Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, ‘Walk Tall’ (1969): One Track Mind

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You have Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, playing a concert amidst some of the darkest moments of 1960s strife, making his own statement for racial pride.

Then, as this former Miles Davis sideman repeats the song’s edgy admonition — Walk tall! Walk tall! — his band rumbles up with a friendly, familiar soul context.

That’s anchored by Joe Zawinul, recalling his work with Adderley on 1966’s superlative “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” (it reached No. 11 Pop and No. 2 R&B), who provides a deeply satisfying foundation on the electric keyboard.

The appreciative yelps of the crowd invite everyone into the groove.

Check the back-in-the-day liner notes: “No jazz group presently active seems to come alive more buoyantly on the band stand,” the writer enthuses, “and no other combo has benefited more fully from the advantages of recording live.”

They carry us with them.

Urged on by that buoyant audience, “Walk Tall” becomes both a call to action and a celebration of spirit. Adderley’s ’60s band, despite its unjustly simplistic rep as a hit factory, actually did a commendable job at bridging the gap between pop-chart viability, social relevancy and musical experimentation.

Along the way, Adderley scored hits with “Work Song” (1960), “African Waltz” (1961), “Jive Samba” (1962) and “Save Your Love For Me” (1962) with Nancy Wilson, among others — though none, to my ear, managed the memorable consistency both of meaning and of hip-swaying purpose found on “Walk Tall.”

The track was originally featured on 1969’s “Country Preacher,” one of the soul-jazz subgenre’s most interesting recordings. Cannon’s band included brother Nat Adderley on cornet (who, along with Zawinul, went on to lead their own groups beginning in the 1970s), Walter Booker on bass and Roy McCurdy at the drums.

Each plays a vital role here and then over the length of an album that, on its second side, eventually expands outward away from these simple blues-based conceits with “Afro-Spanish Omelet” — a medley of Caribbean-influenced movements (they all take a solo turn) that serves as a creative highlight of Adderley’s solo career.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone so popular stretching his sound to include not just jazz, soul and pop but also gospel, the prevailing ’60s avant-garde and these Miles-ish dashes of elegant creativity.

On the face of it, “Walk Tall” seems like another straight-forward and ingratiating mainstream effort. But Adderley and Co. end up deftly melding so many seemingly competing emotions — joy and pain, hard-eyed determination and happy-go-lucky escapism.

There’s a modern relevancy, whether that drifted out onto the dance floor or not. At its core, this is a protest song. Not that you can’t shake your groove thing, anyway.

In this manner, Adderley helped pave the way for jazz compositions that were modern and cerebral, yet still refreshingly visceral: Not long after, Zawinul went into the studio to help with Davis’ newer rock-jazz incarnation. That, in turn, led to Weather Report where Joe collaborated so successfully with saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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