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Clifton Anderson: Legacy

By Published: March 30, 2009
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Multi-Genre Touch

AAJ: The genres of music which you have performed and recorded run a wide spectrum from jazz to R&B to calypso. Was this an intentional choice on your part or something done for practicality's sake?

CA: I was able to play all these styles because that is was I listened to growing up. My family is from a Caribbean background, so there was calypso also that was playing. So I had an affinity for playing calypso right off the top; I didn't have to really study it or learn the rhythms. So when the opportunities came to make some calypso records with some of the calypsonians who were recording in New York, it was very easy for me to fit in there. They liked the way I was able to relate to their music, so they would call me for all their recordings. I did pretty much all the recordings between 1977 and 1981-82. If you look those calypso recordings up, I am on almost every single one of them.

AAJ: When hired for one of these dates did you need to ever change anything about your way of playing?

CA: I have always had a very clear respect for different idioms of music and trying to bring the real true authentic application of that music to my playing So if I am playing as a principal trombone in an orchestra, because I have a background in studying orchestral music, I know exactly what it is supposed to sound like. I don't too much of that anymore because it has been such a long time that I've been away from it that I know my aesthetic is no longer up on it since it has been so long.

There is a certain way of approaching an R&B situation, especially if you are playing in a section, which is different from calypso music and jazz. They all have to swing because they are all rhythmically based, but it is a different kind of rhythmic application and understanding. It is cultural also. Like if you are doing Klezmer music, you can't bring that same esthetic to Klezmer music—it won't necessarily work. Even though Klezmer is very rhythmic as well, all of these things are just slightly different.

I remember one time where I left a recording date. There were a lot of studio musicians that played on this date—a lot of veteran guys who were a lot older than I was. They had a certain approach to doing what they did on that studio date. Then I went down to play with Barry Harris' Big Band and we had a passage that we were playing. He stopped the band because everybody was playing it too rigid. He wanted it to have a Bebop aesthetic, he wanted his lines to be smoother and more relaxed- sounding.

There are definitely these little nuances, little differences in each application. I just try to learn about what I need to bring to each scenario and be a chameleon. I think the best freelance musicians that are out here are able to do that—they fit into almost any situation and are able to do it authentically.

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Technology and Bones

AAJ: With new technology, there are more ways and styles in which to make a trombone. Have you had the opportunity to experiment with some of new things available? Do you have certain trombones you will play for specific music or dates?

CA: They have been researching this kind of stuff for a while now and they have come up with a lot of different applications for these instruments. The company that made my horn—the guy was affiliated with Edwards once. That's the horn that I am playing now—it is a custom trombone. The company originally was designed to make custom trombones and they did a lot of research with alloys, different combinations of metals, heating and cooling processes, lacquer on the metals (it gives the bells different types of resonances, different types of tones), the combinations of different parts of the horn (some being red brass, some being yellow brass). It is quite a study.

I brush the surface because I want to know what's available. I haven't got into as fine detail as to know what all the differences are. When I go to the factory, I'll ask the techs what they have and what the differences are. I always have to play the horn for myself. The differences that these applications are designed to make don't always work for everybody. Ultimately, all the new advances are very helpful but it gets down to the same old thing: you have to play the instrument, play the mouthpiece—it's helpful in determining what you really need to lean towards.

For instance, if you know that you have a very dark sound, you don't necessarily want to deal with a metal type that is going to give you a darker sound. I used to play a King Trombone, a 4B—a silver sonorous, they used to call it. It was a beautiful horn with a silver bell. When I started playing with the world of trombones, of course J.J. Johnson played a King so everybody was playing Kings. I loved the sound of the horn, but it was a very dark, rich sound. I noticed that when I played with other guys, they would play way up on the horn effortlessly, but I had to struggle with that. I could do it, but it was a lot of work. So I realized that the metal was not the right metal for me to play on, or the combination of the parts in the horn—that wasn't quite right for me. I needed a horn that would be a well-rounded horn that would have a rich enough sound that I could project with.

Clifton Anderson / Sonny RollinsAAJ: How important is the actual trombone you are playing to your artistic identity?

CA: I don't believe in that. I don't look for any one instrument. I know the horn makers that are making good horns, so I would go and see a few of them to see what is available. There are some European horn makers that are making great instruments too. I don't rely on any one brand for my artistic statement because I really feel that all comes from the individual.

It's funny, because Steve Turre and I—and I think Robin Eubanks

Robin Eubanks
Robin Eubanks
was there too—we went to see J.J. and we were up in his dressing room. We all had our horns with us. I had this horn, Steve had a Yamaha that he was playing and I think Robin did too, or maybe it was a Bach. One of the guys didn't like his horn too much, couldn't get the sound he wants. Anyway, so J.J. wanted to play each one of the horns. He sounded incredible on all of the horns. So Steve and I just looked at each other and said, "Well, forget about that idea—it being the horn!"

The equipment obviously has something to do with it but ultimately your artistic expression is your soul, is your spirit. There is nothing that can equate with one's individuality. This is what music and art are about, is the expression of individuality of the spirit. You can't really be contained by the tools. You want to find a horn that you are comfortable with, that plays easily and well so you can express yourself, but you are the expression.

I like the horn that I am playing on right now. It has a beautiful sound—it is very open, it is very rich. It is the one that, I think, best demonstrates my sound at this time, but I am not bound by it. If I were to lose this horn tomorrow, I would just be on a mission to find another that is going to do the same or better for me

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