Cannonball Adderley was an extraordinary alto saxophonist, but he also was a natural educator and talent scout. It was Adderley who brought Wes Montgomery and many other artists to the attention of Riverside producer Orrin Keepnews in the late 1950s. In early 1960, Adderley discovered five musicians in Washington, D.C.—the J.F.K. Quintet, named in honor of the newly elected John F. Kennedy and his ambition to change the status quo nationwide for blacks and the arts. In July 1961, six months after the inauguration, Adderley brought the group to New York's Plaza Sound Studios and produced their first Riverside album. [Photo above of Andrew White, alto saxophonist with the J.F.K. Quintet]
The J.F.K. Quintet was comprised of Ray Codrington (tp), Andrew White (as), Harry Killgo (p), Walter Booker, Jr. (b) and Carl "Mickey' Newman (d). The result was the J.F.K. Quintet: New Jazz Frontiers From Washington. A second album was recorded in December '61 entitled Young Ideas [above].
What's interesting about this group is how deftly they jockey between hard bop and free jazz. While all of the music is straight ahead, White clearly was influenced by Ornette Coleman while Ray Codrington [above] plays in the spirit of Freddie Hubbard.
The group also was outspoken. According to Walk Tall: The Music and Life of Julian Cannonball Adderley by Cary Ginell, the band was interviewed by Down Beat over two issues in the early '60s and discussed reverse discrimination and how pianists like Victor Feldman and Bill Evans were not as "authentic" in their playing as their black colleagues. The musicians went on to say that the key to jazz performance was a pulse and that a solid rhythm section was essential to ensure engagement by musicians and to keep energy levels high.
What helped the quintet stand out was Codrington's soul trumpet and White's high-toned alto sax, giving the front line a flavorful, urgent sound. In some ways the J.F.K. Quintet reminds me of Freddie Redd's ensemble on Music From the 'Connection' (1960) with Jackie McLean as well as the Horace Silver Quintet from this period. Dig Dancing in the Dark, Ceci's Delight, Polka Dots and Moonbeams and Delories.
The band dissolved in 1963, with White moving on to become a primary transcriber of John Coltrane's solos, Codrington recorded with Eddie Harris, and Booker became Adderley's bassist. I'm told that Codrington later moved back home to North Carolina, where he's
still active. White, who's still on the scene today, played alto and tenor saxophones with incredible energy, plus electric bass with the Fifth Dimension and Stevie Wonder, and classical oboe (which he holds at the top of this post). Once a year in Washington, D.C., he would book two rhythm sections and play a 12-hour jazz quartet gig at a club called the Top O' Foolery. And Harry Killgo was the father of Keith Killgo, the drummer with Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds.
For a brief few years in the early 1960s, as jazz and all of music began to change, the J.F.K. Quintet experimented with multiple jazz influences of the day, and the results remain dynamic and exciting.
JazzWax tracks: Both albums are available on one CD, New Jazz Frontiers from Washington and Young Ideas (Fresh Sound), here.
JazzWax clips: Here's the J.F.K. Quintet playing Delories...