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Interviews

Chuck Anderson: Guitar Reemergence

By Published: April 20, 2010

Studying with Jazz Legend Dennis Sandole

AAJ: Many of the best musicians studied with Dennis Sandole, yet relatively little has been written about him. Tell us a bit more about him. What kind of person and teacher was he? What was the special gift he gave to the players?

Chuck Anderson Trio, from left: Eric Schreiber, Ed Rick, Chuck Anderson



CA: First of all, it's important to realize that he was not a guitar teacher per se>. He was a guitarist, but had stopped playing by the time he was teaching in Philadelphia. The story is that he was a staff guitarist in Hollywood for one of the film orchestras, probably MGM. It's been said that he played for Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday
1915 - 1959
vocalist
in Harlem when he was younger.

I was with Dennis from the time I was 19 until I was 28, from around 1966 into the middle 1970s. At the time, he was the most famous jazz teacher in the world, a legend. Of course, he mentored John Coltrane and Pat Martino. Rufus Harley came in—he went on to famously play jazz bagpipes. There was a recent documentary film about him. I actually think it was Dennis who got him to play bagpipes. George Benson

George Benson
George Benson
b.1943
guitar
was there, and we had some conversations. Joe Lano who became one of the most famous jazz guitarists of Las Vegas, also studied during that same time period. James Moody
James Moody
James Moody
1925 - 2010
reeds
was a Sandole student. There were many great musicians who studied with him.



Sandole's contribution was not so much as a guitarist, but as someone who had developed a very elaborate, deep musical educational literature that he then taught to the students independent of their instrument. It was based on the study of aesthetics, the art of music, the study of improvisation, and composition.

AAJ: Could you state in brief what you learned from Sandole?

CA: There was a great deal of controversy about the way that he taught. But what I got from him was a love for and appreciation of the art of jazz and to view music not as a commercial form but as an artistic form. Sandole was very much opposed to commerciality, and sometimes if a student made money playing commercial music, it almost seemed to be a problem. He was somewhat phobic about it. For instance, you couldn't actually hand him cash or a check. He wouldn't touch it. You would have to put it under a ceramic cat which was on the piano! For me, at a young age, he instilled an impression in me that money was bad, which did create problems for me.



When I was 21, I became the staff guitarist at the Latin Casino [a popular nightclub in Cherry Hill, NJ from about 1960-1978], playing with many show business legends while I was still studying with Sandole. When I was hired, I went to him and said excitedly, "Dennis, I got the staff job at the Latin Casino!" He said absolutely nothing, and I said it again. Then he said, "What are you doing wasting your time on worthless commercial soirees? You should be playing concerts for the kings and queens of Europe, not prostituting yourself playing for entertainers!" And I said, "Oh" [Laughter]. See, I was already married, with a son and a house. I had to pay for those things and I had to make money, but Dennis didn't like that I chose that path. Later, I did understand his attitude, but it's created a lot of psychological problems for me throughout the years. I've always had to battle the apparent contradiction between making money versus pursuing music as a pure art form.

AAJ: That's an ongoing concern for many of the most talented musicians. I'm thinking that Bernard Peiffer, the French jazz pianist who relocated to Philadelphia and taught some of the best jazz pianists, was like that too, locking horns with the record companies, etc.

Coming Up in the Music Business

CA: Al Stauffer was my bassist for years—he's on my Vintage Tracks (Self Produced, 2005) recording. He was also Bernard's bassist. It's odd how things intersect. Bernard, Jimmy Paxton, Al Stauffer and I were discussing doing a concert at the Walnut Street Theater. Stauffer and Paxton were in my group and in Peiffer's group. The irony is that Bernard died before the concert could take place. It's fascinating how we're making these connections—it's taking me way back.

AAJ: That's a good thing, because the oral history is important. By the way, who were some of the guys in the house band at the Latin Casino?

CA: I only recall the names of a couple of them. The individual players were good readers who played charts as opposed to jazz players as such. I remember that Lou Krauss was the director of the band. Al DelGovernatore was the pianist, and interestingly had the distinction of playing piano on one of Dennis Sandole's few albums. He and Dennis were close friends.

AAJ: Who were some of the great acts that you played behind?

CA: I was with Billy Eckstine

Billy Eckstine
Billy Eckstine
1914 - 1993
vocalist
, Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee
Peggy Lee
1920 - 2002
vocalist
, Bobby Darin, Michel Legrand
Michel Legrand
Michel Legrand
b.1932
piano
. I did fourteen shows a week for four years. There were also the great comedians, the dancers, and so on... Ann Margaret, Rita Moreno, Joey Heatherton, Susan Anton, Raquel Welch, Suzanne Somers among many others. Then there were some people like Patti Page, Al Martino, and others who made their reputation in the 1950s.

AAJ: The first four you mentioned had a substantial impact on jazz.

CA: That's why they came right to my mind. There were many, many pop stars of the day, like Trini Lopez and Freda Payne, who performed at the Latin Casino. The ones I loved playing behind the most were jazz singers, like Eckstine. Another place I played with many celebrities was at the Valley Forge Music Fair. There I worked with Anthony Newley, Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson
b.1937
vocalist
, and others.


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