Born Nathaniel Adderley on November 25, 1931 in Tampa, FL; son of Sugar and Julian Adderley, Sr.; brother of Julian Adderley, Jr.; married Ann; one son, Nathaniel Adderley, Jr. and one daughter, Alison Pittman; five grandchildren; died on January 2, 2000 in Lakeland, FL.

A major player in hard bop jazz during the 1950s, Nat Adderley pioneered the genre of soul jazz. He commanded an extraordinary range of tones on the cornet, and possessed a distinctive ability to play "way down low" on the horn, without losing the agility to discharge powerful notes in the upper registers in rapid succession. He toured the world as a bandleader and wrote compositions that were performed and recorded by many of the greatest names in the jazz world. Among Adderley's most popular songs were "Jive Samba," "Hummin'," and "The Work Song," and during his 50-year career he played on nearly 100 albums. Adderley's accomplishments in many areas paralleled those of his older brother, alto saxophone player Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, and the two siblings collaborated for many years, both in the Cannonball Adderley Quintet and on selected projects.

Adderley was born Nathaniel Adderley in Tampa, Florida on November 25, 1931, the second of two sons. He was still an infant when the family moved to Tallahassee in order for his parents, Sugar and Julian Adderley Sr., to teach at Florida A&M University. Nat Adderley's first musical endeavor as a youngster was as a singer, and he was in fact a boy soprano until his voice deepened in adolescence.

While the Adderley brothers were growing up, Julian Adderley Jr. played trumpet. As Nat Adderley entered his teens however, his brother abandoned the trumpet and switched to playing the saxophone. With an idle trumpet in the Adderley house it was not long before Nat Adderley appropriated the instrument for himself. Beginning in 1946 he studied the trumpet, receiving assistance from both his father-- a professional musician-- and his older brother.

Adderley played his trumpet locally with various bands in Florida until joining the army in 1950, at which time he switched instruments and began to play the cornet. He played with an army band during his military tour of duty in Korea, and after his discharge in 1953 he enrolled at Florida A&M, intending to study law at his mother's urging-- Adderley's parents were well educated and held high expectations for their children's academic success. Adderley nonetheless abandoned his plans indefinitely in order to accept an unanticipated invitation to tour Europe with the Lionel Hampton band.

He left for Europe in 1954, and when he returned in the following year he joined his brother on an impromptu excursion to New York City where one of the legendary moments of jazz awaited them upon their arrival. Before the end of their first evening in New York, the two brothers were performing at Café Bohemia in Greenwich Village with featured stars Kenny Clark, Horace Silver, and Oscar Pettiford. Nat Adderley, who left Florida with his brother on a whim and with only tentative plans to explore the big city jazz scene, was heard on three separate recordings within weeks of his arrival in New York. He contributed to Bohemia after Darkand to Cannonball Adderley: Spontaneous Combustion. Additionally, Nat Adderley released his own album, Nat Adderley: That's Nat. The latter recording featured Nat Adderley's classic compositions, "Work Song," "Sermonette," and "Jive Samba." The following year he released, To the Ivy League from Nat,on EmArcy, a four-star album according to All Music Guide. The younger Adderley maintained a low profile behind his older brother's fame but went on nonetheless to record dozens of albums, including a number of recordings as a bandleader and many with his brother's ensemble, the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. During the 1960s, Nat Adderley recorded most frequently with Riverside Records; additionally he was heard on Capitol, Milestone, Atlantic, and Original Jazz Classics. Some of his albums were later re-issued by Original Jazz Classics.

Formed A Legendary Quintet

Nat and Julian Adderley initially formed an ensemble in 1956 but disbanded the group by the following year. After the split-up, Nat Adderley played with Woody Herman and trombonist J. J. Johnson until late in 1959 at which time Cannonball Adderley assembled a new band, the Cannonball Adderley Quintet. With the endorsement of trumpeter Miles Davis--who was impressed with the Adderleys--the brothers secured the assistance of agent John Levy and their prospects improved accordingly. Scott Yanow of All Music Guidesaid of Nat Adderley that he "was at the peak of his powers..." during those formative years of the quintet.

Nat Adderley, a charter member of the Adderley quintet, remained with the group until its demise after the death of Cannonball Adderley in 1975. During the nearly 20-year history of the quintet, the ensemble left its mark on the Billboard charts, with 12 albums on the charts between 1962 and 1975. The group's classic album, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,was released by Capitol in 1967 and reached number 13 on the music charts. The featured title song on that album not only reached number 11 on the pop singles listing but also hit second place on the rhythm & blues singles chart. In February of 1968, the Mercyalbum won an award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS Grammy Award) for the best instrumental jazz performance by a small group.

