Clifton Anderson: Legacy
AAJ: Landmarks (Milestone, 1995), your first date as leader, was recorded about a decade into your current gig. Did you intentionally wait to release your own album?
CA: You asked me earlier about how I felt about recording with Carlos Garnett and I stated how I was just excited to record. But as my career started to develop, and in particular when I first got with Sonny, one of my dreams was: if I could just make one record with Sonny Rollins, then that's itI've died and gone to heaven. That's what it was like back then.
But when I got with him and we finally started playing together, I asked him if he was going to record and he told me that "I really don't like recording. Recording is a good tool for you to document yourself and of course we have to because it is the business we're in. We have to sell records. We have to bring our art to the world and it is a way to do that. But the recording itself is not where it's at." When he said that to me it almost crushed me because I was so big on recording with him. He said, "The bandstand is where it's at. That's where we make music, not the studio."
When he said that to me it started this process in my mind of thinking about making music and making records. I started seeing artists who would come out with a record every year and as time went by (into the early to mid '90s) there was a lot of material coming out that just wasn't that good, in my opinion. In some cases there were artists making records that didn't sound much different from the last record they had made; there was nothing really different.
I said to myself, "I don't want to make records like that. I want to make records when I feel I have something that I really want to contribute." Al Foster used to push me all the time to do a record. I felt I wasn't ready to do a record. It was a matter of me not feeling comfortable enough with my playing and also what I would have to contribute. At that point, I had a real reverence for jazz musicthe art form, the musicians, the trombone players and the history of it.
That reverence kind of prolonged the time until I was ready to do something. I am coming into a form now where so much has been laid down already, great material. I felt that I needed to write something or generate something that was identifiable back to me. I wanted to be able to assert my identity a little bit. So Landmarks was the first attempt at that, and I felt at least comfortable enough to show I had something to say.
AAJ: This album was also produced by you. Did that make the job harder or easier?
CA: It made it easier for me because having done so many studio dates with other artists and being around a lot of producers, I wasn't really that comfortable with having somebody produce me who didn't really know me. I have been in situations with artists where they have been assigned a producer that really was not in concert with them. They did not have the same musical ideas or feelings. Some things were not as important to the producer as they were to the artist. I decided that I did not want to be in a situation where I had someone producing me that didn't understand where I was trying to come from. So in that regard, it was easier. Plus, by the time I did Landmarks, I had some production knowledge and I was seeing that there were producers out here making jazz records, and I thought I knew more about production than a lot of them did.
AAJ: In regards to producing an album, with the advent of all the digital equipment, artists aside, is it the place/studio or the producer and knowledge of the equipment which largely affects an album's sound?
CA: If you are doing organic acoustic instruments then the aesthetic of the room you are recording in is very important: how the sound bounces of the walls, if there is a lot of wood in there, what the resonance is like. That gives you a feeling. You have to assume that most musicians are sensitive people by nature, so when you walk into a room there are senses that affect you, even on a subconscious level. You have to be aware of them as a producer when you are bringing a project into a space because if you are looking for a certain thing, you want to be sure that there is not something that exists in that room that is going to mess with the ability of the musicians/performers to evoke the desired feeling, to express themselves a certain kind of way.
Some rooms have like the feng shui kind of thing but you can kind of feel it when you walk into a studio room, whether it is a comfortable, relaxed kind of place or if it is stuffy and uptight. Or with the air: if you breathe in, do you feel comfortable breathing? These little things you can sense.
The second thing from a technical standpoint is what are the arrays of microphones and equipment that the studio boasts. Does it have a full range of equipment that is going to be necessary for you to utilize for that particular project? If you are coming in and you have a great pianist, you need a room that has a great piano. You can't put someone like Kenny Barron in playing a Hamlin piano. You need the proper equipment for the people that are working.
For me, I love the studio I did this last record at, Avatar. It is one of my favorite studios in the world, particularly Studio C because the resonance in the room is excellent for me. What I hear back, feel back, the vibrations in the room, are great. A lot of musicians feel that way about that studio. I have done a lot of dates in that same studio with a lot of other people.
AAJ: Also, as the producer on the date, did you find any of the songs changing from how you had initially conceived them?
CA: For Landmarks it was funny, because it started out being like a demo. I was very fortunate because I had Bob Cranshaw kind of mentoring me at the time. At the time, I was on a tight budget and we had two days in the studio so I planned on doing four songs because I wanted it to be a relaxed atmosphere. Bob suggested that I should try and have enough material there- -in case we knocked the stuff out fast, we could do maybe three or four more things. So by the recording date, I had come up with three more songs and added another standard.
AAJ: This album is largely made up of originals. Was that an intentional decision on your part?
CA: Yes, that was part of my purpose as an artist. I am not a cover artist per se. I don't want to build a career by playing other people's material. The whole point of me doing what I do is because I want to be able to bring something of value to the table.
That speaks back to the time when I was coming up. This was one of the important values in a jazz musician: you want to develop your own sound; you want to develop your own commodities so that you can add to this huge reservoir of music/material that your predecessors have left, and try to meet that standard. That's the place that I have always tried to come from.
I wanted to write some material that I felt had my stamp as a writer on it. Even though I am coming out of J.J. Johnson, Slide Hampton was a mentor, Curtis Fuller; I love listening to them all along with many other trombone players. I don't want to sound exactly like any one of them. What I am trying to do is take their standards and mold them into my own thing: the quality of the sound, the articulation and the harmonic concepts. Slide Hampton takes so many guys under his wing that you hear a lot of the guys coming out now harmonically they play exactly like him. It is a nice thing but it is not a development of an original path.