Monday, November 19, 2007

November 4, 2007 TJ Anderson on Composing
I was thrilled to have the renowed composer, TJ Anderson, back in the WCOM studio with me. A year ago he helped me celebrate the life and works of Dizzy Gillespie. This time we celebrated the compositions of TJ himself. I already knew he was an incredibly talented and acclaimed composer but I quickly came to realize what a diverse musician he is. In his lifetime, starting at a young, tender age, TJ gained a proficiency on the trumpet, violin, piano, double bass, baritone sax, bassoon, and French horn. He first started composing intros and transitions with bands he was playing with in college. His multi-talents were invaluable in his later ability to compose for a full orchestra. His first jazz experience was as a fourteen-year-old, out of Cincinnati, he played one summer for Tate Wilburn. His life and works have covered a passion for many genres of music - but he always maintained an enthusiasm for jazz. He has played with many jazz greats, including in a trio with Jackie McLean.

TJ Anderson has composed for many different types of music. He said when he composes he first has to hear and feel the piece before he can start writing anything down. As Thelonius Monk would say about playing in general, you first have to be able to hear it before you can play it. TJ said that his work ethic involves working around the clock - "You can't sit around and wait for inspiration." When composing, he works out the music on the piano. During the show, we sampled from some of TJ Anderson's compositions, in addition to some pieces by Thelonius Monk.

  • Cantata Singers & Ensemble - we listened to two compositions of TJ's that included Runaway, Runaways and Education Denied/Spiritual Sustain.
  • Symphony Orchestra/Symphony Bank - we played the full Fragments composition, which is a Bach and Thelonius Monk Fantasy. This piece was commissioned by the University of Iowa to celebrate their 100-year anniversary. Here's a link to a YouTube posting of Donal Fox, the pianist, playing a TJ Anderson Concerto.
  • Thelonius Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall - Evidence
  • Thelonius Monk with John Coltrane - Ruby, My Dear
TJ is actively working on several new pieces that he will premiere on his upcoming 80th birthday in Boston. I will provide more details as they become forthcoming.

Renee Price was able to join us in the studio for the show. She was a student at Tufts University in the early 70s when students demanded that African-American educators be hired and added to the faculty. Like many schools during that period, they had done a better job of bringing in a more diverse student body than faculty to teach them. TJ Anderson was hired and became head of the Music Department. Renee and TJ have both now settled into the Chapel Hill community and have reconnected. Renee shares TJ's love for Jazz.

Interestingly enough, TJ and I both have roots back to the same town in Pennsylvania - Coatesville. I've never met anyone else from Coatesville, where my father grew up, in the industrial town, called the Pittsburgh of the East.

I was glad once again to have the time to get to know TJ Anderson better and to share his incredible talents with the WCOM listening audience. He is one of the most acclaimed composers of our time. TJ humbly reflects on what it means to be successful in music - "I'm not sure that success for a musician always means performing with the Boston Symphony … It can also mean passing the torch by teaching in a high school, or conducting a community chorus, or just pursuing the love of music as a hobby. It always comes back to the same thing—making the music."

My radio show can be heard from the WCOM studio in downtown Carrboro, NC. This 100 Watts of Wonder station, found at 103.5 fm in the Carrboro/Chapel Hill vicinity, can also be heard on the internet - thanks to Paul Jones of Ibiblio, which provides us webstreaming. My show is on Sunday nights from 7:00 - 9:00 EST and uniquely features the music of NC jazz musicians. Like tonight - I love most having the musicians in the studio with me sharing their music.

My son, Will Okun, the photographer and teacher on the Westside of Chicago, recently spoke at the UNC-CH Global Studies and Health program about his trip this summer with Nicholas Kristof to Burundi, Rwanda, and E. Congo. During his trip, he blogged and vlogged about his experiences and these were posted on the NY Times website. Kristof is currently on leave from the Times and has asked Will and four others to continue his weekly blog that's posted on the NY Times website. I was glad to have Will and Naomi in town for a visit.

Will's most recent posting, 'Two Words ", was on teen pregnancy.