Many Accomplishments

Adderley's exploits veered beyond the Adderley quintet, as he worked additionally as a sideman with Wynton Kelly, drummer Kenny Clarke, and saxophonist Jimmy Heath between 1960 and 1975. During the 1970s, Adderley and his brother collaborated on a cohesive "concept" album called "Big Man--The Legend of John Henry." That work, which was released as a musical on the Fantasy label, was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1976 as a tribute to the untimely death of Cannonball Adderley; Joe Williams starred in the concert. In later 1980s productions of John Henry,Adderley expanded the work into a full-blown musical. The expanded version was performed in 1986 at both the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. and at the La Jolla Playhouse in Southern California. Nat Adderley himself appeared off-Broadway in a play on the life of Mahalia Jackson not long after his brother's death.

Also after his brother's death, he formed his own band. The new ensemble, including Vincent Herring on saxophone and Walter Booker on bass, performed together for approximately 20 years. Additionally, Sonny Fortune joined Adderley as a sideman during the 1980s, and Adderley toured both as a soloist and as a bandleader in Europe and Japan. Through all of his concert tours, Adderley experienced an enthusiastic reception worldwide and especially in Europe. He was encouraged by the ambience and inspired that jazz stood in the threshold of an international awakening during the 1990s.

In 1975, Adderley went to Florida Southern College for a sojourn as artist-in-residence. In that capacity he performed as a headliner at A&M's Child of the Sun Jazz Festival. His regular appearances at the festival spanned more than ten years-- into the mid-1980s. Approximately ten years later, in 1996, he joined the school faculty. He taught music at Harvard, performed an annual stint at Sweet Basil in New York City, and toured with Luther Vandross on occasion.

Adderley traveled everywhere--Australia, New Zealand, Japan--with his most frequent venue in Zurich, Switzerland during his later years. The early 1990s saw a Broadway production of his 1986 adaptation of the John Henry musical, Shout Up a Morning; and in 1994 Adderley contributed cameos on Antonio Hart's tribute album, For Cannonball and Woody.In 1995, a Mercy, Mercy, Mercy reprise appeared on Evidence Records, with Antonio Hart on saxophone, pianist Rob Bargad, bassist Walter Booker, and Jimmy Cobb on drums.

A Jazz Purist

In the mid-1980s Adderley dispensed with exclusive engagement agreements and ceased signing recording contracts, preferring instead to work on a less confining, per album basis. Ultimately he recorded on more than a dozen labels including Enja, Landmark, and Atlantic during the four-decade span of his recording career between 1955 and 1995. In an interview with Amy J. Moore of Down Beat,he discussed the implications of freedom and total involvement for jazz musicians. He affirmed that collaboration and spontaneity combine to comprise a special synergy that is the essence of jazz, a circumstance that endows the genre with its unique interpretive characteristics and that distinguishes jazz from all other music. Adderley said also that memorable jazz performances elicit guts and bravery from the performers, because not all improvisations succeed. Truly devoted musicians learn to accept derision equally with adulation during those unpredictable times when a spontaneous collaboration fails to please the listener--when people say stuff like, "What was that ricky-tick crap?" as Adderley related the emotion.

In 1997, the jazz world honored Nat Adderley with an induction into the Jazz Hall of Fame. Two years later, in 1999, his colleagues in music paid a grand tribute to him at the Playboy Jazz Festival in 1999 with a moving presentation by Longineu Parsons on trumpet, bassist Walter Booker, and percussionists Airto Moreira and Roy McCurdy. George Duke and Michael Wolff shared the piano duties, and Adderley received a standing ovation as Parsons and the group performed a selection of Adderley's most recorded compositions, including "Jive Samba" and "Work Song."

Years of Declining Health

In 1997, Adderley had his right leg amputated as a result of diabetes, and three years later he died from complications of the disease. On the day before he died, he crossed the bridge into the twenty-first century, ultimately expiring on January 2, 2000. Adderley was survived by his son, Nat Adderley, Jr. who is a pianist and musical director. Also surviving Adderley were his wife, Ann; his daughter, Alison Pittman; and five grandchildren. Philip Elwood noted in the San Francisco Examinerthat Adderley was one of the "friendliest and most cordial guys any of us jazz camp followers ever encountered." According to the unassuming Adderley, he was just an "old bebopper."

by Gloria Cooksey

Nat Adderley's Career

Toured with Lionel Hampton, 1954-55; with his brother, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, performed in the Adderley Brothers Quintet 1956-57, and the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, 1959-75; composer for Cannonball Adderley Quintet; heard on more than 100 albums; toured Europe extensively, 1975-1995; recorded for assorted labels.

Nat Adderley's Awards

Jazz Hall of Fame, Kansas City, Missouri, 1997.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 15 years ago

You have some very wrong facts regarding Nat Adderley. He did indeed move to Lakeland Florida in 1976, but did not begin his association with Florida Southern College until 1988 when the first "Child of the Sun" Jazz Festival was held. "COTS" was at FSC, NOT A&M. He performed each year with his quintet on the festival through 1998; after that time his health made it impossible to continue playing. After his death in January of 2000, a four hour memorial tribute concert was performed in his memory at Florida Southern. He taught for the College and served as Artist in Residnence.