Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Portrait of Cannonball - Julian Adderley Quintet

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I simply can’t imagine how Orrin Keepnews did it.

During its relatively brief existence [1953-63], the recorded output of Riverside Records [and related labels like Jazzland] was staggering to behold. What makes matters even more phenomenal is that although he [supposedly] had a partner handling the “business affairs” of the company, Orrin performed all aspects of the artistic side of things essentially on his own.

This meant that Orrin arranged everything to do with the label’s recordings including contracting with the featured artists and sidemen, buying time in the recording studios and staffing it with a recording engineer who was sensitive to the nuances of recording Jazz, hiring photographs and illustrators to help with the development of the cover art and, in many cases, writing the copy himself for an LP’s sleeve or liner notes.

Had it not been for Orrin’s Herculean efforts, artists such as Thelonious Monk, Julian Cannonball Adderley and Bill Evans, might have gone unrecorded if not, at least, under recorded, during the early years of their respective careers.

The debt that the Jazz World owes Orrin is immense. The Monk catalog on Riverside alone is priceless.

The difficulty of trying to maintain any semblance of a business atmosphere involving creative artists, many of whom led, shall we say, “undisciplined” private lives, would no doubt have tested the patience of the most premier psychologists, priests and sundry other practitioners of the healing arts. In addition to his talent as a producer of superb Jazz recordings, one has the feeling that Orrin was also a friend, confessor, loaner of money, chauffeur, reclaimer of instruments from pawn shops, mood disorder magician, and a payer of overdue fines and fees to Local 802 [Musicians Union] at various times during his tenure at the head of Riverside Records.

In addition to my appreciation of his exquisite taste in Jazz and its makers, I have always been particularly grateful to Orrin for his thoughtful and insightful liner notes. While the music speaks for itself on Riverside’s 10-year output, it was always an added treat to read Orrin’s well-written notes and learn more about these artists and their approach to Jazz, one example of which can be found in the following annotation that Orrin wrote for Portrait of Cannonball: Julian Adderely [Riverside R-269; Original Jazz Classics CD OJCCD-361-2].

"Portrait of Cannonball" strikes us as a most fitting title for JULIAN ADDERLEY's first album for Riverside, not only because of the unusually expressive photograph of the man on the cover, but also because the contents of the LP seem to make up an equally expressive musical "portrait."

Centuries ago, when a painter was commissioned by some important or wealthy man to create one of those portraits that were supposed to hang forever in ancestral halls, he was apt to show the subject at his ease and in familiar surroundings: perhaps seated in a favorite chair or with members of his family around him. This album meets many of the conditions for being a current jazz equivalent of such a portrait. Here is Cannonball, blowing in wonderfully relaxed fashion, surrounded by a hand-picked group that happens to represent different phases of his career to date.

Adderley himself is just the same sort of imposing, assured figure as one of those portrait subjects of another day. But since the mood here is modern, we might as well get off this particular comparison by noting that there is nothing formal in this portrait: both the cover photo and the spirit of the album are candid and easygoing

Cannonball today, just short of thirty (he was born in September, 1928), can be described as having a solid present position in jazz and an awesomely promising future. This is true at least partly because he has been able to resist the worst aspects of a dangerous kind of success. The usual jazz pattern calls for much early scuffling (the big fish from a little local pond comes to the big city and gets lost in the shuffle for a while before eventually, if at all, finding his way). But when Julian Adderley first arrived in New York from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he had been a successful local band-leader and then a high school music teacher and band director, he found to his surprise that he had it made in advance!

Rumor, reputation and legend had preceded him on their mysterious grapevine. There were all sorts of stories: some seemed based on an assumption that all of Florida (outside of Miami) is backwoods and swamps, and claimed that this boy born and raised in Tallahassee (the state capitol) had never even heard of Charlie Parker until after he had coincidentally developed a similar style; some, based on ignorance of how young he was, claimed that Adderley had been playing that way first, or even that Bird had somehow heard and copied him; still others went back to some mysterious other musician from whom both had separately learned.

When, out of all this fog and nonsense, there appeared at the Cafe Bohemia in New York, in the Summer of 1955, a young man who really played remarkably well, the result was an immediate sensation. He began recording, went on the big-cities road route with his own group. He was, without quite knowing what hit him, a star.
It was all a bit too good to be true. The first kind of reaction was one described by Coleman Hawkins in his Documentary album (RLP 12-117/8), in speaking of the musical perils of New York. He used Cannonball as an example of how the bright new star becomes Everyone's target; everyone considers him the man it would be most advantageous to 'cut', and inevitably at least some succeed. Another problem was that the critics largely turned on Julian, dismissing him as just a Bird imitator. Every alto player for years now has been called that, but it's even easier to attack on those grounds someone who gets publicized as "the new Bird." Finally, as Julian himself admits, he just didn't know enough about all the sub-surface problems of being a big-time bandleader.

Although lie turned out to be one of the few capable of introducing his personnel and tunes in lucid, audible English, there were lots of non-musical essentials of handling people and places that you just can't command without experience. So, by early 1958, he had disbanded and begun a new phase of his career, as a featured member of the Miles Davis Sextet.

The Cannonball who had come up from Florida was very probably less deserving of the "Bird imitator" tag than many others, although of course he shared with practically everyone that deep influence. Julian's first interest in jazz had come from his father, a one-time cornetist. This has helped make him one of the few modernists with knowledge and appreciation of the jazzmen and music that preceded him. He has also always had a strongly lyrical quality and a deep understanding of the blues. These were qualities that Bird had, too; and that kind of similarity should not be undervalued.

By now he has added a growing maturity of concept and richness of tone to his originally powerful musical equipment. That pre-appearance hoopla and legend (none of it of his own making) has died down — and it's important to note that Cannonball never paid it any attention. So he stands on his own feet today as one of the most richly talented and swiftly-growing of contemporary jazz figures, speaking ever more importantly with his own musical voice.

The colleagues he selected for this album include, first of all, "BLUE" MITCHELL, an exceptionally gifted young trumpet man who is an old friend from Florida days. It was Cannonball who brought Blue forcibly to Riverside s attention (the story is told in detail in the notes to Mitchell's own album — RLP 12-273 — recorded in the same week as this one) and it was Cannonball who felt that using Mitchell on this LP would be a most helpful way of introducing him. SAM JONES, one of the best of several superior young bassists currently on the New York scene, is also from Florida and was an important part of Adderley's own group. PHILLY JOE JONES (no relation), who was Miles Davis' drummer when Cannonball joined that unit, is one of today's most formidable rhythm men. He can be heard with great frequency on Riverside LPs, and his presence here is an indication that Cannonball shares our high opinion of him. BILL EVANS, also currently featured with Miles, is a brilliant and distinctive stylist just beginning to gain recognition (he was voted "New Star" pianist in the 1958 Down Beat Critics Poll).

The friends-and-associates aspect of this "portrait" is also in evidence in the repertoire. In addition to one free-blowing version of a standard, there are two Cannonball originals (A Little Taste, first recorded on the first album Adderley made; and Straight Life, a new ballad), a blues contributed by Sam Jones, a new scoring of one of the best tunes [Minority] of the talented composer-arranger-altoist Gigi Gryce, and finally the Oriental-flavored Nardis, one of Miles Davis' rather infrequent compositions, specifically written for Cannonball's Riverside debut.”

Although it was difficult to chose from these tracks, I went with Minority on the following video tribute to Cannonball, Blue, Bill, Sam and Philly.

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