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Artist Profiles

Fred Anderson Finally Gets His Due: And His Records Back In Print

By Published: January 13, 2003

Lately Anderson's compositional craft — which bears something in common with the '60s songwriting of alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, whom Anderson counts as a contemporary rather than an influence — has received a good deal of attention, both from record labels and from young fans and musicians keen to get a handle on the evolution of jazz from the hard bop of the 1950s into the "free jazz" of Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor and Coleman during the '60s.

Since 2000, Chicago record labels have put out a half-dozen CDs of original music by Anderson, including a duet recording with avant bandleader Sun Ra's drummer Robert Barry and a re-release of "Dark Day," originally an LP of a concert taped at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art in 1979 and long out of print until last year.

On September 1, the 2002 Chicago Jazz Festival honored Anderson as a featured soloist during a rendition of his tune "Saxoon" from "Dark Day." The performance by Canada's NOW Orchestra reunited Anderson with "free" trombonist and AACM-er George Lewis, who conducted the ensemble, and trumpeter Billy Brimfield. Saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, another AEC founding member, also played with the group. Anderson waxed his 1978 LP, "Another Place," in Germany with Lewis, Brimfield and longtime Anderson percussionist Hamid [then Hank] Drake.

Atavistic Worldwide is one label that has begun putting out previously unreleased or out-of-print music by Anderson. "The Milwaukee Tapes Vol.1," culled from Anderson's private tape archives of his performances over the years, is part of a 1980 concert featuring Brimfield and Drake. The CD appeared in 2000 as part of the label's fledgling Unheard Music Series, which releases rare recordings by obscure improvising musicians; "Dark Day" was also reissued for the series.

"There's a misconception that free jazz meant 'no tunes,' that free jazz means not playing melodies," said John Corbett, curator of the Unheard Music Series. "There are very few pieces from the classic period of free jazz of the '60s with no compositions."

Corbett noted that, while some developments since the free jazz phenomenon, such as the guitar work of Derek Bailey, have diverged from jazz entirely, Anderson's music sits squarely within the jazz tradition. "I think the music that Fred and Hamid make has clear links to the music that's often described as 'free jazz,' but they may not like to categorize what they do," Corbett said. "Musicians see what they're doing as unique, personal, and if you want to be really clear about it you'd call it 'Fred Anderson music.'" He added that a second volume of Milwaukee tapes material is in the works but has no release date yet.

"There's certain elements within the tradition that we're utilizing — the same element of rhythm, of melody and so forth — but we're utilizing them in a different way," said Drake, relaxing in his Lincoln Square apartment on Chicago's North Side. "I used to go to jam sessions and we would play standards, and there was a definite repertoire — 'Hot House,' 'Cherokee,' 'All the Things You Are' — all the so-called standard tunes. The music with Fred and other people that I work with, it's something that is definitely based upon that tradition, but it's an extension upon it.

"There's more information regarding, let's say, drumming from different parts of the world that I might have, that a Baby Dodds or a Kenny Clarke might not have had. So there's been an extension upon the tradition, a progression to different understanding, but it's still a part of the tradition. It's not like, well there's the tradition, and there's us over here. It's a lineage."

* * *

Anderson was born in 1929 in Monroe, La., about 70 miles south of the Arkansas state line. He moved to the Chicago area with his family during the 1940s. "I started listening to music really during the Charlie Parker period in his late part of his career," Anderson said. "When he came to Chicago in '39, I was too young, so I missed that part of his career. But I did catch the last part of his career, say from '46, '47.

"I listened to his records all the time when he was with [Kansas City big-band leader and pianist] Jay McShann, 'cause my parents used to play the records. I didn't know who he was at that particular time, until a friend of mine came from the service and he told me that he had played with Jay McShann. I said, 'Well, we got some Jay McShann records at home.'

"So I ran home and tried to find the records and I only found one — the rest of 'em was broke."

But Anderson said he was able to see Parker play live on the South Side. "I remember one of the last times I seen Charlie Parker was at the Pershing Hotel Ballroom, and there was a group of people standing in front of the stage just [watching him]," he said. "There was a few people dancing, but most of the people was standing there listening to Bird."



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