“Anderson mashes the [jazz] eras together, as his trombone skitters out on its own, chasing often sophisticated ideas with a giddy joy,” wrote John Leland in Newsweek about jazz trombonist Ray Anderson. “He’s an approachable face of the avant-garde, as rich in humor as in musical adventure.” Named premier trombonist in several Down Beat magazine critics polls, Anderson has earned praise for his performances with the group Slickaphonics, Anthony Braxton’s quartet, and as a leader. “Anderson, it appears,” remarked Bill Shoemaker in Down Beat, “can do it all.” Tutelage under Keshavan Maslak, Charles Moffett, Stanley Crouch, Braxton, and Barry Altschul cultivated his technical command without sacrificing his quirky style. “Equal parts experimentalist, vaudevillian, and virtuoso,” proclaimed Josef Woodard in Entertainment Weekly, “Anderson is more than the class clown of the trombone world. He gets to the heart of the music by way of the funnybone.”
A versatile performer comfortable in duo, trio, quartet, and orchestra settings, Anderson consummated a musical tenure that included the traditional, neo-bop, Latin, and hard funk idioms. Though schooled in cornet, tuba, alto trombone, and slide trumpet, he first embraced the less-esteemed trombone as a fourth grader. “One of the far-out things about trombone,” Anderson explained to Fred Bouchard in Down Beat, “is this duality between the ridiculous and the majestic. It has the role of being the ultimate clown instrument, and yet it can be the saddest instrument. [German composer Felix] Mendelssohn called it ‘the voice of God.’”
Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1952, Ray Anderson received plenty of exposure to jazz, listening to his father’s Dixieland albums. A professor at the Chicago Theological Union, the elder Anderson sent Ray to the University of Chicago’s experimental, musically strong elementary school. As an eight-year-old, Anderson met fellow student George Lewis, the future trombone virtuoso. Both boys studied under the renowned Frank Tirro, who later taught at Yale University. As an adolescent, Anderson took classical lessons with Dean Hay but stayed away from his teacher’s middle-class neighborhood, instead frequenting the flea markets on Maxwell Street where he listened to the bands play Chicagoland blues.
Though he received a scholarship to the University of lllinois’s summer jazz workshop after his senior year in high school, Anderson was expelled when he preferred jamming in restricted neighborhood clubs. He sojourned
For the Record…
Born in 1952 in Chicago, IL; father was a professor at the Chicago Theological Union. Education: Studied trombone under Frank Tirro and Dean Hay; attended University of Illinois, Macalester College, and California Institute of the Arts.
Jazz, funk, and jazz-rock fusion trombonist. Gigged in funk bands in Minnesota and California; moved to New York City; sat in with Charles Mingus, 1972; played in Tommy Dorsey’s band and Hidden Strength; played in Surrealistic Ensemble, mid-1970s; replaced George Lewis and played in Anthony Braxton Quartet, beginning in 1977; performed with Roscoe Mitchell-Leo Smith Orchestra at Moers Festival, 1979; free-lance trombomist, 1977—; toured Europe, 1980; led funk band the Slickaphonics with Mark Helias, c. 1980—. Debuted as a leader on album Harrisburg Half Life, Moers Music, 1980; recorded with major jazz performers, including John Scofield, Henry Threadgill, Bennie Wallace, Gerry Hemingway, Mark Helias, Anthony Braxton, George Russell, Tim Berne, Bobby Previte, and Barbara Dennerlein.
Awards: Named premier trombonist most deserving of wider recognition, 1981, and top trombonist, several years, in Down Beat magazine’s critics polls.
Addresses: Record company —Gramavision, 260 West Broadway, Suite 2D, New York, NY 10013.
in California and Europe with only a sax and a knapsack the next year, but returned to attend Macalester College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After a year at Macalester, where he played funk and fusion, Anderson went back to California to educate himself at the California Institute of the Arts with such jazz masters as saxophonist Keshavan Maslak, drummer Charles Moffett, and percussionist Stanley Crouch.
