Chuck Anderson Tells All to ‘Just Jazz Guitar’

Following is an excerpt of an interview with jazz guitarist Chuck Anderson, which appears in the current (August 2009) issue of Just Jazz Guitar.

Legendary jazz guitarists Chuck Anderson and Pat Martino. Pat came out to hear Chuck's Feb. 2009 concert at Chris' Jazz Cafe in Philly.

Legendary jazz guitarists Chuck Anderson and Pat Martino. Pat came out to hear Chuck's Feb. 2009 concert at Chris' Jazz Cafe in Philly.

Tell me about your background – personal and musical.

I was born in Chicago on June 21st, 1947. Most of my early years were spent in sports – basketball and baseball. I had no interest in music. At the age of twelve, my family moved to the Philadelphia suburb of Radnor in Pennsylvania. I attended grade school in Wayne and then, high school in Devon, Pennsylvania. After high school, I enrolled in St. Joseph’s University where I completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing.

When did you take up the guitar and why?

My involvement with the guitar was completely accidental. One summer holiday, when I was fourteen, my family was attending a neighborhood picnic. The neighbor was an amateur but enthusiastic guitar player. He had just purchased a new guitar – a Goya, as I recall. He was alternately strumming the guitar and cooking on the grill. I wandered over to get a hamburger. He took my proximity to indicate an interest in the guitar. In reality, I was only interested in a hamburger. He asked me if I liked the guitar. I shrugged indifferently and said “not really.” Undeterred, he said “I’ll go get my old guitar in the attic andyou can take it home and try it.” I declined but he insisted. My mother heard this conversation and impressed upon me that it would be rude to not accept such a generous gift. I reluctantly took the guitar home and stored it under my bed.

One day, I had turned my ankle playing basketball and had to rest the foot. Having nothing to do, I pulled the guitar out from under the bed and slowly played a chord from a sheet of chord diagrams that was in the guitar case. Once I heard the Em chord, my life turned in the direction of music.

Did you study or are you self taught?

I began taking lessons at a local music store at the age of fourteen. I progressed rapidly and was “promoted” to my next teacher. Dennis Sandole was, at that time, one of the best known jazz teachers in the country. I auditioned for him but wasn’t ready to study with him. He suggested that I get in touch with one of his students by the name of Joe Federico. I worked with Joe for three years preparing for the next stage. Sandole accepted me as a student when I was nineteen. He was to be my final jazz guitar teacher.

I did not study music in college. I did all of my studies with private teachers. In later years, I studied classical composition and orchestration with Dr. Harold Boatrite, a noted Philadelphia composer and teacher.

Who was your main influence?

My two main influences were Wes Montgomery and Johnny Smith.

I know you played at the Latin Casino in NJ. Tell me about those days.

I first got the call in the summer after I graduated college. One of the acts coming to the Latin needed a guitar player but the Latin’s staff guitar player had taken an engagement in Vegas and was unavailable. Apparently no one was available that week. My name was the bottom name on the list of guitar players that the contractor kept. I was totally unknown but they had no choice but to call me. Somehow, I managed to get through my first shows and the act spoke well of me. Amazingly, I was standing in the contractor’s office when the phone rang. It was the Latin’s guitar player, Joe Lano calling from Vegas. He said “I’m not coming back to the Latin. They’ve offered me a job at one of the casinos here in Vegas.” The contractor turned to me and said “do you want the job here?” It took two seconds to say yes!

I played at the Latin for the next four years. Fourteen shows a week and rehearsal on Monday afternoons. I had the opportunity to work with amazing acts such as Peggy Lee, Michel LeGrande, Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Eckstine, Anthony Newley and Nancy Wilson among many others.

I have many memories of the Latin – enough to fill a small book. I have told the Latin Casino story on YouTube and have had some great responses. I’ve heard from waiters who worked there and Jack Curtis’ grandson. Jack was the Master of Ceremonies for the Latin.

Tell me about the trio you formed in the 1970s.

After four years of reading, I wanted to stretch out with my own group. I began writing and formed the Chuck Anderson Trio in 1973. The group featured Al Stauffer on bass and Ray Deeley on drums. Jimmy Paxson and Darryl Brown also drummed for the trio. We recorded “Mirror Within a Mirror” in the mid 70′s. This album later became a CD, recently remastered by Alan Tucker called “The Vintage Tracks.” We did jazz concert work and featured originals with new versions of jazz classics.

What’s your current setup in terms of guitar/amp?

I use a custom Gibson L5 guitar with an Acoustic Image Clarus II, Series III amp and two Raezer’s Edge Stealth 12 cabinets.

What’s the story behind the theft of your Gibson L5 and your not  playing for a long time?

My original Gibson L5 was stolen after a concert. The loss was so devastating to me that I couldn’t play concerts for a very long time. One of America’s greatest luthiers, Eric Schulte, offered to customize an L5 for me if I would agree to go back and give concerts again. I agreed and he produced the customized green L5 that I play today. Jack Romano also worked on the final version of the instrument. [During that time] I never stopped teaching. It’s not unusual for me to teach sixteen hours in a day.

How do you approach teaching jazz?

My approach to teaching jazz is holistic. I break the material down into musical and mechanical technique, chord voicings, voice leading, comping, fingering principles, rhythm, melody and chords, improvisation, theory, ear training and repertoire. I stress the development of the unique personality of each student. I never focus on my own style as a player. I play very rarely during a lesson, preferring to maximize the student’s time on his or her own development. The methods I use are my own.

What’s in the future in terms of recordings, books and performances?

I am getting ready to record a new CD called “From the Heart” featuring my trio and twelve new compositions. The DVD called “The Chuck Anderson Trio – Live!” will be released soon.

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