Clifton Anderson: Legacy
AAJ: It was during this time, while attending The Manhattan School of Music, that you began gigging out and also freelancing recording dates. What do you remember of your early live gigs?
CA: Yeah, I was trying to learn more about all kinds of music, trying to develop a career and trying earn some kind of living. It was all done by word of mouth. If you knew somebody who knew about a jam session, then somebody may have heard you there and had a record date that needed a trombone player and you'd get the call. There were a lot of jam sessions.
There were a few of us at Manhattan School of Music who were really into jazz even though we weren't playing it in the schools: Kenny Kirkland and Angela Bofield, they were there. So we all looked out for each other and try to get a gig here and there. I got around and started playing with a bunch of different people.
I was out at the Muse. Reggie Workman had an institution out in Brooklyn. He had a Big Band out there and guys would go out there and study, learn about the music. You were able to sit down in reflection with veteran musicians and learn from them.
Slowly, I generated a reputation. There were a lot of bands around at the time, so for an instrument like the trombone you could get into the section. Sam Rivers had a Big Band down on the Lower East Side. Barry Harris had the art center down on 8th Avenue below Penn Station. There were many great musicians would come in and play; in fact, that is how I got to meet Clifford Jordan. Charlie Rouse was down there a lot.
Walter Booker had a place in his apartment called Boogie Woogie Studios, a recording studio; they used to say that Weather Report started there. I remember going there with Thelonious Monk Junior, and Herbie Hancock would be there or Wayne Shorter. All kinds of people would stop through there. Sometimes they'd play, sometimes there'd be a recording session going on. That is where I got most of my jazz education. It wasn't in a school.
AAJ: Jazz seemed to have always had a great unofficial system of new musicians learning the ropes both live and in the studio via sideman gigs. Your own early experience is very much a journeyman one which follows in this great tradition. Has this way of learning and coming up been replaced with new young players formally studying or leading their own bands from the get-go?
CA: It's not the same and I think you hear the difference in the music. It is not my place to say if it is better or worse, but it is different. If you have to lean one way or the other, I would have to say that it doesn't give you as broad of a spectrum by going to school and learning about jazz in academia, then coming out and just playing. Because you have the basic tools but you don't have...there was a cultural, social aspect of learning about jazz which was really traditionalmusicians learning about the music by just hanging out with each other, practicing or being up on the bandstand and playing it. You don't really get that in academia. You learn all your patterns, you learn the transcriptions and theory, you are well rounded in those tools, but there are other things that speak to the nature of the music about really swinging, the rhythm of what you're doing and also the individuality.
One of the things I hear about a lot of musicians who come out of academia is that a lot of them sound very similar, and this is because they are being taught in a cookie-cutter kind of way. It is more recently that this has come about; a lot of musicians who have come out of academia in years gone by are not really subject to that. It is just in more recent times when the real stress on academia has caused this.
That's part of the reason that so many of them sound so similar and have not really created their own identity. Some do have an identity but the emphasis doesn't seem to be on that individuality. When you just came up through the clubs, jam sessions and playing with musicians on the bandstands, it definitely served the musicians much better to try to have a unique or individual voice/style on the instruments.
You also see a lot of musicians now being rewarded for sounding like someone else. Steve Turre and I would, when J.J. Johnson would be at the Blue Note, be in the back of the Blue Note listening for two or three nights and on the third night we both looked at each other and said, "We can't come back here anymore." Or else we were going to go home and just start playing like J.J. Johnson. As much as you admire, respect and love J.J. Johnson, you don't want to, as a jazz musician, play just like him. That's not what the music is really about. It is really about bringing your own thing to it. It is much harder, with the way things are now, to advance the music in a traditional waythe way things were when I was coming up.
AAJ: 1976 was your first recording gig with Carlos Garnett. At this early point in your career, did you find a difference between the reality of a recording date versus the imagined experience of it?
CA: Not at that time. At that time I was just so thrilled to be on a record, especially back then. The LPs were the thing; these were like, for a young musician, the elite musicians of the world. Not everybody could get on or make a recordnot the same as it is now. Now anybody can make a record.
Back then, it was only a very elite group of people; they had to be affiliated with a record label, and therefore felt to be the best at what they did in order to record. So the idea that you were making a record for anybody was like a huge thing. So I wasn't paying attention to the nuances of the experience so much. I was just thrilled to be there and just happy to play on the record.