logo   Vintage Duets (OD12001)
Musicians Fred Anderson — tenor saxophone
Steve McCall — percussion
Cover and Artwork cover

Graphic design: Louise Molnar
Photography: F.A. by Werner Panke; S.M. by Gregory Turner

Songs 1. Within (MPEG2)
2. Wandering
Compositions © Many Weathers Music (BMI)
Recording Info

Recorded at Soto Studios, Chicago, IL, January 11, 1980

Produced by: Fred Anderson
Executive Producer: Bruno Johnson
Engineer: Jerry Soto
Tape restoration and transfer: Paul Serrano
Mastering: Bradley Parker-Sparrow (Sparrow Sound Design)

Liner Notes

In a little run of storefronts, surrounded by empty lots in a nearly deserted part of Indiana Avenue on Chicago’s near-South Side, you have to look hard to spot the hand-painted sign that announces: VELVET LOUNGE. It’s Sunday and you’ve come in to sip a cold one, trying to take the edge off a sweaty, muggy summer day on Lake Michigan. Stepping into the dark, long, narrow bar, you’re immediately greeted by a gentle, slightly lumbering bartender wearing a round African hat. He takes your order, wipes any grunge off the top of your beer can, pops the top, and pours the frothy first half into a glass. On the wall behind the bar you notice a few photos of this very server; he’s wearing the same cap, but his eyes are closed and he has a tenor saxophone protruding from his mouth.

A man breathlessly swings open the Velvet Lounge’s flop-back doors, dragging behind him an upright bass and crying out: "Sorry I’m late, Fred! My other gig went long." The bartender-saxophonist takes off his apron, folds it, and glances at a woman who will, for the afternoon, relieve him of his drink-serving job. He walks to an open room that the bar empties into, past a still-blaring TV. Reaching into an open case, he pulls out and puts together his immaculately shiny black tenor sax. On the temporary stage that is assembled every other week for this jam session, the rhythm section begins to chug. Climbing on board at an appropriate moment, Fred Anderson bends down as if digging a trench with his dangling horn. He puts the reed between his teeth and starts to blow lines as thick and solid as a porterhouse steak. Sit back on your squeaky barstool, you’ve come on the right Sunday.

Fred Anderson is the sort of living-legend jazz musician that too often goes completely unrewarded, incommensurately unrecognized, and tragically underdocumented, despite the fact that his music is still every bit as alive as he is. As a member of the original team that chartered Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Anderson helped create the burgeoning-with-life musical ecosystem that flourished in the Windy City in the afterglow of free jazz’s initial half-decade. Joseph Jarman’s Song For (Delmark Records), one of the earliest records to take the AACM’s private experimentation public, included playing by Anderson as well as a composition of his called "Little Fox Run." He was a mainstay of the scene throughout its halcyon days, leading bands and further honing his singular approach to the music. Unlike the multi-instrumentalism advocated by the Art Ensemble and Muhal Richard Abrams, Anderson played a lean, post-Sonny Rollins style of free jazz — often in conjunction with sidekick trumpeter Billy Brimfield (equally legendary; equally overlooked) — with minimal heads and heavy emphasis on lengthy linear soloing and warmth of group interplay.

In the 1970’s, when most of the first group of AACM musicians moved from Chi-town’s familiar stomping grounds to the greener groves of New York, Anderson remained in Chicago, opening a bar in Evanston, and finally relocating to the Velvet Lounge’s current spot. He’s made a handful of records with different bands — in the late-70s, with increased European recognition and record deals, Anderson even looked like he might get the notice due him. At that time he began playing with drummer Hamid Drake, with whom he continues to work, and he also forged alliances with AACM-elder Ajaramu, who now serves as house drummer at the Velvet Lounge jam sessions. Anderson’s never sought great fame; he is leery of extended travel, and he always cites family responsibilities and community sensibilities as factors that keep him anchored in his hometown. Indeed, with his bi-weekly free jazz open jam session probably the only such gig ongoing in the U.S. — Anderson has upheld the AACM’s initial commitment to nurture and develop the creative music clan.

