponent of a new type of music known as “hard bop”, also called soul jazz.

I give you a great jazz saxophonist with huge blues-based tone, yet with an eloquently fluid and melodic playing style…

Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley

(b Tampa, FL, Sep 15, 1928; d Gary, IN, Aug 8, 1975)


Jive Samba (1963)

Although not included in these videos, on Adderley’s albums you may notice his intelligent presentation of the selections. He often explained before each tune what he and his musicians were going to play and this helped make him one of the most popular of all jazz men.


Primativo (1963)


Work Song


1969 Oslo / Cannonball / feat. Joe Zawinul



1966 Mercy Mercy Mercy / Capitol / Billboard #11 / – recorded at Capitol’s Hollywood studio with an invited audience and an open bar

Julian Edwin Adderley, the son of a jazz cornet player, was born in Tampa, Florida. He took up the saxophone at age 14. Just two years later, while completing his high school studies, he began fronting his own band at professional engagements.

The moniker, “Cannonball” is a corruption of a nickname “Cannibal”, which Julian got from his high school buddies when they noticed how quickly he could eat.

Cannonball moved to Tallahassee, Florida when his parents obtained teaching positions at Florida A&M University. Both Cannonball and brother Nat Adderley played professionally with Ray Charles when Charles lived in Tallahassee during the early 1940s through to 1944.

Attending Florida A&M University until 1948, he became proficient on trumpet and numerous reed instruments.

In 1948 he started work as an educator, when he taught applied instrumental music classes at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a job he held intermittently until 1956.

Drafted into the army in 1950, Sergeant Adderley became leader of the 36th Army Dance Band. Among the members of the 36th Army Band were great jazz artists such as trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Junior Mance, and Adderley’s younger brother Nat, who played cornet.

As Nat Adderley recalled in Down Beat magazine, “Cannonball made some arrangement with the General, so basically all we ever played was dance music and we did very little with the marching band. We played with it on some official functions but other than that we worked with the normal big band of jazz groups.”

Living in Washington, D. C., Julian studied music at Maryland’s U.S. Naval Academy, and from 1952 to 1953 led an army band at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

The New York Scene

Prompted by jump blues saxophonist Eddie “Clean-head” Vinson, Adderley and his brother traveled to New York City in 1955. It was there that Julian’s world class career really took off. One night Julian and brother Nat dropped in on at the popular Greenwich Village club Cafe Bohemia, where bassist, Oscar Pettiford’s group was playing.

Now, Julian just happened to have his sax with him (primarily because he feared that it would otherwise be stolen). So, when Pettiford’s regular sax player was late, Julian asked if he could set in. Pettiford, who had never heard of this plump, cheerful-faced newcomer, tried to put him to the test by having him play the tune, “I’ll Remember April“, at a furiously paced tempo.

But Adderley’s study of Charlie Parker’s alto saxophone solos had prepared him for such a breakneck tempo and, in true Cannonball style, Julian soared through the changes. As jazz historian Leonard Feather wrote in the liner notes to Somethin’ Else, Adderley “met the challenge with a long solo that just about knocked Pettiford off the stand.”

Following Adderley’s performance at Cafe Bohemia, he signed a contract with the Savoy records and became a regular member of Pettiford’s band.

Attending the band’s performances at the club, Miles Davis often sat and watched the 262-pound alto saxophonist perform. “Everybody knew right away that [Cannonball] was one of the best players around,” Davis said in his autobiography, Miles. “Even white critics were raving about his playing. All the record labels were running after him. Man, he was hot that quick.”

To the astonishment of many musicians, Adderley returned to his teaching job in the fall of 1955. But rave reviews and an increasing demand for his presence in New York encouraged Adderley to return to that city.

In 1955 he signed with the Savoy record label.

In 1956 he formed his own quintet with his brother Nat, pianist Junior Mance, and bassist Sam Jones. Plagued by financial difficulties, however, the group disbanded in the fall of the 1957.

With Miles Davis Quintet

In October of 1957 Miles Davis added Cannonball Adderley to his group lineup. Davis recalled his early interest in Adderley, “I could almost hear him playing in my group the first time I heard him. He had that blues thing and I love me some blues.”

Adderley remembered, as quoted in the book Milestones, “I had gotten an offer from [trumpeter] Dizzy [Gillespie] to go with his small band. I was opposite Miles at the Bohemia, told him I was going to join Dizzy, and Miles asked me why I didn’t join him. I told him he never asked me.” Within a few months, Miles hired Adderley and took him on the Jazz for Moderns tour.

Soon afterward, Davis expanded his group to a sextet, bringing together the saxophones of Adderley and John Coltrane.

John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, Bill Evans

As Davis explained in Miles, “I felt that Cannonball’s blues-rooted alto sax up against Trane’s harmonic, chordal way of playing, his more free-form approach, would create a new kind of feeling.”

For two years the saxophones of Adderley and Coltrane, fueled the creative fire of Davis’s group, producing a number of brilliant recordings such as Milestones in 1958 and Kind of Blue in 1959, the latter featuring the jazz classics “So What” and “All Blues.”

