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Artist Profiles

Fred Anderson: Customizing Conviction

By Published: December 2, 2007
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Hamid Drake

And finally, drummer Hamid Drake, the eldest of all Anderson's younger colleagues, has had a special relationship with Anderson. They both came to the Chicago area from Monroe, Louisiana, and at one point Drake's and Anderson's families all lived together in the same house in Evanston. The two musicians have been talking to each other long before they started conversing in musical terms. Drake quickly became a regular performer at the Velvet.

Anderson speaks fondly of Drake, to whom he feels as close as he would a son. When they play together, Anderson exuberantly explains: "We are on the same page... we listen to each other and communicate. They trust each other so implicitly that their process of making music simply flows without any concerns of yielding one to the other.


Drake provides so much rhythmic territory to navigate that Anderson can play complementarily to it or weave through it. In turn, Drake can do the same with Anderson. They have no dearth of capacity for interaction. Anderson recounts that Drake has challenged him by bringing new processes to the forefront. One presented itself in the studio recording Back Together Again (Thrill Jockey, 2004), where Drake made three separate tracks playing an African drum on each, combined them to make one and then asked Anderson to play on top of it. On that same recording, the percussionist asked Anderson to play while Drake was singing. This new sound vocabulary kindled Anderson's creative spirit.

At the 2007 Vision Festival, the Anderson-Drake-Bankhead trio performed on the Friday evening line-up. Following its performance, Drake was sitting down, his frame drum in hand. Anderson stood next to him, poised to play a duet with his close friend. But Drake paused for a moment to preface the performance with these words: "I want to pay tribute to Fred while he is still here because he is the reason many of us are here today" [referring to the numerous Chicagoans who played their music at the Festival and began at the Velvet Lounge]. Indeed. That Fred Anderson has remained committed to his purpose is one example of how persistence and stamina has penetrated an art that affects us all and is ingrained in our history as a country.

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And thus...

Anderson has artfully and skillfully refined his music's tonal flexibility and rhythmic spontaneity. He has made it as rich and pure as honey. The lesson he hands down is simple and instills in others a life's worth of learning: to "put notes on paper is music blow through the sax... you give life to the music.

A life of musical innovation has flourished through Fred Anderson. He has taught it, he has practiced it, he has played it. And his mark is irrefutable. That the Penguin Guide to Jazz dismisses Anderson as "not a player's player is absurd. That Eremite record producer Michael Ehlers dubs him "a national treasure is more than accurate. For Ehlers, "listening to Fred will always be a heavy and satisfying experience ... His aesthetic is highly personal, yet strongly rooted in the lineage of the great saxophonists....there is nothing glib or inconsequential anywhere in his playing. He's a very disciplined and methodical improviser with his own vocabulary & an incredibly beautiful sound.

align=center>Fred l:r Hamid Drake, Fred Anderson, Harrison Bankhead at The Velvet Lounge

In Lloyd Peterson's Book, Music and the Creative Spirit (Scarecrow Press, 2006), the entry on Fred Anderson takes first place. It is one brief transcribed paragraph. Anderson's most frequently used verbal phrase, both in the interviews supporting this article and the Peterson interview itself, in response to a question about how the music arises is: "I don't know... it's hard to put into words.

The bridge between the mind and the sound that comes out of any instrument can never be described in a language other than itself. Let us be grateful that Fred Anderson has crossed that bridge many times, with his music not only being left behind but also leading the way.

Selected Discography

Territory Band with Fred Anderson, Collide (Okkadisk, 2007)
Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake, From the River to the Ocean (Thrill Jockey, 2006)
Fred Anderson, Harrison Bankhead, Hamid Drake, Timeless, Live at the Velvet Lounge (Delmark, 2006)
Fred Anderson, William Parker, Hamid Drake, Blue Winter (Eremite, 2005)
Fred Anderson, On the Run: Live at the Velvet Lounge (Delmark, 2001)
Fred Anderson, Dark Day+Live in Verona (Atavistic, 2001)
Fred Anderson and Robert Barry, Duets 2001 (Thrill Jockey, 2001)
Fred Anderson Quartet, Fred Anderson Quartet Vol. 2: Live at the Velvet Lounge (Asian Improv, 2000)
Fred Anderson, The Milwaukee Tapes Vol. 1 (Atavistic, 2000)
Fred Anderson, Kidd Jordan, William Parker, Hamid Drake, 2 Days in April (Eremite, 2000)
Fred Anderson Quartet, Fred Anderson Quartet Vol. 1: Live at the Velvet Lounge (Asian Improv, 1999)
Fred Anderson Trio, Fred Anderson Trio: Live at the Velvet Lounge (Okkadisk, 1999)
Fred Anderson and the DKV Trio, Fred Anderson/DKV Trio (Okkadisk, 1997)
Fred Anderson, The Missing Link (Nessa, 1997)
Fred Anderson Quartet, Birdhouse (Okkadisk, 1996)
Fred Anderson and Marilyn Crispell, Destiny (Okkadisk, 1995)
Fred Anderson, FRED Chicago Chamber Music (Southport Records, 1997)
Fred Anderson and Steve McCall, Vintage Duets (Okkadisk, 1994)
Fred Anderson, Another Place (Moers Music, 1978)

Photo Credit
Peter Bell

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