Nat Adderley: Big Sax Section


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Two days ago I touched on Coleman Hawkins Meets the Big Sax Section from 1958, on which the tenor saxophonist was teamed with Count Basie's reeds and Billy VerPlanck's charts. In 1960, Nat Adderley [pictured] had a similar encounter, but with a different set of sax giants. On That's Right! Nat Adderley and the Big Sax Section (Riverside), the trumpeter was backed by five dynamic players--Cannonball Adderley (alto sax), Yusef Lateef (tenor sax, flute and oboe), Jimmy Heath and Charlie Rouse (tenor saxes), and Tate Houston (baritone sax). When combined, these musicians had a robust sound that was both tough and pretty.

What's more, six of the eight tracks were arranged by Jimmy Heath, whose reed writing here is spectacular. Yesterday I spoke with Jimmy about the album, which he says remains among his favorite recordings. More with Jimmy in a moment.

When That's Right! was recorded in August 1960, Adderley had already established himself as a leader and was a member of the thriving Cannonball Adderley Quintet. Several months earlier in October 1959, the group had recorded The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco, its breakout soul-jazz album. Nat's leadership dates Much Brass (March 1959) and Work Song (January 1960) were receiving critical acclaim when That's Right! was recorded.

Riverside producer Orrin Keepnews wrote about Nat in The View From Within--Jazz Writings 1948-1987, Orrin's 1988 collection of jazz essays:

“Probably one of the elements that kept the [Adderley] brothers functioning so well together was that they kept a pretty large degree of separateness in their recording careers. Most of Cannon's nonworking-group albums did not include Nat; and only on special occasions was Julian allowed to take part in one of the younger Adderley's studio concoctions.

“When Nat and I got around to the idea of backing him up with just a full saxophone section, it would have been carrying things a bit too far to use someone else on lead alto. So Cannon [pictured] was permitted to play, but it remained important not to let the record seem in any way to be leaning on big (and by now big-selling) brother. So you'll find exactly one alto solo on the album that we called That's Right!

Supporting the reeds was a highly flexible rhythm section of Wynton Kelly (piano), Jim Hall (guitar), Sam Jones (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums). The challenge on an album like this is for the arranger to write so the reeds function as a single-sound unit that also competes ambitiously with the lead soloist, in this case Nat Adderley. The result by Jimmy Heath was a joyous work of bold strokes and a hot core.

The album opens with The Old Country, a Nat Adderley original based on an Israeli folk tune. It showcases the big bark of the reeds and Lateef on flute. Chordnation by Jimmy Heath kicks off with a hard bop line and upbeat Dameron harmonies. There are two standards--The Folks Who Live on the Hill and You Leave Me Breathless. The latter tune, taken at a medium tempo, is the one on which Cannonball has his lone solo. It's a beaut, especially with Kelly's comping behind Cannonball and Jimmy Cobb's [pictured] tumbling dice of snare and cymbal figures.

But the runaway highpoints of the album are Jimmy Heath's arrangements for two Barry Harris compositions--Tadd and E.S.P. Jimmy gives both a swinging Dameron feel, with an emphasis on the bop side. Dig Jimmy's playful fanfare opening! And catch Jim Hall's delicate Wes Montgomery-like comping and solo on Tadd. The remaining two tracks, Night After Night and That's Right! were arranged by Norman Simmons and Jimmy Jones, respectively.

I spoke to Jimmy Heath yesterday about the album:

“Man, that was a beautiful session. The sax section was big but it was Cannonball's lead alto that gave the group its beautiful sound. You also had Tate on the bottom with that big anchor. And the three tenors voiced in the middle was unusual for a sax section.

“The thing is at that time, I was like the house arranger for Riverside. I did a lot of records for the label leading up to Nat's album. In 1959 there was Blue Mitchell's Blue Soul, my album The Thumper, Sam Jones' The Soul Society, and my big band album Really Big!

“When I was writing for the saxes on That's Right!, I knew how each one of those guys sounded as players, and I knew their individual personalities. All of those things were on my mind when voicing the section. We were all friends. Each player--Cannonball, Rouse, Brother Yusef [pictured], me and Tate--we all had a big sound but also a sensitive side.

“Tadd [Dameron] was one of my favorite composers and arrangers back in the day, and [tenor saxophonist] Benny Golson and I learned a lot from him. He was the most romantic writer from the bebop generation. Tadd and Kenny Dorham, especially on ballads and love songs.

“If I recall, Nat chose the songs for the session. I remember there was a special camaraderie there that day, plus all of the guys were talented musicians. And that rhythm section was something. We were all part of the Riverside family and played together on different dates.

“What was beautiful is that Nat gave me complete freedom to write as I chose. As I recall, it wasn't a very long session. We did so many dates back then, they all had to happen pretty fast. When I think back to it, what stands out was how marvelous Cannonball was. He knew how to sing on that instrument. He was from the Benny Carter school of the singing alto, which is why you hear him on top the entire time. He's really on it.

“What's important to me most of all is that I still listen to That's Right! and it continues to give me great pleasure. That's saying something. Many times when you hear something you've recorded, you wish you had done better or had changed this or that. But when I listen to that album, I wouldn't change a thing. I'm really proud of it."

JazzWax tracks: That's Right! Nat Adderley and the Big Sax Section is available as a download at Amazon here--or at Concord here, where it's a buck cheaper.

JazzWax clip: Here's Nat in 1955 playing I Married an Angel, from That's Nat (Savoy), with Jerome Richardson on tenor sax, Hank Jones on piano, Wendell Marshall on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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