In March of 1958, Miles Davis made a rare (reciprocal) guest appearance on Adderley’s critically acclaimed solo album Somethin’ Else— a session that also showcased the talents of pianist Hank Jones, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Art Blakey.

The Emergence of Hard Bop

In September 1959, Adderley left Miles Davis’s group to reform his quintet, reuniting Nat and bassist Sam Jones, along with pianist Bobby Timmons and drummer Louis Hayes. The quintet played “hard bop“, which, unlike the cool jazz sound of the West Coast, according to Dizzy Gillespie, “reasserted the primacy of rhythm and the blues in our music and made you get funky with sweat to play it.”

Reflecting on his experience with Miles Davis’s group, Adderley was quoted as saying in “Miles: A Biography”: “I learned a lot with him. About spacing for one thing, when playing solos. Also he’s the master of understatement. And he taught me a lot about chords, as Coltrane did too.”

Hard bop, Gillespie added, “with its more earthy, churchy sound drew a lot of new black fans to our music.” David Rosenthal, in his book Hard Bop, wrote “without renouncing Be bop’s discoveries, [hard bop] won broad popular appeal, reestablishing jazz as a staple product on ghetto jukeboxes.”

1960: Them Dirty Blues album

Work Song was one of the tracks recorded in 1960 on the “Them Dirty Blues” album at Riverside studios, through several takes. Take #4 of Work Song is included in Audio samples above.

Listening to his solo, you can hear the “Cannonball” style of alto saxophone playing popping out all over the place. For example, at bars 42 – 44 of Take #4, you can hear this lick:

Bars 41-44 of Cannonball solo

Now, to me, that line is a prime example of the “trademark” style of Julian Adderley.

With the popularity of the hard bop sound, Adderley’s group achieved instant success. His ensemble attracted a number of first-rate musicians, including Austrian-born pianist Joe Zawinul, who joined the band in September 1961.

The presence of Zawinul in turn enticed saxophonist/flutist Yusef Lateef to join Adderley, which expanded the group to a sextet. “We did nothing but work 46-47 weeks a year,” recalled Zawinul in Down Beat, “often under the best circumstances. A lot of the time we really had fantastic fun.”

In the liner notes to the 1963 album The Cannonball Adderley Sextet in New York, noted jazz producer Orrin Keepnews wrote, “The saga of Cannonball Adderley’s band … has unquestionably been one of the most dazzling success stories in modern jazz history.”

In 1966 Adderley recorded Mercy Mercy Mercy – Live At The Club album.

Although this recording may sound like it was captured “live at a club”, in fact it was done in Los Angeles, where producer David Axelrod set up a club in the Capitol studios and furnished free drinks to an invitation-only audience. Naturally, the crowd was in an extremely good mood, and Adderley’s quintet, feeding off the energy in the room, gave the people something to shout about.

By this point, Adderley had perfected a unique blend of earthy soul-jazz and modern, subtly advanced post-bop; very rarely did some of these harmonies and rhythms pop up in jazz so saturated with blues and gospel feeling.

Those latter influences are the main inspiration for acoustic/electric pianist Joe Zawinul’s legendary title cut, a genuine Top 40 pop hit that bears a passing resemblance to the Southern soul instrumentals of the mid-’60s, but works a looser, more laid-back groove (without much improvisation).

Adderley’s 1969 “Country Preacher” is not only one of his best works but one of the pinnacles of the entire soul-jazz movement. Recorded at an unidentified church meeting of the Chicago chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Operation Breadbasket, the album spent two months in the Cash Box R&B charts in 1970.

During this time, Adderley also collaborated with singers Nancy Wilson, Lou Rawls, and Sergio Mendes.

By The End of The 1960s

By the end of 1960s, Adderley’s playing began to reflect the influence of the electric jazz avant-garde, and Miles Davis’ experiments on the album Bitches Brew.

On his albums from this period, such as Accent on Africa (1968) and The Price You Got to Pay to Be Free (1970), he began doubling on soprano saxophone, showing the influence of John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter.

In 1970 Zawinul left the group and was replaced by keyboardist George Duke. In tribute to his ten-year stay with Adderley, Zawinul told Down Beat, “The parting with Cannon is friendly. I’ll love him forever. It’s been a beautiful association.”

In that same year, his quintet appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival in California, and a brief scene of that performance was featured in the 1971 psychological thriller Play Misty for Me, starring Clint Eastwood.

Though afflicted by diabetes, Adderley continued to perform live and appear at jazz workshops throughout the 1970s. These seminars consisted of demonstrations and lectures pertaining to both the musical and sociological aspects of jazz.

In 1975 he also appeared (in an acting role alongside Jose Feliciano and David Carradine) in the episode “Battle Hymn” in the third season of the TV series Kung Fu.

Closing Chord

On August 8, 1975, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley suffered a stroke and passed away. Thus ended the career of a brilliant musician who left an indelible mark on the postwar jazz community. He was buried in the Southside Cemetery, Tallahassee, Florida. Later that year he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.

