Jazz mentor and saxophonist dies

By Caryn Rousseau

Fred Anderson, a tenor saxophonist known for having a smooth, velvety playing style and a Chicago club that was considered one of the cradles of contemporary jazz, has died. He was 81.

His sons, Eugene and Michael Anderson, said their father died Thursday, but they declined to provide additional details.

Anderson, a native of Louisiana, performed in relative obscurity for years, saying he was determined to stay in Chicago and help foster cutting-edge jazz instead of going to New York or elsewhere. He took odd jobs until he opened the Velvet Lounge in 1982, naming it after someone's praise for his playing style.

"The idea was to keep young musicians going ... (so) they could develop their music here before taking it out to the world," Anderson told The Associated Press in 2006. "Those who come through here learn how to listen and how to play with each other - which is very difficult. That's how jazz has developed from the beginning."

He kept the club going almost single-handedly for decades as owner, sometimes bartender and resident mentor. At times, Anderson did everything from collecting the US$10 ($14.20) cover charge to jamming on stage to taking out the garbage.

In deference to his influence, some artists have gone so far as to refer to the club as Fred Anderson University.

Dozens of acclaimed albums have been recorded at the club, including 2005's "Blue Winter," featuring Anderson, drummer Hamid Drake and bassist William Parker. Performers typically made a modest amount of money compared with what other clubs paid.

But Anderson never considered money the point. Instead, he believed the goal was to give aspiring musicians a place to hone their skills and to experiment playing harder-edged, freewheeling jazz that posh, more commercially minded jazz clubs tended to shun.

Anderson rose to prominence in the 1990s, when music companies began to release recordings of his work to favorable reviews and he became a regular on the jazz-festival circuit in the United States and Europe.

In 2006, Anderson described what he called the most difficult task of his life: moving the club to a new location and watching as crews bulldozed the much-beloved venue to make way for a housing complex.

Velvet Lounge devotees helped raise money to help Anderson move the club half a mile away.

Forty years ago, Anderson joined other black artists in founding the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a groundbreaking group dedicated to reviving a faltering 1960s jazz scene in Chicago.

- AP

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