Chris Anderson is the founder and driving force behind the “Jazz Record Art Collective”, held at the Fulton Street Collective, which offers musicians the platform to re-create a classic jazz recording and educate the audience on its influential importance to the artist and the music. We thought we would catch up with Anderson and talk about his background,
Chris Anderson - Photo by Harvey Tillis
how he started the Jazz Record Collective and what he has coming up in the next few months.
1 Tell us about where you grew up, where you a musician, was there music in your house?
Most of my adolescence was spent in Albuquerque, NM. There was a push for both the arts and athletics in our family. My bothers and I all played a multitude of sports. My brother Scott also played guitar and I learned piano at a very young age, but unfortunately did not have the discipline to stay with it when I got to theory.
I really wanted to play the drums but my parents weren’t too keen on getting me a kit since I gave up piano, so I started constructing a makeshift set with my textbooks in the 7th grade and would practice on those.
It wasn’t until my parents saw Mel Torme perform live that they decided drums were acceptable, and we started in on lessons. I still remember when they came home from the show and told me they were getting me a drum set. I was ecstatic.
2 Did you play in bands during high school?
I mostly played in rock bands in high school and actually was the lead singer in one group if you can believe that. Senior year I was part of an all percussion crew who performed often and that propelled me into discovering an abundance of different directions I could go with drumming. I took a couple of workshops with Glen Velez and that really opened me up to Jazz.
3 What did you do after high school?
I went to college in upstate NY where I was kind of all over the place as a student; sports, music, working in clubs. I really didn’t become focused on studies until my junior year.
A few years after college is when I realized I wanted to work in music. Moving to Chicago and being part of the “rock scene” in the 90s was invigorating. Watching it kind of fall apart in the 2000s and witnessing club after club fall victim to the ESPN Nation Takeover was depressing to say the least. However, I do feel it’s come back and believe Chicago’s music scene is the healthiest it’s been in a long time.
4 You worked at the Green Mill and eventually became manager. How you end up first working at the Mill?
I used to book and manage a short-lived music club in Evanston called Nevin’s Live but I had an apartment in Uptown. A lot of times touring bands would stay at my place and I would take them to the Mill after closing. Over time I got to know the staff pretty well. When the music side of Nevin’s ended, Jason Cole, who still manages there, pulled me aside and asked if I want to manage at the Mill. A few weeks later I met the owner and I started managing Mondays and learning the ropes with Patty Barber. A few months later it expanded to weekends and then I was on three, sometimes four nights a week.
5 Now that you are the curator of the Fulton Street Collective and the Jazz Record Art Collective you must have been influenced by the performances at the Green Mill over the years. What are a few memorable performances that you remember at the Green Mill that might have shaped your concept for the programming you present now?
Well managing Mill for almost 12 years and being there every Friday and Saturday night during that time allowed me the opportunity to see a throng of performances. One of the things I took from it was seeing certain young artists for the first time and watching them really grow into heavy hitting cats in the Jazz world. I remember the first time I saw Marquis Hill. Not only was I captivated by his performance but also his mannerisms and the way he presented himself. I couldn't believe he was only 25 years old. He had this aura about him like he was an experienced and seasoned vet. So it's been really exciting watching him grow and develop into the artist he is now.
Late night on Saturdays was always what I looked forward to. When Sabertooth hit, you kind of knew everything was going to be all right. It was a joy working with the band and being a part of something that is kind of embedded in Jazz history. It was also great when they would bring in guest artists who just played the Jazz Showcase or Andy’s or even the Auditorium or Chicago Theaters.
6 As I mentioned you are the curator of the Fulton Street Collective and the Jazz Record Art Collective. Tell us how you ended up putting together the series, the concept behind it and why at the Fulton Street Collective?
The owner of Fulton Street Collective (FSC), Joe Lanasa, was in need of an operations manager and we met in spring of 2013. At the time I had a pretty full plate and could not commit but told him I had in idea for a Jazz series. Initially, I knew I wanted bands to perform Jazz records from beginning to end but was unsure of the format. I also knew I wanted to host the shows in a unique environment where there were far less distractions than a club. Adding the visual art element really broadened out the scope, not like reinventing the wheel, but I felt it made for more of an engaging atmosphere and also gave visual artists an opportunity to showcase their work.
