My Life in Music
Chuck Anderson is not your ordinary jazz musician, and this book is not a typical biography of an entertainer or jazz artist. Anderson is a consummate master of the guitar in jazz, classical, and world music idioms, a composer, performer in diverse settings, educator, and leader of his own working trio. The book is not the typical reminiscence of hard times, successes, love life, the drug scene, and so forth. Rather it is a compendium of acquired wisdom about music, the guitar, and life placed in the context of a narrative of Anderson's life and extraordinary career. In informal, easy to read language spiced with gentle humor, Anderson tells stories of his five decades of experience in the music business, documents his accomplishments, provides fascinating insights into music, guitar, and education, and gives advice and guidance about how to pursue a musical career.
Anderson's career has followed a path much like that, for example, of his predecessors Johnny Smith
and Joe Beck
, spanning the gamut of work as a studio musician, a house band member at casinos and concert venues, a sought-after teacher, and a writer of commercial jingles, while at the same time devoting himself to serious composing and performing with his own groups. He made the difficult choice of staying close to his home base rather than taking frequent road trips, which traded off the possibility of fame and travel for dedication to the art form and a stable marriage and family life.
He is happy with the choice, and he wants you to know that a disciplined, financially and emotionally secure life in music is possible and satisfying. Maybe he overstates this point, for one senses between the lines some regret that he didn't achieve the recognition, legacy, and individual style that his friends and cohorts Pat Martino
and Jimmy Bruno
did by devoting themselves to developing their own unique voice and going wherever the gigs and record dates led them. Martino doggedly pursued his heart's desire from the very beginning, and Bruno dropped out of the commercial scene to pursue the jazz life at whatever cost. Anderson, who comes from a Chicago and Philadelphia Main Line family and got a thorough college education, deliberately chose, as he emphasizes in the book, to pursue music as a professional and business enterprise, while at the same time being a labor of love. It's no accident that this book comes out at a time when aspiring jazz musicians are increasingly taking the path of conservatory education, even including courses in marketing and public relations, as a means of survival.
Anderson took up the guitar almost by chance after someone dumped an unwanted instrument on him at a picnic. He soon discovered that he had a passionate interest and prodigious talent as a guitarist and, while in college, got work with local bands. While studying jazz with the great Dennis Sandole, he went against the latter's advice to focus on his individuality and took a job in the house band at the Latin Casino, a nightclub in New Jersey that featured top shelf entertainers like Bobby Darin, Peggy Lee, and Roger Williams where he proved himself adaptable to almost any situation and was very much appreciated by those around him. Later, he did similar work at the Valley Forge Music Fair, while devoting himself to teaching, composing, and studio work as well. He formed his own trio with bassist Al Stauffer and drummers Jimmy Paxon and subsequently Ray Deeley, developed a new approach to classical guitar using the electric instrument and plectrum, and recorded albums in jazz, classical, and world music genres.
Anderson suffered two crises that led him to confine his work to teaching. His Gibson L5 guitar was stolen, curtailing his career until Gibson created a new one for him, the customized L5 that he nicknamed the "Green Hornet." Later, he developed severe obstructive sleep apnea, which led him to be exhausted and fall asleep during work and driving, so he had to limit himself to teaching until he found effective treatment. Like the proverbial Phoenix, he twice rose from the ashes to new heights of his musical powers. In this respect, Anderson is a profile in courage and persistence, which gives the book an inspirational feeling and message.