A Collective of Today’s Top Jazz Stars Honors The Spirit of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and Soul Jazz
(Authored by Jay Sweet. Reprinted by permission of Jersey Jazz Magazine and the New Jersey Jazz Society)
One of alto saxophonist Vincent Herring’s greatest influences was Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, so it’s not surprising that his current band, which appeared this year at the New Orleans Jazz Festival this year and in June at New York’s Smoke Jazz Club and at the Syracuse National Grid Jazz Fest, takes its name from the title of Adderley’s only Blue Note album as a leader, released in 1958.
Herring played with Cannonball’s brother, cornetist Nat Adderley, in the early 1990s. “I remember playing on the street in New York,” Herring recalled, “and the bass player Walter Booker heard me playing, and he asked, ‘Hey, man, do you know any Cannonball Adderley music? You kind of sound like him.’ I said, ‘I know all of his tunes,’ and he asked me to sit in with Nat. At the time, Nat did not really have a band; Cannonball had died, and Nat had a group of musicians he would rotate if he had a gig.” Herring joined Adderley’s band for a tour to Australia and stayed with him until the cornetist’s death in January 2000. Then, he joined drummer Louis Hayes’ Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band.
The Something Else! septet usually includes Randy Brecker on trumpet, James Carter on tenor saxophone, Paul Bollenback on guitar, David Kikoski on piano, Essiet Essiet on bass, and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. At Smoke, Jeremy Pelt subbed for Brecker on trumpet, and in Syracuse, Boris Kozlov spelled Essiet on bass.
“I decided to create a band that was a byproduct of what I grew up with and enjoyed,” Herring explained. “It’s kind of a soul jazz review. It’s songs from composers that I grew up with, like Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, and George Benson. It’s music that feels great, and all of the musicians in the band are in tune with it. It’s refreshing because it’s a sound that’s timeless but still kind of needed. It’s the best musicians playing great music and enjoying it thoroughly, which becomes infectious.”
The band’s lineup is always changing due to the musicians’ busy schedules, and sometimes Freddie Hendrix subs on trumpet, Eric Alexander spells Carter on tenor sax, Russell Malone is on guitar, Mike LeDonne on piano, Yasushi Nakamura on bass, and Lewis Nash or Johnathan Blake in for Watts on drums. The trumpet chair is particularly significant because the Cannonball Adderley album, Something Else!, was one of the rare occasions in which Miles Davis performed as a sideman.
When Something Else! appeared at Birdland last fall, The New Yorker’s Steve Futterman wrote that “the band wears its hard-bop heart on its sleeve . . . It practically dares audiences to sit still and remain on their best behavior.”
Herring has been on the scene for nearly 40 years. His discography reveals more than 20 titles as a leader and over 250 as a sideman. He is also a noted educator who teaches at the Manhattan School of Music and William Paterson University. He was born in Kentucky but was raised mainly in California. “My parents divorced when I was three years old, so I grew up mostly with my mother, who was a jazz fan,” he recalled. “That was the music played in the house most of the time; there was also soul and R&B. I spent the summers with my dad, and he would listen to any music on the AM radio stations, and I would practice in his garage. I overdosed on practicing. I practiced all of the time.”
“I was completely cocky,” he continued, “and signed up for an advanced band in school, where I played tenor saxophone. The band director called me out and asked me to play solo, and I couldn’t play the part, so he kicked me out of the band. I was told I could not join the beginning band without private instruction. So, my attitude was, I’ll show him, and I got an instructor. My motivation was to get back in the band, and I practiced a lot; and the following year I signed up for advanced band and became first chair.”
Herring studied at California State University, Pico. He then joined the Jazz Knights, a U.S. Military Academy Band stationed at West Point. “Some great musicians were there, and it got me to New York. I had to go through basic training. Even though I didn’t like it at the time, it was a good experience. I needed discipline and structure, and organization. While in the Army, I got to study clarinet with Eddie Daniels and saxophone with Phil Woods, and the Army paid for it.”
In the February 2021 issue of Jersey Jazz, Herring paid tribute to Woods in connection with the publication of Woods’ memoir, Life in E Flat, co-written with Ted Panken (Cymbal Press). Herring first heard Woods on the Billy Joel hit recording, “Just the Way You Are”. “
“Some of my current students ask me what I learned from Phil Woods,” he wrote. “After all of my lessons, hearing Phil Woods live hundreds of times, and playing several concerts with him, I learned that Phil Woods is one of the Great Jazz Masters and his musicianship has rarely been matched. Phil showed me where the bar to greatness is located. I might not ever reach it, but I know where it is . . .”
After the Jazz Knights, Herring studied at Long Island University and then toured as a member of Lionel Hampton’s Big Band. “It was an enriching experience,” he said, “and I enjoyed it very much. We played a gig at the White House, and I was paid $85 dollars for it.”
Following the experience with Hampton, Herring began playing more with smaller groups, where he could stretch out as an improviser. One such group was Horace Silver’s Band. “I wasn’t ready for that gig, in some respects,” he confessed. “I wish I didn’t do it because I was premature in my development.” Around this time,he began a long association with pianist Cedar Walton and Nat Adderley. “With Horace Silver, we toured all over. Nat Adderley invited me up to play at a jazz festival, and Cedar Walton was on piano. Then Cedar Walton asked me for my number, and I was totally surprised. He called me up, and we did a week at the Village Vanguard. Afterward, he said, ‘You are quite promising, but you are not ready yet; I’ll call you again when you’re ready.’ He called me again two years later, and I was ready; and I played with him for 21 years.”
Herring has also appeared on stage or on recordings with such giants as Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, and Dr. Billy Taylor, among many others. One of his earliest musical idols was trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. “Over the years, I got to sit in with him and know him,” he said. “I wasn’t in his band because I was with Nat, but I would occasionally work with him. I did do a few records with him. Freddie would call me in the middle of the night all of the time, and he would play piano for me. We had great conversations, and he shared some amazing stories with me.”
Something Else! will be performing at the Northwest Jazz Festival in Lewiston, NY, on August 26 at 8:45 pm on the Main Stage. Get front-of-stage seats for only $25 at this link:
Don’t miss this opportunity to see this jazz supergroup fill the stage and air with soul-stirring jazz!