On Vintage Duets, Anderson is joined by Steve McCall, a drummer who touched many listeners with his style and sensitivity, especially as a member of the group Air. McCall worked with Anderson at various points from early in his career, playing alongside the tenorman and percussionist Thurman Barker in the unusual two-drum lineup on Jarman’s Song For. Twenty years later, McCall and Barker worked together again as members of the Cecil Taylor Unit (hear Taylor’s Olu Iwa on Soul Note). Playing jazz is not an occupation known for its job security; I traveled to a cemetery on the far South Side of the city to pay last respects when McCall died in 1989, only to discover that this master of time, tempo, and the timeless had gone to an unmarked grave — his estate couldn’t afford a headstone.

John Corbett: Steve McCall was in one of the earliest groups you formed with the AACM, wasn’t he?

Fred Anderson: Yeah. SongFor came about in ’66. Steve went to Detroit with us [1964], and when he came bask he was playing with other people, so we got Thurman Barker. And that was after Arthur Reed, who played the first AACM tour with us. After that we hooked up until he decided to hook up with Henry Threadgill. Him and Thread had somethin’ going cause then Air came in to being [1970].

I asked him to work in my group, but I didn’t have any work overseas or anything. So he said him and Thread had gotten really tight. I said: "Cool!"

Then there was a long hiatus when you two didn’t play together?

I didn’t play with him until we made that recording [Vintage Duets], and then we played the Chicago Jazz Festival. Somebody heard this tape, and the Jazz Institute decided they wanted to do the duet. That was ’86, I think. I went out to his house and had a rehearsal for the gig. By the time of the Jazz Fest gig, I think him and Thread had broke up. He was out of Air. So that’s when we hooked back up again. Til the day that he passed, Steve would always come by the club [the Velvet Lounge] to see me. Always.

When you and Steve would rehearse, like when you rehearsed for this recording, how did you work those tunes out?

Well, we had been playing those tunes all around. The tunes were written in the early ’60s. We would practice in Lester Lashley’s loft. It was kinda rough, ’cause on those four bars on "With In" he had to come out exactly like blaaam, exactly at the end of the phrase. So we finally got it, he got it so he could play it really good.

He plays sticks on "With In" and mallets on "Wandering"

On the ballad, yeah. That was his choice.

Aside from free jazz, what other styles of drumming do you hear in Steve?

Oh, Steve was playing with everybody. Played with Oscar Brown, Jr. You know it surprised me when he did commit himself to the AACM. At that time he was working with everybody. Then he went overseas.

Do you think he took some of that sensibility from playing with those other styles into playing the free material?

Yeah, he played that way but he wanted to be in the AACM. I think Muhal was more influential in getting him into the AACM than anybody.

Was it difficult to become a member of the AACM at that time?

No, not really. All of the guys was in, like Jodie Christian, Phil Cohran. A lot of guys who were in dropped out.

Did you play in groups with both Thurman Barker and Steve McCall?

Uh-huh. Both of them played with Joseph [Jarman].

Did Thurman play just percussion sometimes?

No they both played drums. There were two drummers.

Was that your group or Joseph’s?

What happened is, man, Joseph came out to my house. I already had a group. Me and Billy Brimfield had a drummer, a guy named Vernon Thomas, a bass player named Billy Fletcher, and myself. And we played these tunes. But half of the time the drummer and bass player didn’t know what was goin’ on. They could never figure out what to play after the line, you know? Then I met Joseph — somebody told Joseph about me and he came out to visit me at my house in Evanston. We decided to get a group. He said he knew a bass player named Charles Clark, and "Butch" Davis...Arlington Davis I think was his name. So it started out, Clark stayed with the group, Davis, he cut out. That’s when we met Arthur Reed. Then it was Thurman Barker, then Steve. It was really my group, but Joseph was out hustlin’ gigs and everything, I’m livin’ way out in Evanston. And he’d get gigs under his name, the Joseph Jarman Group, and then he got the record date from Bob Koester, ’cause Roscoe [Mitchell] told him about him. I really didn’t care, ’cause I had just got my house and I wasn’t really thinkin’ about leavin’ town. I did go to Detroit with ’em. I think that was the only time I traveled with them. This was before the Art Ensemble.

