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Clifton Anderson: Legacy

By Published: March 30, 2009
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Formal Education

AAJ: You attended the Fiorello LaGuardia High School of Music and Art (graduated 1974). Had you at this point started to think at all about the possible trajectory of your career? How did your initial studies affect the way you thought about a life in music?

CA: It was a great school. It was my favorite place of all the schools I went to. I came out of a junior high school that was a good school in the Bronx. It had a good reputation but the kids were always fighting. There weren't that many kids who were interested in music, so I didn't have many kids to hang out with. We'd listen to Motown in junior high.

When I got to Music and Art, the first person that I met was a young Tuba player named Carlton Green. The way I met him was, I was walking down the hallway and I heard this tuba playing incredible stuff and I was thinking, "What is that this guy is playing?" So I went to the practice room—they used to have little windows so you could look in and see. His back was to me; I saw him playing his tuba. He was reading this music that looked like flies on paper. I knocked on the door and asked him what he was playing. He said they were violin concertos. I said, "You can play violin concertos on the tuba?" Turns out that this kid was a prodigy and was a soloist at the age of 14 with the New York Philharmonic. He was the best student in the school. We became friends.

From that point on, the school had an amazing brass section. There was a bass trombonist in there by the name of Malleon Walker who went on study at Juilliard and graduated from Curtis Institute. He was known around New York (he is no longer with us) as a premier bass trombonist for European classical music. We had another guy playing French horn whose father was a famous studio French horn artist—he taught his son a lot. One of the trumpet players in our brass section is now the principal for the Minnesota Orchestra; his name is Manny Laureano. So these are the kinds of kids that were in there at the time. I got to hang out with all these kids. Everyone was into playing music and learning and into practicing—trying to be creative and trying to be unique and different. The teachers gave the students all the freedom. They basically told us we didn't have to come to class unless we really wanted to be there.

There were a lot of famous people who were in the school around the time that I was there: the fine jazz drummer Kenny Washington - Vocals

Kenny Washington - Vocals
Kenny Washington - Vocals
; the lady with the hit single "Turn the Beat Around," Vicki Sue Robinson; Steve Jordan
Steve Jordan
Steve Jordan
, who has recorded on my new record with me and become a big producer; Noel Pointer, who became a well known jazz violinist; Nat Adderley Junior, the musical director for Luther Vandross. A lot of kids with a lot of talent came through that school.

My mother and my uncle, the concert violinist, attended that school. She attended as an art student. It was her experience with the school that made her want both myself and my sister go there. I don't know how they are doing right now, because there have been a lot of budget cuts for schools specializing in arts, but they have an incredible history at that school, turning out many, many great artists.

AAJ: After studying there, you spent one year at The State University of New York at Stony Brook studying under Simon Karasick and Dave Schechter. Were any of your studies by that point focused on jazz specifically?

CA: No. It was very interesting. I had an interest in jazz when I was at Music and Art, and the educator Justin Dicciocio was a young teacher at the school. He was the director of the jazz band at the time. I didn't play in the jazz band but I was with all the musicians there. The jazz band really started forming when I was leaving. Jazz in the schools at that time wasn't a big deal so it wasn't the same kind of situation as it is now. It was something that Justin had just started and put together during my senior year, but I was still interested in the music.

When I went to Stony Brook, I went there to study with Simon Karasick because he had taught at Mannes School of Music and he had a very big reputation for being a great trombone teacher. I decided to not audition or take exams for any other schools. My sister was out at Stony Brook and I thought it would be easier on my parents if I just attended Stony Brook also.

It turned out that he and I didn't get along too well, but it was a good experience because I started playing some music and practicing in the clefs—tenor clef and alto clef—reading music that I hadn't really been that familiar with before. He turned me over to one of his graduate students and that was Dave Schecter. Dave heard me play and suggested that I audition for conservatory instead of staying at Stony Brook. I followed his advice and we put together a program for my audition. We started to look at who was teaching at Juilliard or the Manhattan School of Music, et cetera.

After studying with Simon Karasick, I was very apprehensive about switching. I wasn't too keen about some of the teachers I might find. So I decided to just focus on Manhattan School of music because they had a big band being fronted by Rusty Dietrich. It wasn't like a real part of their curriculum at the time, but Juilliard didn't have one. I also realized that most of the teachers that taught at Manhattan also taught at Juilliard. There was a bass trombone teacher at Manhattan School of Music that did not teach at Juilliard, by the name of John Clark.

People were telling me about John Clark and saying that he was a great teacher, especially if you were interested in sound—which I was; I was very interested in developing my sound. They said that he would be very good to study with. Both of the teachers came highly recommended—the other one was Ed Herman who was the principal for the New York Philharmonic. So I had formal classical training; my training in academia was no jazz. Now the schools have degree programs in jazz, but that wasn't available. Jazz at that time was not looked upon as a viable part of the curriculum, particularly in the conservatories. We relied on getting together in the practice rooms and playing/going out and listening to the music.

Of course, it was a lot more accessible at that time to do it that way. There were a lot more great jazz artists who were still alive from the '60s and the '50s as well. They were real giants of the music. They were all around New York; you just had to go to where they were and you can be around them and listen to them. The club scene was very different; you could walk into any of the clubs, if you were a musician. For instance, The Vanguard—Max Gordon used to have the back door open and all the musicians knew where that entrance was and we would just walk in the back, no matter who was playing or what night it was. Once you came in the back door and came downstairs, you might be standing next to Freddie Hubbard or Jaki Byard—there were so many great musicians who were just hanging out in the scene. You could just sit there with people and mingle, listen to the music and the conversations. It was very different than it is now.

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