Clifton Anderson: Leading The Way
After high school, Anderson spent a year at The State University of New York at Stony Book and then transferred to The Manhattan School of Music where he earned his Bachelor of Music degree. "The first musician that I worked with and would solo with on a fairly regular basis was Carlos Garnett. I think that was my first year at The Manhattan School of Music. We made a record called "Cosmos Nucleus" (Muse Records, 1976). The late, great Kenny Kirkland, Roy Campbell the trumpet player, Zane Massey, Angel Fernandez (a trumpet player that arranges for Mark Anthony), all these people were in that band. We were all very young and Carlos would give us a lot of opportunity to play."
When Anderson graduated from college, he was already being recognized as a talented young musician and had little difficulty finding gigs in the New York area. One of his more notable early gigs teamed Anderson with several other talented trombonists, as part of Slide Hampton's original World of Trombones ensemble. "Slide's band, which was nine trombones all together, had a unique element to itSlide's arranging. Not only were the arrangements very musical, but they really challenged the limits of the instrument in a lot of ways. We were playing a lot of very fast things, almost like you would hear a saxophone section playing. Yeah, Clifford Adams and Steve Turre were in there, Papo Vazquez, Doug Purviance, Earl McIntyre. Conrad Herwig was in there, Frank Lacy. Robin Eubanks came along a little later. The original group World of Trombones was together for about two years, and then everybody kind of fractured off. It was very difficult to keep the band together and keep it working. We did a few tours and that was a great experience."
Though he considers himself primarily a jazz musician, Anderson has always been open to other musical styles. "I played with a whole variety of musicians: pop groups, calypso bands, all kinds of things. Even now I still try to get involved in all forms of music, and touch bases with everything. There's always something that you can draw from those experiences as a musician."
One of those experiences included recording "Do I Do" with Stevie Wonder for the highly acclaimed album "Original Musiquarium" (Tamla Records, 1982). Stevie Wonder, known for his own extraordinary talent, obviously chose his sidemen carefully. For example, "Do I Do" also included a trumpet solo by Dizzy Gillespie. Reflecting on his work with Stevie Wonder, Anderson commented "I can only say great things about that experience. Stevie Wonder is just great. I mean he's a master musician. He's got tremendous ears. He's got a great sensibility for melody and harmony. He's a beautiful guy to play with and he's respectful of the musicians who work with him."
The year after his stint with Stevie Wonder, Anderson got the call to join the band supporting Sonny Rollins, a job he would retain for nearly three decades. It was also a position from which he would gain much of the knowledge he now brings to the table as a band leader. "With every situation that I've been in, I've always tried to be as observant as possible and tried to absorb as much as I can, not only with the blatant 'in your face' things, but also a lot of subtleties. And you only get those kinds of things from veteran musicians like Sonny Rollins.
"Of course when I got with Sonny, people who knew I was his nephew were expecting to hear J.J. Johnson right off the bat," Anderson chuckled. "Everybody feels that if Sonny was a prodigy, then I guess Clifton should be a prodigy. Musicians like myself, like Ravi Coltrane and T.S. Monk, musicians that are closely related to some of the master musicians, we've all had to struggle with this perception. So it's been a very challenging thing.
"During the first ten years of playing with Sonny I really had to focus. His approach to music was more demanding in a sense. He does a lot of things very intuitively, and he wants the musicians around him to be that wayto make music intuitively. When we're in performance, the music just goes where it goes and everybody has to be able to go that way. I realized later that this is how music at its highest level is performed."