Clifton Anderson: Leading The Way
"Critics have said that I'm out of the J.J. Johnson school, and I don't mind that. Most trombone players playing this music after J. J. Johnson have come through him, and I'm no exception. But my voice I think is singular. I don't think I sound like any other trombone players playing out here. And my writing is focused more on melody and lyricism." Both of these attributes are clearly demonstrated in Anderson's most recent album Decade (Doxy Records, 2009). The distinctive mellow voice of Anderson's trombone fills the album with upbeat and thoroughly memorable melodies.
"I seem to have an ability to write melodies, and I think that's something that helps me particularly as a trombonist. I hear melody first and foremost. I've always gravitated to music that lingers in your mind, that you might hear one day and then all of a sudden three days later it pops up in your head out of nowhere. All of the masters of this music wrote such great melodies. That's something that is lacking in the writing right now in jazz music. We have to get back to that to help elevate the music and to reach a broader group of people.
"I try to follow the example of Duke Ellington who wrote specifically for the guys in his band. He knew each of them well, he knew their sounds well and what they could do. And so he wrote his music tailored to the group. That's what I'm trying to do as well. I'm trying to bring my style of small ensemble writing and tailor it to the guys that play with me. I really like the sound of the small ensembles and it gives me a chance to push my own sound as a trombonist. So I'd really like to pursue thatsmall ensemble, quartet, quintet situations, maybe some sextet things. That's kind of my forte.'
"Because of the nature of the business right now, I have a nucleus of guys who work with me (Steve Williams, Eric Wyatt, Benito Gonzalez and Russel Blake). But everybody is out here working. You can't keep all the same band members together for every job, all the time. So different musicians come into the unit and they bring a different sensibility, their own style of playing or presence. And that's always a good thing because it helps me to hear some different things and opens up some new avenues in the music."
Anderson's long association with Sonny Rollins also provided him with other experiences which helped prepare him for his new position in leadership. "I helped Sonny with his merchandising and production company Oleo, and with his record label Doxy Records. I've had the opportunity to see how the business is done on an international scale, and also to deal with a lot of the details. Most musicians don't really deal with those things hands-on. And I've also met people who operate on a high level in the business. I definitely feel like I have an advantage in terms of understanding the 'business' of the music business.
"The industry, however, is changing. The move from LPs to CDs was a dramatic change, and digital format has changed the industry drastically again. Record sales are now primarily from downloads. Musicians don't make any money on recordings any more. Recordings are really promotional tools now. Even though the royalties for musicians were never adequate or fair with the record labels, you still had sales. Now when somebody downloads a music file, they share it with their friends and that's it! So it's a very different business. It's changing and musicians have to stay on top, be very aware.
"With this situation we're in now, we have to get people more involved in coming out to live shows. Live music is really where it's at, and it's the greatest experience you have, particularly with jazz music. That experience has been lost in a lot of ways. And of course musicians are selling their product at the shows. So this seems to be the way right now that we're able to make some money back from investing in ourselves."
The Internet has forced many changes on the music industry with some distinctly negative effects, such as facilitating the pirating of artists' creations. But some of those changes may actually benefit the industry, its artists, and ultimately the music itself. As the industry necessarily focuses upon attracting audiences to live performances, jazz artists may once again embrace and thrive upon the intuitive style of playing that has long characterized jazz performed at its highest level. And some, whose careers have faced limits arising from the marketing decisions of a few large record companies, are now realizing greater freedom in pursuing their own creative visions. Private record labels can now produce and promote music to much the same audiences as the big labels, essentially freeing the hands and creativity of those whose artistry was once relegated to a supporting role.