On Adderley’s death, Dan Morgenstern wrote in Down Beat magazine that the alto master was a “man whose horizon extended beyond musical matters. Cannonball was active in civil rights and support for the arts.” Adderley’s contributions to the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Operation Bread Basket and as a member of the Jazz Advisory Board of the National Endowment for the Arts reflected his commitment to the role of art and artists in social change.

“Cannonball was a great artist,” commented Zawinul in Down Beat. “I never knew a musician who knew so much about different subjects. He always read Time and Newsweek, and he could discuss everything from heart surgery to politics. Cannon had more worldly wisdom than any musician I ever met.”

His world vision and a true passion for music made Cannonball Adderley an educator of the human experience and a heralded genius during his lifetime and beyond.

Songs made famous by Adderley and his bands include “This Here” (written by Bobby Timmons), “The Jive Samba,” “Work Song” (written by Nat Adderley), “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” (written by Joe Zawinul) and “Walk Tall” (written by Zawinul, Marrow and Rein). A cover version of Pops Staples’ “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?” also entered the charts.

Adderley was initiated as an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity (Gamma Theta chapter, University of North Texas, ’60, & Xi Omega chapter, Frostburg State University, ’70) and Alpha Phi Alpha (Beta Nu chapter, Florida A&M University).

Tom scott’s great celebration of Adderley’s work:

Cannon Re-Loaded / All-Star Celebration of Cannonball Adderley (Tom Scott)

Tom Scott With Guests / Adderley Celebration

2008 Concord Music Group, Inc. CCD-30236-02

Tom Scott……….. – Leader, Alto Sax

Terence Blanchard – Trumpet

George Duke…….. – Piano / Rhodes / Wurlitzer

Marcus Miller……. – Bass

Steve Gadd…….. – Drums

Larry Goldings….. – B3 Organ

Dave Carpenter.. – Bass (8 & 10)

Nancy Wilson….. – Vocals (4 & 9)

Selected discography

Solo releases

Presenting Cannonball Adderley, Savoy, 1955.

Somethin’ Else, Blue Note, 1958.

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco, Riverside, 1959.

Cannonball Adderley in Chicago, Mercury, 1959.

Cannonball’s Shooters, Mercury.

Cannonball: Jump for Joy, Mercury.

At the Lighthouse, Riverside, 1960.

Them Dirty Blues, Riverside, 1960.

African Waltz, Riverside, 1961.

Things Are Getting Better—with Milt Jackson, Riverside.

Cannonball Adderley Quintet Plus, Riverside.

Cannonball Adderley The Poll Winners, Riverside.

The Cannonball Adderley Sextet in New York, Riverside, 1963.

Live Session! Cannonball Adderley with the New Exciting Voice of Ernie Andrews, Capitol, 1964.

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at the “Club,” Capitol, 1966.

Country Preacher, Capitol, 1969.

Inside Straight, Fantasy, 1973.

The Best of Cannonball Adderley: The Capitol Years, Capitol, 1990.

With Miles Davis

Milestones, Columbia, 1958.

Miles and Monk at Newport, Columbia, 1958.

Jazz at the Plaza, Columbia, 1958.

Kind of Blue, Columbia, 1959.


Source: Sax On The Web (SOTW)


Posted by homildo5512 July 2007


1 David Baker, The Jazz Style of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley: A Musical and Historical Perspective

2 Tim Price, The Julian Cannonball Adderley collection

3 Chris Sheridan, Dis here: a bio-discography of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley

Magazines etc

1 John Janowiak, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley – Cult Of Cannonball, (Down Beat 70, no 3, 2003)

2 Ryan Jones, ‘You Know What I Mean?’: The Pedagogical Canon of ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, (Current Musicology, 79/80: 2006)


1 Leslie D Owen, A study of tension and resolution as found in the improvisation style of saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley (Virginia Commonwealth University, 1985)

2 Gig B Brown, Know what I mean: the life and music of Julian Cannonball Adderley (Rutgers University, 1999)

3 Terrence M Cook, Style-specific transcriptions of selected improvised solos for alto saxophone by Charles Parker, Jr. and Julian Adderley (Indiana University, 1996)

4 Robert B Karns, The jazz style of Julian Adderley: a note by note study. (University of Houston, 1988)

5 Karim Adam Al-Zand, Theoretical observations on jazz improvisation: The solos of Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley (Harvard, 2000)

6 Ricky Alonzo, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley: Selected highlights of his life and music (The Florida State University, 2001)

7 Michael Neal Jacobson, A comparison of the improvisational performance practices of jazz saxophonists Charlie Parker and Julian Adderley with the embellishments found in the “Methodical Sonatas” of Georg Philipp Telemann (The University of Texas at Austin, 1999)

8 Barry Kernfeld, Adderley, Coltrane, and Davis at the Twilight of Bebop: The Search for Melodic Coherence (1958–59) (Cornell University, 1981)

(some of these theses must be really helpful! – they’re all in America, of course, and mostly there’s only one copy of each. I don’t suppose anybody’s read them? Perhaps a SOTW member is an author…)


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