Earlier in June, saxophone legend Fred Anderson had suffered a heart attack and then fell into a coma in a Chicago hospital. He died soon afterwards, he was 81 years old.
The word “legend” gets overused all the time, especially by us music writers who happen to like jazz. It’s about as difficult to define as, say, “classic”. And although Anderson’s name will probably not reach household status like Charlie Parker’s anytime soon, it’s safe to say that modern jazz would have been very different had he never been born. Fred Anderson spent most of his life and career being a big fish in a big pond, lending a hand to his contemporaries (Joseph Jarman, the AACM) while schooling the newbies (Ken Vandermark, Nicole Mitchell, George Lewis, Hamid Drake). With such a far-reaching influence, Anderson has supplied us with a lifetime’s worth of hard-bop, avant-skronk, free-jazz disciples. His death may sadden us, but he already took measures to make sure we wouldn’t be empty without him.
My first and so far only visit to the Velvet Lounge, Anderson’s live music club in Chicago, was in early 2008. As I watched Dushun Mosley’s band tear through their second set of the night, my brother nudged me and said “that’s Fred Anderson taking door money over there.” He had arrived sometime after I had that evening, and his unassuming entrance apparently had done nothing to distract me. His stooped-over figure and slow steps definitely broadcast the fact that he was elderly. But did he set a nursing home schedule for himself towards the end of his life? No way. His 80th birthday was an all-out bash.
The Velvet Lounge’s website has numerous downloadable samples culled from a variety of albums Anderson had appeared on. Just bear in mind that each file is an edited snippet lasting a minute or two.