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Clifton Anderson: Legacy

Maxwell Chandler By

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I try to go out and absorb, like a big sponge, as much as I can in every situation that I am in.
Clifton Anderson has been on a lifelong journey of artistic evolution. From his start as a child surrounded by a musical family, to formal education mixed with the practical experience of live gigs, Clifton's odyssey is ever-unfolding. Whether playing as a long-standing member of his uncle Sonny Rollins' band, helping to run the Doxy label or leading sessions with his own band, Clifton's life is always happily connected to music.

Chapter Index

  1. Early Years And Inspirations
  2. Tennis Versus Jazz
  3. Formal Education
  4. First Gigs
  5. Multi-Genre Touch
  6. Technology and Bones
  7. Landmarks
  8. Writing
  9. Decade
  10. Doxy

Early Years And Inspirations

All About Jazz: With your father having been a professional church organist, your mother having played piano and soloed in church choirs, a violin-playing uncle and, of course, your famous saxophone-playing uncle Sonny Rollins, it can easily be said that you come from a musical family. Was there an assumption from early on you would take up an instrument, if only for fun?

Clifton Anderson: Yeah, in my family pretty much everybody plays something. As children, we were expected to learn some instrument. Our parents didn't push us in any one direction but, since everybody played something, we were expected to pick up an instrument.

AAJ: You credit the end of The Music Man (1962), where Robert Preston leads a street procession during "Seventy-Six Trombones" for giving you the initial interest in the instrument. What was the next step for you in regards to pursuing this new muse?

CA: There were a lot of different instruments that I had liked, but that was what hooked me on the trombone. After that happened, I told my mother that I wanted to play that instrument and she told Sonny about it. He bought my first trombone for me. So at that point I started taking little lessons and things.

I was so small that I couldn't really hold up the horn. When I got out to the sixth or seventh position, I had to balance the slide on my foot because I was too small to hold up the whole horn and reach all the way out. I had a teacher very early on; I remember him very well. He told my mother that he felt the trombone was the right instrument for me because I could get a really good tone out of the horn at such an early stage. He said that most kids can't get a good sound out of trombone that soon, so the fact that I could do that—he felt the trombone was the instrument for me, and he was right.

AAJ: During these early years, what were you listening to? How did it affect your approach to what you wanted to play?

CA: There was so much music in the house. I heard a lot of organ music since my father was a church organist. I heard a lot of church music and choir music because my mother sang in the choir and my father was also a choir director. I listened to some jazz. There was pop music in the house, and R&B. There was a little bit of pretty much everything. There was no one specific thing that I really keyed on into as a young kid coming up.

Clifton AndersonAlthough the kids in school— everybody was listening to Motown and the earlier pop music that was around at that time. AM radio was a lot more popular back then than it is now, so my parents would have it on sometimes, if my mother was cooking dinner or something. They played a lot of pop music on there—Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Mamas and Papas- -the Hippie generation kind of stuff.

With church music, we would listen to all the different great organists. My father had a lot of great recordings of organ music. Wherever he would work, whatever church he was affiliated with, we'd go and he would put on the Messiah. We were familiar with the Messiah and the different pieces that would usually come around the holidays. It was quite a diverse mix of material, which was good for my development because I wasn't really stuck in any one place; I could utilize information from everywhere.


Tennis Versus Jazz

AAJ: In your adolescence, you were actually a good tennis player too, winning some tournaments. You have said that at one point you felt you had to choose between a career in music and sports. What brought things to a head and how did you come by your final decision?

CA: I had the good fortune to be up on Martha's Vineyard; I spent my summers on that island as a young kid. They had a tennis community up there. Tennis was not very popular in urban New York City (where I was living) and it was an expensive sport as well.

I didn't really know anything about tennis until I went to Martha's Vineyard. I would go and sit by the tennis courts and watch these players play, and after a while a couple of them invited me out on the court.

Clifton AndersonThere was a doctor and his wife took me under their wing; they realized I had an ability to play tennis at a fairly young age (10 or 11 years old). They provided me with some equipment and started teaching me/training me how to play. I got good enough, to the point where I started winning the local tournaments up there. Then they sponsored me to go around and play on some of the junior amateur circuits on the east/northeast. So I played in some of the tournaments, including the Nationals up in Boston one year.

Then I started meeting players from other parts of the country who could play year round and it made me realize that since I couldn't play in New York City year round (it was too expensive for me to able to play indoors at that time), that I couldn't start practicing until early spring and play until mid to late fall. These other kids at the tournaments were able to reach another level. It made me realize that if I was going to do this, I would have to commit—that I would probably have to go away and live out of state. I didn't really want to do that, plus I had started to take music more seriously at about the same time.

As I got into high school, I started meeting a lot of young musicians who were more serious about music; it inspired me to put tennis aside. I kept playing for the high school team but at that point I was more interested in pursuing a music career.


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