1. Archive

Horn man carries on down-home traditions

When Nat Adderley blows his horn, you can hear the sounds he heard as a child _ impassioned gospel, deep blues and the chants of a chain gang _ reinvented as straight-ahead jazz with a lively sense of swing.

This is the music he has been playing for decades, dating back to the days when he and his famous brother, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, were growing up in Tallahassee.

Cannonball always was bound for glory with his saxophone, but Nat didn't believe he had as much talent. Instead, he studied sociology and tried to get a government job.

But only white people could land a state job in those days, so Adderley never became a bureaucrat. Instead, he joined forces with his brother, who had made a name for himself playing with Miles Davis.

In contrast to Davis' cool bop sound, the Adderleys rooted their music in a deep-fried, down-home groove. The best example is a Nat Adderley composition called Work Song, based on his memory of a chain gang.

"When I was a kid in Tallahassee, we used to have convict labor," he said. "The street in front of my house was a major route to Pensacola, and the convicts were building the street. And I always remembered their call-and-response."

With songs like that and Mercy Mercy Mercy and This Here, the Adderleys wowed audiences and critics alike.

"The rhythm of the group is contagious," critic Ralph J. Gleason wrote in 1959, "and its overall effect might well cause the lame to walk and the halt to throw away their crutches."

But Cannonball died in 1975 and the music Nat loved so much abandoned him for a while. Jazz wandered off along a path called "fusion" that led toward rock 'n' roll. The surviving Adderley stayed the course, though, and just recently jazz _ led by a couple of brothers named Marsalis _ caught back up with him.

"For years I was sort of on the fringe of things," Adderley said. "Now I'm having a wonderful time enjoying the fruits of all these years."

At age 60, Adderley could be taking life easy and sticking close to his Lakeland home. Instead, he and his band tour Japan and Europe, and play seven weeks of New York club dates every year. And he has two albums out right now, The Old Country and A Tribute to Cannonball.

Now that jazz has circled back around to the spot Adderley never left, he's not sure where the music is headed.

"If I knew where it was going," he said, "I'd get there first and beat everybody to it."


Nat Adderley

at 7:45 p.m.