Adderley is perhaps best remembered for the 1966 soul jazz single “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy“, which was written for him by his keyboardist Joe Zawinuland became a major crossover hit on the pop charts. A cover version by the Buckinghams also reached #5 on the charts. Adderley worked with Miles Davis, first as a member of the Davis sextet, appearing on the seminal records Milestones (1958) and Kind of Blue (1959), and then on his own 1958 album Somethin’ Else. He was the elder brother of jazz trumpeter Nat Adderley, who was a longtime member of his band.
Originally from Tampa, Florida, his nickname derived from “cannibal”, a title imposed on him by high-school colleagues as a tribute to his voracious appetite. Cannonball moved to Tallahassee when his parents obtained teaching positions at Florida A&M University. Both Cannonball and brother Nat played with Ray Charles when Charles lived in Tallahassee during the early 1940s. Adderley moved to Broward County, Florida, in 1948 after finishing his music studies at Florida A&M and became the band director at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, a position which he held until 1950.
Cannonball left Southeast Florida and moved to New York in 1955. One of his known addresses in New York was in the neighborhood of Corona, Queens. He left Florida originally to seek graduate studies at New York conservatories, but one night in 1955 he brought his saxophone with him to the Café Bohemia. Cannonball was asked to sit in with Oscar Pettiford in place of his band’s regular saxophonist, who was late for the gig. The “buzz” on the New York jazz scene after Adderley’s performance announced him as the heir to the mantle of Charlie Parker.