The first show was in September of 2013, Neal Alger quartet performed Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. And it was a night of breakdown after breakdown. There was an absolute monsoon that night. The power went out. The band arrived and they were drenched. It was as if they just climbed out of swimming in a pool. And they just walked into the gallery with their instruments and set up and began to play.
Come show time there were four band members and five people in the audience…so I guess I met my quota. I walked away from that night disappointed in some aspects but more energized to keep building it up.
It really wasn't until Dave Rempis performed Jackie McLean's Action where the concept really started to come together. Dave who is extremely astute in McLean’s career spoke to the audience in-between songs with such knowledge and vivacity about McLean and about the album; it was in many ways, as engaging as the performance. He was talking sometimes over five minutes but never getting long winded or monotonous and the audience was right there with him the whole time. It was then that I realized that the series was evolving into an experience of truly learning about the record. If you are an audience member and you're coming to a Jazz Record Art Collective, you are there to take a 75-minute class in the performed record. It’s an opportunity for a musician not only to perform a record they admire - a record that changed their perspective, it also provides a forum for a musician to share and present why this record is important to them.
7 For the Jazz Record Art Collective why did you decide to have a group pick a specific classic recording to perform and how do you decide on the recordings with the groups?
I never tell a musician what album to perform. I leave it completely up to them. There have been times when albums have been thrown at me where I say to myself “who the heck was this and how did you pick this one?”
On the flip side of that, giving a musician the freedom to pick and choose an album to perform can really open a door to see the thought process not only of why they picked it but what was going on in this musician’s life when it was recorded. What was going on in New York City at the time? What was going on in Chicago or LA? So recreating an album isn’t just playing notes from a page. What JRAC has hopefully provided is a forum for musicians to teach a little bit of history to an audience.
8 What was the initial reaction by the musicians when you first approached them with this concept of re-creating a classic recording?
I think for the most part the initial reaction from many musicians was excitement. Maybe it put a bug in their ear to dig deep into their own library of influential recordings and say I want to share this one or breath some life back into this one.
9 It seems like you are expanding the performance schedule from just once or twice a month to almost every week. There is also two different series happening it seems. The Jazz Record Art Collective and then the Fulton Street Jazz Series. How regularly are the performances happening and why split the performances into two different series?
JRAC was originally designed to be a monthly series. Once a month the band would perform a record live. Then it just kind of started to grow tentacles and more and more musicians wanted to be a part of it. I’m excited to provide a platform for musicians to work. As far as bringing in other Jazz performances, it really is just again offering an opportunity for Jazz bands to express themselves.
FSC promotes and invites audience members to truly listen to the performers and engage with them on a different level. Every three or four months the Jazz Institute will sponsor a night where their members have a Q&A session with the band before they hit the stage. A lot of times the band will hang with the visual artist after the show and exchange ideas or prospects on upcoming shows around town.
Some people say, “Jazz is dead.” It’s not. Maybe we need a new way for people to experience and understand Jazz. Sometimes you have to put your hands in the soil to see what can grow out of it.
10 What do you have coming up in the next couple of months at the Fulton Street Collective?
JRAC will be celebrating its 5th anniversary come September so we have a ton of shows in the wheelhouse: two Miles Davis’ records are on tap, Greg Ward will be reprising Live Evil and we are teaming up with WDCB for Chad McCullough performing My Kind of Blue. Dee Alexander is performing a Nina Simone record and Luke Malewicz and his crew are taking on Count Basie’s Atomic. Then we have some unusual picks with Stephen Lynard performing a Milt Jackson & Monty Alexander record and Rob Clearfield doing Excavation from Ben Monder.
In August Dana Hall is taking the entire month. Over the course of five Wednesdays, Dana will be performing five different records leading five different crews. There are only a handful of musicians in the city I would let to do that. He approached me with the idea back in January, and it took some moving things around for it to come to the surface. That's something I'm really looking forward to because he's one of the more captivating bandleaders who fully studies up on what he's performing. Dana also does an exceptional job sharing his thoughts and knowledge with the audience.
We are devoting the month of October to Sonny Rollins, a different Rollins record each week. So far, Chris Greene, Chris Madsen and Pat Mallinger are on board.