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Chuck Anderson: Philadelphia Ace

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[Editor's Note] Chicago-born but long associated with the Philadelphia scene, Chuck Anderson is one of the many guitarists working in jazz who deserves greater recognition. With ten CDs to his name, Anderson has authored over a dozen instructional books, and maintains a busy teaching and consulting business. The developer of the Neo Classical Style of guitar playing, which approaches performing classical repertoire with a pick rather than fingers. Ed Benson's interview, originally published in Just Jazz Guitar magazine, brings well-deserved attention to this talented guitarist and composer.

Chuck Anderson

All About Jazz: Tell me about your background—personal and musical.

Chuck Anderson: I was born in Chicago on June 21st, 1947. Most of my early years were spent in sports—basketball and baseball. I had no interest in music. When I was twelve, my family moved to the Philadelphia suburb of Radnor, in Pennsylvania. I attended grade school in Wayne, and then high school in Devon, Pennsylvania. After high school, I enrolled in St Joseph's University where I completed a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing.

AAJ: When did you take up the guitar, and why?

CA: My involvement with the guitar was completely accidental. One summer holiday, when I was fourteen, my family was attending a neighborhood picnic. The neighbor was an amateur but enthusiastic guitarist. He had just purchased a new guitar—a Goya, as I recall. He was alternately strumming the guitar and cooking on the grill. I wandered over to get a hamburger. He took my proximity to indicate an interest in the guitar. In reality, I was only interested in a hamburger. He asked me if I liked the guitar. I shrugged indifferently and said "not really."

Undeterred, he said "I'll go get my old guitar in the attic and you can take it home and try it." I declined but he insisted. My mother heard this conversation and impressed upon me that it would be rude to not accept such a generous gift. I reluctantly took the guitar home and stored it under my bed. One day, I had turned my ankle playing basketball and had to rest the foot. Having nothing to do, I pulled the guitar out from under the bed and slowly played a chord from a sheet of chord diagrams that was in the guitar case. Once I heard the E minor chord, my life turned in the direction of music.

AAJ: Did you study or are you self-taught? Did you study music in college?

CA: I began taking lessons at a local music store at the age of fourteen. I progressed rapidly and was "promoted" to my next teacher. Dennis Sandole was at that time one of the best known jazz teachers in the country. I auditioned for him but wasn't ready to study with him. He suggested that I get in touch with one of his students by the name of Joe Federico. I worked with Joe for three years preparing for the next stage. Sandole accepted me as a student when I was nineteen. He was to be my final jazz guitar teacher. I did not study music in college. I did all of my studies with private teachers. In later years, I studied classical composition and orchestration with Dr Harold Boatrite, a noted Philadelphia composer and teacher.

AAJ: When did you plan to make music your livelihood?

CA: My direction turned seriously to a music career when I was a junior in college. By the time I graduated, it was a foregone conclusion that music would become my life. The day I graduated, I remember looking at my diploma, then my guitar, then my diploma and then my guitar. It was a warm summer day, the windows were open and I impulsively threw my diploma out the window. In this way, I suppose I symbolically rejected the business world.

AAJ: Who were your main influences?

CA: My two main influences were Wes Montgomery and Johnny Smith.

AAJ: When and what was your first paying gig?

CA: My first paying work was a school dance in the gym at St. Katherine of Sienna. I played with a group called the Ravens and was paid the princely sum of four dollars. I was fourteen at the time.

AAJ: Do you remember any disastrous gigs?

CA: One disaster stands out. On a New Years Eve, our band was playing at a Polish American club. An argument broke out over the winner of a Twist contest. Someone swung a liquor bottle, somebody punched a woman in the face and somebody else picked up a table and tossed it at a group of people. Chaos was everywhere, but we kept playing. Bottles broke around us like the Blues Brothers. Just then, my father came to pick me up since I didn't drive. The police arrived and dragged my father down the steps toward the paddy wagon. After some ridiculous moments, he was free to go on his way. That story is forever etched in my memory bank.

AAJ: I know you played at the Latin Casino in NJ. Tell me about those days. How did you get the gig? Whom did you work with? Any special memories of it? Why did you leave the gig? What did you do after you left?

Chuck AndersonCA: I first got the call in the summer after I graduated college. One of the acts coming to the Latin needed a guitarist, but the Latin's staff guitarist had taken an engagement in Vegas and was unavailable. Apparently no one was available that week. My name was the bottom name on the list of guitar players that the contractor kept. I was totally unknown but they had no choice but to call me. Somehow, I managed to get through my first shows and the act spoke well of me. Amazingly, I was standing in the contractor's office when the phone rang. It was the Latin's guitarist, Joe Lano, calling from Vegas. He said "I'm not coming back to the Latin. They've offered me a job at one of the casinos here in Vegas." The contractor turned to me and asked, "Do you want the job here?" It took two seconds to say yes!

I played at the Latin for the next four years. Fourteen shows a week and rehearsal on Monday afternoons. I had the opportunity to work with terrific acts such as Peggy Lee, Michel Legrand, Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Eckstine, Anthony Newley and Nancy Wilson.

I have many memories of the Latin—enough to fill a small book. I have told the Latin Casino story on YouTube and have had some great responses. I've heard from waiters who worked there and Jack Curtis's grandson. Jack was the Master of Ceremonies for the Latin.


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