Was there a big difference between how he played and others? Everybody has their own style, but what was distinctive about his style? Like, for instance, I always think of his cymbal work.

Right, right, right.

I was always killed by the way he played the cymbals.

That’s right. He knew the music and he was serious about the music. If you got on stage with him, he played the music. Steve and I got along good. He used to come over to my house with his wife and his little kids, and I used to go over to his place in Hyde Park. We had a good relationship that way. He was one of the only guys who would always come over to see me at the club. I didn’t realize that Steve was all that sick, I swear I didn’t. At the very end, he was very angry. Not at me, but he was angry about what was happening. He was angry at Joe Segal [of the Jazz Showcase].

You had a friendship that went beyond the music

It was respect, you know? We never had problems, no arguin’. And we were tight, but he never did tell me what happened between him and Threadgill.

The only time I had to really spend with him was the first time I met him, back in about 1981. I was friends with the organizers of a duet he did with Marion Brown in Providence, Rhode Island, so l tagged along to dinner afterwards. I was young and very enthusiastic about the music, and it was great because he was the most friendly, creative musician that I’d met. Warm and responsive, wonderful. Do you think your friendship made the music more intimate?

I don’t know, maybe that’s what it is. How that tape [this record] come to be, I went over to Europe and the guy at Message Records said: "I would like you and Steve to make a record for me." Just like that. So I called Steve when I came back and said this guy wanted to make a record and we could make a little money. He said cool, so l paid for studio time, we made the tape. Then later I told him the company went out of business. And he didn’t say one word about it, we never even talked about it. I asked Chuck Nessa, offered him both tapes, and he took the quartet [The Missing Link, Nessa Records].

I hear a very intimate kind of playing on the record, but not an obvious kind of intimacy. You’re playing together, but not in an obvious way, and that’s something you can maybe only achieve with someone you know really, really well.

Right, I see what you mean. And he also knew me well enough to know that whatever was going to happen with the tape, it was cool. So that’s what it was. Me and him and Lester [Lashley], that was the trio — and with Billy, we’d been playing for such a long time. We had a guitar player named Sonny Garrett — we did some interesting things with him. Steve had a way of doing things that was unique. I like playing with all the drummers: Hamid Drake, Arthur Reed, Thurman. But Steve put something else with it than the orthodox things. He knew. . .he knew what was happening ’cause we had played so much together that he knew just pretty much what I was going to do and how to deal with it. Like Ajaramu now, he knows the music. I think Drake knows the music well, too. When we made that record we were very, very close, you know? Into the music.

There were a lot of drummers in the ’60’s coming along after timekeeping was the sole domain of the drummer, where keeping the pulse was the role of the drummer...

..I see what you’re saying, in the traditional way.

But some, like Steve, somehow still had that older feel to them, like you said. In the same way, I also hear your playing coming very directly out of bebop, at least in terms of phrasing.

Yeah, sometimes. I try to do a lot of different things. See, it’s like a bag. You reach in the bag and you pull out what ever you want to use. If you’ve got a lot of things in your bag, you never know when you’re gonna use ’em. When the time comes, you just pull them out. It’s a thing. All last week I was practicing just regular exercises, no tunes, just exercises. Regular exercises that I write out for myself. It’s on the bebop thing, scales and chords and things, but I write ’em out a little different so they’ll sound a little different. I’ll take five notes of one scale and run them into another scale, so you’ve got two scales, like in fourths.

