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Fred Anderson: On the Run

Lazaro Vega By

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When I heard Ornette Coleman back in those days, back in the early 1960's, I knew exactly what he was doing. It wasn't strange to me. I knew exactly where he was coming from.
This interview was first published at All About Jazz in August 2002 and is part of our ongoing effort to archive pre-database material.

The Roscoe Mitchell Quintet with special guest Fred Anderson played a successful benefit concert for Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp at the Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The quintet's performance, with Mitchell on sopranino and alto saxophones plus the C flute, Fred Anderson tenor saxophone, Craig Taborn, piano, Harrison Bankhead, bass, and Vincent Davis, drums, was recorded for future broadcast by both Blue Lake Public Radio and GRTV/The Community Media Center of Grand Rapids. The concert tapes will be archived at the Jazz Institute of Chicago collective at the University of Chicago. This concert was part of Blue Lake Public Radio's 20th anniversary season.

Mitchell and Anderson played two concerts together in Chicago before this Grand Rapids appearance. The first, last Fall at Anderson's The Velvet Lounge, and the second this Spring at Hot House, a celebration of Anderson's 70th birthday.

Lazaro Vega: Do you remember whose idea it was to do the concerts with Roscoe Mitchell?

Fred Anderson: Whose idea it was? Well, I remember, basically it was my idea to play with Roscoe. We hadn't played together in a long time. I think we played together in a jam session years ago. So we had played together. But it was my idea.

When he finally said he was coming I suggested that we play together.

LV: What is there in Roscoe's playing that you thought might go with what you do?

FA: I've been listening to Roscoe for a long time. But it's not that. I just thought it would be a good bill. It turned out nice. It was a good idea because he hadn't played at The Velvet before, and I hadn't played with him.

So this is how we—he word got around (laughs). That's the funny thing about that particular night—we had a packed house. People were lined up all outside. I don't know if you've ever been to my place or not but anyway, you know it's not very big. It holds about, comfortably it holds 175 people. The place was packed that particular night.

LV: Sure, I've been there. One thing I talked to Roscoe about that maybe you would comment on was as a saxophonist. In the post-John Coltrane/Albert Ayler continuum you've found a way that is different than many other free horn players. I mean you don't use overtones as much, or split tones or false registers like your good friend Kidd Jordan, who has a tendency to play in the high false register of the tenor often. And Roscoe, too. Roscoe has a way of controlling glissandos, and doing things that are off the horn in a sense, even though he makes them on the horn. You've always found your own way.

FA: Well, (chuckles), since you mention that you've got to remember: at the time that the AACM was formed, I was a little older than the guys, you know. I was probably, me and another guy named John Jackson, we were pretty much around about the same age, maybe: maybe he was a little younger than me, or we were about the same age.

And you've got to remember I had seen Charlie Parker play, and Lester Young. All those people. These guys (the early AACM musicians) were just a little too young. And they came up and they heard, you know, Coltrane. Most of 'em were into Coltrane. So I listen to Trane, too, but I started out listening to Lester Young and Charlie Parker—those were the people who inspired me to play music.

LV: They're beautiful. That is well before Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane show...

FA:—Well see Sonny was around; he made a record with Charlie Parker, with Miles.

That's one of the things you know what I mean? I can do all these things that you're just saying, you know, there's all the talented players. I can do all of those things, too. I understand all of them. But I don't make that my primary thing when I'm playing.

It's good. It's all right. Ain't nothin' wrong with it. It makes a good contrast.

That's the way I'm doing it because that was my roots. That's probably the reason I play like I play. But I understand and I've done a lot of things in that vein, even with Kidd Jordan. We've got a record out called 2 Days In April.” I don't know if you've got that record or not.

LV: What led you from the influence of Bird and Lester and the way they played to stretch out and play longer solos?

FA: It was a continuation of what they were doing. Like I say, when I first heard Ornette Coleman, I think he was the first one that had nerve enough to take the music with that concept, but then had his own concept, too. But he really got it from Charlie Parker. See? When I heard Ornette Coleman back in those days, back in the early 1960's, I knew exactly what he was doing. It wasn't strange to me. I knew exactly where he was coming from.

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