The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
What images do the nightclub name The Velvet Lounge spark in your brain?
A luxurious venue full of glamorous waitresses and the softest of chairs? Plush surroundings in a dimly lit US playboy nest swimming with cocktails and dressed up dandies?
Not true at all if it was Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge in Chicago's South Side. Squeezed between two shuttered storefronts strewn with debris, tiny, spartan and full of free jazz, this was a true liberated zone of new music.
Frequently throbbing with the enormous sound of Anderson's tenor saxophone urging his listeners to move further and further out with his golden improvising horn - and for years targeted by police because of its strong and proud black profile - the Lounge was, as the prime soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy described it, a temple of jazz discovery.
Born in Monroe, Louisiana, in 1929, Anderson was a migrant to the Windy City like thousands of other jazz-loving and jazz-playing southerners.
A founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in the early '60s, he was as much influenced by Ornette Coleman's sounds blowing from the west coast as he was by his avant garde Chicagoan comrades of music.
He stayed fast in his adopted city and was rarely recorded until the final two decades of his life before his death in 2010.
Anderson worked as a barman in the Velvet Lounge before he became its propietor in 1981, and gave Chicago's free music an established home and nursery.
He became a griot of the saxophone, his sound embedded with the narratives of all the great horns of his lifespan from Lester Young to John Coltrane.
As he put it, "I've got all these melodies in my head that I just kind of put together. The story keeps going on and on. I got that from listening to Lester, who was one of the greatest storytellers."
The opening years of this present millennium at last gave Anderson the opportunity to record profusely from his home ground on the Chicago-based Delmark label.
The album On The Run, cut in 2000, put Anderson alongside his close drum confrere of 25 years and another arrivant from Louisiana, Hamid Drake, of whom Anderson said: "We've gotten to the point in our playing where the other person is going on a subconscious level. We could probably play together in our sleep."
The Japanese-American and founder of the Chicago Asian-American Jazz Festival, Tatsu Aoki, is the bassist.
The Lounge had a throbbing groove that night. Anderson hurls his horn into the title track with Drake's brimming skins and Aoki's subtle yet booming undertow.
Smooth Velvet has a more echoing sound, with Aoki's shaking hearbeat especially prominent and Anderson, slow and ruminative, every note a discovery.
But as he erupts in the heart of the performance, creating an instinctive empathy with his confreres, the listener's ears reach bursting point.
A dark bass rumbling begins Tatsu's Groove and Anderson's early riffs become rhapsodies as his inventive genius ignites and burns, on and on.
The album's closer, Hamid's On Fire is exactly that, with Drake in perfect percussive musicianship, yet wild, free and brilliant, Aoki stirring a subterranean storm and Anderson's roaring lyricism in shuddering fettle.
In 2002, Delmark and Anderson were Back At The Velvet Lounge with Aoki and Chicago stalwart Harrison Bankhead sharing bass duties, guitarist Jeff Parker, drummer Chad Taylor and the tempestuous 22-year-old trumpeter Maurice Brown, 52 years Anderson's junior at the time.
Fred sounds lithely agile, even acrobatic, on the opener Fougeux, and Brown unleashes his notes with a rare and rapid power.
Olivia is a ballad, and Anderson begins it with a long and lyrical cappella appeal, but the crux of the album is Job Market Blues, as relevant to British listeners as it is to Chicagoans, with Parker's edgy guitar sounds full of indignation and Anderson's deep, deep phrases radiating anger too - profound urban anger.
Anderson is back with Drake and Bankhead on the Timeless trio album of 2005. Seventy-eight years behind him and still blowing with huge energy and conviction, Anderson finds musical union with his two lifelong comrades and plays like a a real and beautiful dream.
Ode To Tip remembers his old boss at the Lounge and radiates a common human connection in a powerful jazz message, while Flashback holds a compendium of jazz history.
Sometimes you hear snatches of Coltrane in Anderson's narrative, other times it is Rollins, Hawkins and his beloved Lester Young. All present, all breathing life in Anderson's enormous kaleidoscopic cry and the soundscapes of Drake and Bankhead too in a great life-driven story of jazz.
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