As a teenager in pursuit of the avant garde, I took tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson, who died June 24 at age 81, as a hero upon first hearing him in 1966. It was at a Unitarian Church-run coffee house in downtown Evanston near Northwestern U., and attention clearly had to be paid to the long, fierce, unreeling, knotty improvisations Anderson delivered in an ever-more hunkered-down posture as the evening went on.
I was told that Fred stooped that way because he had worked as a carpet-tacker; I imagined he swung a tack hammer like John Henry. He played all over town at clubs I could get into though I was underage, and he always seemed to be playing — with musicians who had a lot of soulful chops but were given to fervid, far-out modal excursions, rather like John Coltrane. Anderson didn’t sound like Trane — his phrases came in knotty nuggets rather than a liquid flow, though keeping his head down as if bucking the breeze he’d huff and puff ’til he blew out resistance, then he’d blow some more.