Nat Adderley, Jr.: Exhilarating Mix of Jazz, Blues and R&B

February 3, 2020

At the age of 11, Nat Adderley, Jr., wrote and arranged a song called “I’m On My Way”, which was included on his uncle, Cannonball Adderley’s 1967 Capitol Records album, Why Am I Treated So Bad! In WALK TALL The Music & Life of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley by Cary Ginell (Hal Leonard Books: 2013), Nat, Jr., was described as “a budding pianist and composer in his own right.” But Adderley, Jr. gravitated toward rhythm & blues, and he once told JazzTimes‘ Evan Haga that his “first musical loves” were Motown, the Beatles, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Adderley, Jr. spent 25 years as the music director for R&B singer Luther Vandross, but, after Vandross died in 2005, he decided to return to his jazz roots. On Wednesday night, January 29, his quartet played to a packed house at Tavern on George in New Brunswick, NJ, and there were electrifying reverberations from both ends of this career. With Mike Lee on tenor saxophone, Chris Berger on bass, and Vince Ector on drums, Adderley, Jr. let everyone know that, “We’re going to do some Cannonball,” before diving into “74 Miles Away”, written by keyboardist Joe Zawinul for the Cannonball Capitol Records album of the same name. “74 Miles Away” is often cited as an early forerunner of the music Zawinul would later create for the popular fusion group, Weather Report.

Pointing out that, “We’re losing too many important folks,” Adderley, Jr. paid tribute to the late tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath by playing “Big P”, a tune written by Heath for his brother, bassist Percy Heath. It was introduced on Jimmy Heath’s 1960 Decca/Riverside album Really Big! that featured Adderley, Jr.’s father on cornet, Cannonball on alto sax, and Clark Terry on flugelhorn.

Then, announcing he was going to “get funky” Adderley, Jr. saluted two of his aforementioned “musical loves”, with an R&B-inspired performance of  Bacharach and David’s “The Look of Love”. That was followed by Duke Pearson’s “Jeanine” from Cannonball’s 1960 Riverside release, Them Dirty Blues. That album featured Louis Hayes on drums, but the Tavern on George audience was treated to a scintillating drum solo by Ector.

“Nat Adderley, Jr. brings his everything to a performance, and we appreciate that,” said Virginia DeBerry of the New Brunswick Jazz Project, which presents live jazz four nights a week in New Brunswick at venues such as Tavern on George. DeBerry also reminded the audience that 2020 is NBJP’s 10th anniversary. And, Adderley, Jr., aware of the line of people waiting to get in for the second set, made sure everyone knew that, “We’re going to be playing some Luther.”

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