Cannonball Adderley was the first jazzman I ever listened to when I was a kid. I was fumbling around with my first alto, age 10 or so, when Cannon burst into my world with all the authority of a mentor and all the assurance of a god. Cannon recast Parker just enough to make the Moves easier to understand and, what's more, he lingered over the resonance of each gold note he played with a luxury Bird's relentless appetite had forbidden. His impeccable lyricism made every phrase a melody and every improvised chorus a whole tune that would've taken most songwriters days to piece together on their own. Dead at 46 on August 8, 1975, Cannon was remembered as a preeminent figure in the story of hard bop.
But he was also remembered as a sell-out. That was the second chapter to Cannon's career, the chapter that began seedlike around 1963, the context of Milestone's posthumous issue of the full "Japanese Concerts," and that flowered naturally from it (and from Horace Silver's gospel innovations) into a funky style of jazz with roots in the blues predilections of bop itself, the focus of Capitol's "Music, You All," a posthumous issue of a 1971 Troubadour gig in L.A. The Quintet's historic turn to the soulful drew sneers from the day's critics and jeers from the usual avant-gardists, who were even willing to scorn the edifice of bop, not to mention a chickenshack r&b that seemed to signify the conventions they were hellbent on exploding. Yet here was Cannonball resurrecting that funk tradition right out there on the mainstream circuit. It was one thing to consign Getz and Desmond to the fading world of penny-loafers and the Kingston Trio, but it was another to feel compelled to do something similar to Cannonball Adderly, who'd blown next to Trane every night for two years in that legendary Miles Davis sextet of the late '50s.
What's amazing to realize now is just how prophetic Cannon's soul style of jazz has turned out to be. Walk into the clubs any time these nights and you'll hear a struggle with the bugaloo. Ron Carter's just fronted a disco album (CTI's "Anything Goes"; roll over, Cole Porter) and even Sonny Rollins managed to put a scare into lots of people a few weeks ago by threatening to rock out at Carnegie Hall. Sure, the rock/soul thing in jazz might seem like a plain cash-in with the spate of robot boogie now upon us - witness recent discs from Hancock, Corea, Cobham, Stanley Clarke, Tony Williams, Jan hammer, Lenny White. But the new and insistent presence of funkophile currents in the daily clubworks of musicians as revered as Carter, as boppish as Kenny Barron, and as flat-out talented as Dave Sanborn, should convince us that what may really be at issue is the future of a new and serious jazz idiom struggling to get born.
If the search for a new style can find a model for instruction or a legacy for assurance, it will have to be the Adderley legacy and the Adderley model. Cannon now looms as a figure far more relevant to the contemporary musical quandary than his persona would lead us to believe. Nobody in the history of jazz has played a hard soul groove with as much blues power and dense sophistication combined as Cannonball. It's just such a unified head that's lacking in the new sound and that's essential to its success. Cannon grew ever closer to the blues as the years went on, retaining still that early elegance and awesome logic, but committed to more and more of an explicit statement about where the final denominator of his art was to be found.
If Cannon long ago reserved a place for himself among the heroes of the hard bop past, a place awaits him too as a principle of unity in the music of the future. The famous bopper has suddenly become our contemporary.
Originally published in The Village Voice, February 9, 1976