This edition of Jazz at the Bowl looked like a great idea, a double tribute to two of jazz’s great pied pipers, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and Art Blakey. In practice, though, only Blakey received something resembling his due, while the memory of Cannonball faded before the set was half over.
That figured, for while Blakey (1919-1990) remains a towering influence through the star-studded alumni of his Jazz Messengers, Adderley’s (1928-1975) generous, inquisitive spirit is largely overlooked by rigid young purists.
In any case, the Blakey portion of the program was both fascinating and instructive, a contrast between generations. Three groups of Blakey alumni — a quintet and two sextets — held forth with all-too-brief sets of jazz standards and Blakey specialties. In between the first two groups, for some odd reason, McCoy Tyner (who never was a Jazz Messenger) offered an almost orchestral sounding solo piano interlude.
The personnel of the first two groups was dazzling, a hard bopfan’s wish list come true; the musicmaking splendid in stretches. Donald Byrd, his light-toned delivery a bit weak at first, teamed with the strong Parkeresque flurries of Lou Donaldson and an on-target George Cables. The next group had a front line of Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller and an erratic Freddie Hubbard, a deft Cedar Walton on piano, and drummer Billy Higgins mixing things up to give them a tough challenge.
Next to the vets, whose fingers, lips and ensemble values sometimes betrayed them, the younger Blakey alums in the third group were startlingly razor sharp.
With three members of Cannonball’s early ’70s quintet (Nat Adderley, George Duke, Roy McCurdy), the set began promisingly with an elaborate take on “Work Song.” Yet that was it for Duke, and out came Nancy Wilson, who was in fine and daring form. There should have been more instrumentals from the Adderley bandbook.
But then, with brother Nat a faded ghost of the eloquent cornetist that he once was, and young Vincent Herring a sturdy yet unauthentic substitute for Cannonball on alto sax, it may have been just as well.