Jazz scion returns to the family business

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 19:03
Posted in category In the News, Past Shows

By JIM TRAGESER – jtrageser@nctimes.com | North County Times

Anyone who ever saw the great Cannonball or Nat Adderley in concert, or who heard the late jazz icons’ live recordings with their between-song patter, would immediately recognize the voice of another Adderley —- in this case, that of Nat Adderley Jr.

More than the familiar voice, though (in this case, at the other end of a telephone interview) what should excite jazz fans is that Nat Jr. has returned to the jazz that his father and uncle made their careers and reputations with, and that he’s now performing the family classics with his own combo (including a show Wednesday at Anthology in San Diego).

Not that this is imitation: Nat Jr. plays piano. Dad Nat Sr. was a trumpeter, while Uncle Julian (better known to fans by the popular nickname “Cannonball”) was a saxophonist.

Despite the strong family presence on the international jazz scene, and having his uncle record one of his songs while he was still in junior high, Nat Jr. spent most of his adult life in the world of R&B as the arranger and musical leader for the late Luther Vandross, whom he met in college.

Now in his mid-50s, Nat Jr. said he always planned to come back to the jazz.

“I knew I had it in the back of my mind,” Adderley said during a recent phone interview from his home in New Jersey.

“A big part was I didn’t want to do the R&B anymore —- I did all those records with Luther. And not that there aren’t young artists I like, but I never wanted to be the old guy trying to stay young and current and have hits.”

It’s not as if he was ever that far from jazz. Adderley said that even during his years with Vandross, there were times he’d be gigging on piano.

“I always played, all through my life. As I was leaving college, I decied I most wanted to make hit records and be in the Top 10. But all the way through there were long periods when Luther wasn’t working or in the studio, and I would play the jazz clubs in Manhattan.

“I did want to get going at some point in my 30s. But every time I’d get going, I’d get the call to go in the studio or on the road —- so I’d just cut it short. That was the story of my career until Luther passed” in 2005.

“Then it became a ‘let’s hurry up and get started.’ I figure I gotta do it now!”

Adderley also said that a big part of the delay in returning to music he loves were his struggles with being the son of a famous musician.

“I went to college and told everyone my name was Eddie —- I took my middle name. My last name was Adderley, that was an uncommon name, and my name is Nat, and when I got introduced, everyone knew who I was, and I got sick of that.”

While he is friends with jazz and R&B drummer T.S. Monk, son of legendary jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, Adderley said they’ve never really talked about the experience of growing up in the shadow of a famous parent.

“I needed to have some conversations with children of the famous; that might have helped me. I was a little strange with that; I didn’t know how to deal with it.”

Further, while in college Adderley said he drifted toward pop and R&B because of his own expectations of how a jazz pianist should sound.

“I was practicing jazz and decided I was never going to be good enough —- that was some pressure I put on myself. I should have continued, but I got myself into a mental block because I didn’t feel I was progressing fast enough.”

It was only in September that Adderley began leading his own band, under his own name. But he said the reception has been so positive that he’s already busily planning for a future full of possibility and promise.

“I’ve always preferred to be in the background in jazz —- I always wanted to be a sideman. That’s what I did all through high school and jazz. I did a lot of writing and all the arranging, but there was always somebody else as the leader.

“This is all brand-new to me —- I can’t believe it’s blossomed so quickly. People have been after me for years to do a record —- I’ve been hearing that for 30 years.

“I will get in the studio —- I have some ideas. I have some tunes for Luther that we didn’t take all the way, and they actually work better as instrumentals.”

Nat Adderley Jr.

When: 7:30 p.m. March 17

Where: Anthology, 1337 India St., San Diego

Tickets: $16

Info: 619-595-0300


Via North County Times