I practiced a lot of Bird’s tunes. That’s how I developed a way of moving, of phrasing. Bebop tunes had all these phrases — Bird’s tunes were four-bar phrases and eight-bar phrases. "Donna Lee" had that eight-bar run, you know? This is the thing that I always thought about is putting it all together, and I never realized it was so difficult until I listened to some of these young guys now [laughs]. It was just a way, but it’s very difficult for some guys to play a four-bar phrase and know exactly where they are. Four or five bars, you know? Or six. Whatever. Playing all those notes together as a phrase and knowing exactly what’s happening and how you’re gonna move to the next phrase. I had problems with it, but I worked it out listening to bebop. I would sit down and analyze these tunes, and it was all in phrases. The chord changes was laying right there, and the phrases, and that was it. And once I figured it out...that was freedom! [laughs] All the other stuff is cool. A lot of people play other ways, and I’m not here to criticize. That’s just how I hear it.

The rhythm is very important to me, playing all sorts of different rhythms all the time. And that’s how I learned how to play them, to dissect them, to subdivide the notes, put them in there so they would fall right in. But you’ve got to have the technique. If you don’t have the technique, you can’t get to those things fast. By playing those tunes, like "Confirmation," you’ve really got to work, ’cause it’s got to fall right down on that beat, you dig? [starts speaking uncharacteristically fast, to illustrate] Some of the stuff starts on the upbeat, and it comes back, and all these notes are in there...and it all falls into place. [slowly again] So I’m thinking about how I ran subdivide things so I’m not always playing just straight eighth notes. I hear some people, they solo and all they play is eighth notes. Lester [Young], Lester was a master. He always was able to put these little things in there and make it interesting. Coleman Hawkins was a master. Don Byas, man, that guy! He was something else.

You once made an interesting comparison between Chu Berry and John Coltrane.

Oh yeah! I peeped that because, maybe this is just my opinion, but Chu Berry had such command over the saxophone, such control, that it sounds like he wasn’t subtoning. He was nailing them, but his sound was kinda small, it wasn’t big. But he had control from the bottom of the saxophone to the top. I didn’t get to see all those guys. I did get to see Charlie Parker. But Chu Berry was the guy who got me really dealing from the bottom of the saxophone.

I think this recording, better than any previous release of yours, demonstrates the way that you play the bottom of the saxophone.

We had the freedom to do all that.

You don’t have other instruments getting in the way, just the two of you. And, like you say, you play the bottom of the horn like it’s the mid-section of the horn.

That’s important, because the bottom makes you able to hear the top. If I play the bottom of the horn, I’ll play the same thing at the top and it sounds different. It changes the whole color. Sometimes I’ll play the top, then the bottom, and it sounds completely different. But I just took it down an octave, octave-and-a-half, whatever. E. Parker McDougal and I were talking about that. He said: "I really like what you do in the bottom of the horn. That’s very difficult." I said: "Man, it took me ten years to get that coordination." It took me ten long years practicing down in my basement, work on that, work on that. By the time I got to that recording, I had just worked it out. [laughs warmly] Now I do it, I think I do it better. I’ve got the whole range of the saxophone, now, instead of just down there. I can take from the middle-C, or C-sharp. Or I can use that D on the side, I use that instead of using the D down here. I got that from Lester — Lester used to do that all the time.

I guess I hear your phrasing coming out of bebop — shaping phrases that way and making them relate to each other that way. But also, more than most other people right now, I think you have a very distinctive tone in a way that’s related to the swing era. A voice that would be unmistakable for anyone else’s. I relate that back to Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Lester Young.

Sound, man, I got that idea of having a sound from Jug [Gene Ammons]. Jug was the sound man. Gettin’ down in the horn, Jug was the man, you know! Charlie Parker was the man for technique and melodic things. Monk for harmonic things. I think Trane did the same thing, from Dexter Gordon, Charlie Parker, somebody said John Gilmore influenced him, too.

That’s what Coltrane himself said.

I believe it, ’cause John was doin’ some strange things. My whole idea when I started, I wanted to be a contributing factor, I wanted to contribute to the music. I didn’t want someone to come out and say: "Oh, he sounds like all these others." I wanted to put all these things together and see what I came up with. To play myself.

— John Corbett
Chicago, March, 1994