In 1972 Anderson moved to New York City, where he sat in on trombone with Charles Mingus. His first paycheck was meager in the Tommy Dorsey band, but he gained experience in the funk band Hidden Strength and Maslak’s Surrealistic Ensemble. He also encountered the Yale contingent of jazz musicians, including Gerry Hemingway, Mark Helias, Anthony Davis, Allan Jaffe and Lewis, with whom he would later record. But the turning point in Anderson’s career came in 1977 when he was called to replace George Lewis in the Anthony Braxton quartet, only a month after he began rehearsals with Barry Altschul.
Performing with Altschul and Braxton led to appearances at prestigious events, including the 1979 Moers Festival with the Roscoe Mitchell-Leo Smith orchestra, but Anderson still had to free-lance to support himself and purchase treatment for his diabetes. Around 1980 he toured Europe as a leader and formed the Slickaphonics with Mark Helias. Anderson has racked up an impressive oeuvre as a sideman working with such jazz impresarios as John Scofield and Bennie Wallace, but his career as a leader is tantamount.
Named premier trombonist deserving of wider recognition by Down Beat magazine’s 1981 critics poll, Anderson followed the innovative wave of improvisation and funk that had begun in the 1960s. The trombone was no longer a prop of bebop background music; Shoemaker cited Anderson as being at “the vanguard of the baby-boom generation of American improvising musicians.” His first album as a leader, Harrisburg Half Life, merited four stars in Down Beat, and as his recording increased through the 1980s, so did his favor with reviewers. Critics in Down Beat voted him top trombonist for several years straight, beginning in 1987.
“Blessed with astounding technical skills,” wrote Frank-John Hadley in Down Beat in 1989, describing Anderson’s performance on his album Blues Bred in the Bone, “he works the slide and manages the embouchure with keenness and authority, giving sonic shape to music ideas that most often carry the element of eccentric surprise.… [Anderson and the album] bring to mind an apposite, timeless proverb by [British writer] John Ruskin: ‘Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.’” A year later, Down Beat contributor Stephanie Stein faulted Anderson for having “too many ideas,” which resulted in “overly long solos” on his fifth album as a leader, What Because. But the reviewer noted that “on the whole, the album’s tremendous vitality keeps drawing the listener in Anderson’s steady flow of surprises irresistible.”
Also in 1989, Francis Davis pointed out in Connoisseur that Anderson’s versatility may have hurt him in terms of audience recognition, but rendered him a critic’s delight. The album What Because, for example, demonstrated the extent of overtones and chords that Anderson’s circular breathing technique, plungers, and mutes produced on an instrument thought to be incapable of attaining such a range. Critics have found that with each new release, Anderson only gets better. Labeling Wishbone “his best album to date” in 1991, Woodard wrote that Anderson “has crafted music bristling with humor, respect for the mainstream jazz tradition, and effortless technical command.”
“Specifically, I know that humor comes out in my music,” conjectured Anderson, as quoted by Jeff Levenson in Down Beat. The musician also pointed out that the significance of humor in his work goes beyond the obvious farcical powers of the trombone. “I think humor is divine. I think human beings really learn something and are most true to a spiritual thing when they laugh, as opposed to when they get serious.” An extraordinary trombonist, Anderson continues to ascribe to the window theory of jazz, which states that through play comes self-revelation. To imitate the great clowns, whose humor went beyond slapstick to uncover various ’ aspects of the human condition, is his goal. “Ultimately,” Anderson disclosed to Levenson, “in order to play music successfully you have to learn to be alive successfully. That’s the key to the whole thing.”
Harrisburg Half Life, Moers Music, 1980.
Right Down Your Alley, Soul Note, 1984.
Old Bottles-New Wine, Enja, 1985.
It Just So Happens, Enja.
Blues Bred in the Bone, Gramavision, 1990.
What Because, Gramavision, 1990.
Wishbone, Gramavision, 1991.
(With the Slickaphonics) Slickaphonics Live, Teldec.
(With Anthony Braxton) Performance, Hat Art.
(With Anthony Braxton) Composition, Hat Art.
(With Barbara Dennerlein) Straight Ahead!, Enja.
Connoisseur, August 1990.
Down Beat, July 1982; October 1986; April 1989; August 1989; May 1990; June 1990; November 1990.
Entertainment Weekly, June 7, 1991.
Newsweek, April 29, 1991.
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