15 September 2010

The Lost Instrumentals: Cannonball Adderley Quintet - "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy"

Whatever happened to the instrumental? The grooves that you couldn't keep out of your head when they would pop up on AM (and to some extent, FM) radio back in the 1960s and 1970s?

Instrumentals have mostly become the equivalent of the musical dinosaur. Was it just a phase that saw its time in the sun? Or was it the victim of the constant splintering of the radio pie and subsequent takeover of the airwaves by a few conglomerates?

Well, TNOP misses 'em. And we have decided to make it our job in coming posts to call your attention to some of the greatest instrumentals ever recorded.


Julian "Cannonball" Adderley was a jazz alto saxophonist. A native of Tampa, Florida, Adderley made his bones playing with his brother Nat in Ray Charles' band in the 1940s. He also was a teacher of music at a Fort Lauderdale high school. (The education bug came from his parents, who were professors at Florida A&M University.)

Encouraged by his peers, Cannonball lit off to New York City in 1955. After making a name for himself by sitting in at various clubs, Cannonball recorded a series of sides for Savoy along with Nat, a coronet and trumpet player. This brought him to the attention of Miles Davis; Cannonball's blues-drenched sax would be an integral part of the classic Miles LPs Milestones and Kind of Blue. One of the other collaborators on Kind of Blue, pianist Bill Evans, would team up with Cannonball to later record two long players.

Adderley's style, known as "hard bop" (an idiom of jazz meant to emphasize the infusion of rhythm and blues, gospel and blues musical styles into the context of jazz), continued its popularity into the 1960s. The Cannonball Adderley Quintet went through a number of personnel changes, but notable members included Victor Feldman, Wynton Kelly, George Duke and Evans (piano), Ray Brown (bass), Louis Hayes and Roy McCurdy (drums), Yusef Lateef (sax) and brother Nat.

But the Quintet's surprise hit of 1966, "Mercy Mercy Mercy," was written by, and prominently featured the electric piano of, Austrian Joe Zawinul. On the recording that made it all the way to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100, Cannonball Adderley gives an intro to the song with a significant tip of the hat to Zawinul. The keyboardist then leads the band into the tune, a bluesy, rising number that accentuates the rhythm but stays true to the timeless jazz structure.

"Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" was recorded 20 October 1966 at Capitol Records' famous Los Angeles studio before some invited guests, who were treated to dinner and drinks as well as music. The crowd reaction adds to the excitement of the track.
[It should be noted that Chicago group The Buckinghams put words to "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and went all the way to #5 on the charts with their blue-eyed soul treatment of the song a year later in 1967.]

Cannonball Adderley continued to be a significant player on the jazz scene for another ten years. He had started to go down the road to electronic jazz, just like Miles (the seminal Bitches Brew) and Zawinul (most famously in the group Weather Report, with saxophonist Wayne Shorter and bassist Jaco Pastorius). Adderley died from a stroke in 1975, at the all-too-early age of 46 years.

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