Nat Aderley earned a fame of his own

The siblings of famous musicians who also are musicians often have to struggle with the stern economics of the musical marketplace. Even experienced jazz listeners can overlook the accomplishments of musical siblings who don't garner the press of their relatives.

For example, the average jazz listener (read: "a listener more canny than the average listener to other genres") knows that Percy Heath carved a fine and laudable career as bassist for the revered Modern Jazz Quartet, but may be only vaguely aware that his two brothers -- reed man and flautist Jimmy and drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath -- were contributing fine performances to our music as well. Or that the Heath brothers formed a trio and created more gems with the added spice of genetic harmony.

Everybody knows the name of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, whose fame overshadows that of his saxophonist older brother, Branford. But Branford, by virtue of his television work and contributions to other, more popular genres than jazz, can claim a larger slice of the popular pizza than another brother, Delfeayo, who has lent his production talents to his brothers' work and is an accomplished musician in his own right. Drummer Jason Marsalis' name does not often figure in deep conversations about the current state of jazz. And how about father Ellis Marsalis? Revered among New Orleans musicians of an older stripe, he has been the teacher of many of the famous younger Turks who grew up outside his very talented family. But it's difficult to find his recordings on the jazz hit parade.

It is an injustice to fine musicians that name recognition often takes precedence over accomplished talent, but there it lies with little that can be done by jazz devotees other than to widen the circle of our fraternity whenever the chance presents itself.

This, then, brings us to Nat Adderley, cornetist and younger brother of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, whose status as heir apparent to the alto sax crown of Charlie Parker was assured when he joined up with the likes of Miles Davis for a series of classic Davis dates in the 1950s, most prominent of which is "Kind Of Blue."

But by that time Nat had been cutting his own figure in jazz. His switch from trumpet to cornet, bypassing the more common flugelhorn, is an early indication of his search for a distinctive voice. While it is true that Nat's playing was influenced by Miles Davis, it is equally true that his choice of instrument lent him a uniqueness in small ensemble settings.

By the time he joined his brother, he'd already played in a U.S. Army band and done a mid-1950s stint with Lionel Hampton. After a brief and unsuccessful period of filling the cornet chair in his brother's quintet, Nat did some more dues paying with Woody Herman and J.J. Johnson and rejoined Cannonball in 1959. Cannonball was then gathering the laurels earned by his association with Davis and his fulfillment of the Parker legacy of promise.

By this time, soul jazz was aborning and, until Cannonball's death in 1975, the brothers maintained their musical partnership, a period during which they helped preserved the blues- and bop-rooted integrity of the new subgenre of jazz.

Perhaps Nat's most famous contribution as a composer during this time was "Work Song," a gem of a piece which was, unfortunately, co-opted by the frivolous but very popular rendition by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in the mid-1960s. Be that as it may, it did bring attention to Nat as a composer and curious listeners could cock an ear for his approach in such other solid tunes as "Jive Samba."
I saw Nat perform with his more famous brother about six months before Cannonball died in 1975. My lasting impression is of Nat taking modest bows after the performances of "Work Song" and "Jive Samba" and stepping to the front of the bandstand for solos on the tunes of others, most notably Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and "Walk Tall," and Bobby Timmons' "Dis Here." Nat could take his horn into its lower registers and it was clear to me that evening that he had incorporated the very timbres of other instruments into his style. In a single, hard-bop-influenced solo he could make sounds reminiscent of saxophones, trumpets and, a couple of times, some tingly harmonics that reminded one of the 12th-fret trick guitarists do to simulate the tones of the celeste.

When he died on January 2, 2000, Nat Adderley left an admirable legacy too-often hidden in the long and wide shadow of his brother.

His work, of course, is readily available on the recordings fronted by Cannonball. But here are a few suggestions, still in print in the U.S., for those who want to hear Nat Adderley in his own right:

-- "Work Song" [Riverside/OJC, 1960];
-- "That's Right!" [Riverside/OJC, 1960];
-- "Little Big Horn" [Riverside, 1964];
-- "A Little New York Midtown Music" [Galaxy, 1978];
-- "On the Move" [live] [Theresa, 1982];
-- "Blue Autumn" [live] [Evidence, 1982];
-- "We Remember Cannon" [In & Out, 1989];
-- "Autumn Leaves" [live] [Evidence, 1990];
-- "The Old Country" [Enja, 1990]; and
-- "Live at the 1994 Floating Jazz Festival" [Chiaroscuro, 1994].

Let that cornet sound soak into your eardrums and see if you don't agree that Nat Adderley was unique.