Accomplished bassist and educator played with Roy Hargrove, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and many other top performers.
Gerald Cannon, a veteran jazz bassist whose career has intersected with no shortage of legendary performers, has been named Associate Professor of Jazz Bass at Oberlin Conservatory. Cannon's permanent appointment to the Oberlin faculty follows a two-year term in a visiting role.
A native of Racine, Wisconsin, Cannon was given his first electric bass at age 10 and soon began playing in his father’s group, the Gospel Expressions. While attending the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, he met jazz legend Milt Hinton, whose influence inspired Cannon to switch career paths from physical education to music—and from electric bass to upright. At the recommendation of Hinton, Cannon promptly transferred to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.
Upon moving to New York City at age 28, Cannon played his bass in the subway and took part in jam sessions at the Blue Note. That exposure led to opportunities to perform with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy Scott, Dexter Gordon, Elvin Jones, and other jazz luminaries. A chance meeting with Roy Hargrove led to a seven-year gig in the renowned trumpeter’s band, with which he toured throughout the world. Cannon also served as McCoy Tyner’s musical director, a role that saw him play many tours alongside Oberlin faculty saxophonist Gary Bartz.
Cannon remains active on the New York scene, having performed in recent years at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Smalls Jazz Club, among other venues. He has played on dozens of recordings throughout his career and released Gerald Cannon (Woodneck Records)—his debut as bandleader—in 2003. His most recent recording, Combinations (Woodneck), was released in 2017.
Cannon’s teaching engagements have included the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, the New School, Long Island University, the Conservatory of Maastricht in Holland, and the Juilliard School, where he continues to teach. He frequently presents master classes and has participated in the North Sea Jazz Festival, Cape Town Jazz Festival, Montreux Jazz Festival, Umbria Jazz Festival, and the Montreal Jazz Festival. His teachers include Ray Brown, Ron Carter, and Buster Williams.
“My goal is to try to help each student find his or her voice,” Cannon says. “I fully believe that everybody has their own voice. They just have to find it. I want to give students a good start and a helping hand in their career, and give them the motivation and confidence they need. I am their biggest cheerleader.”
During a teaching stint at Oberlin in 2014, Cannon developed friendships with numerous students who remain in touch and continue to draw upon his expertise as they chart their own careers in jazz. He recalls how Oberlin students, many of them with wildly diverse interests, positively affected his own approach to teaching. Away from music, Cannon himself has earned acclaim as a painter of vibrantly colored, abstract works that draw heavily on emotional themes.
“I’ve had a lot of experience, and I’ve been so blessed to play with so many great musicians, and I just want to share what I have learned with my students,” he says. “And I want to learn from them as well—it’s a give-and-take thing."
This story was originally published in June 2020 and was updated to reflect Cannon's permanent appointment.
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