All’s quiet in Andersonville.
ICONS You didn’t have to know much about jazz to appreciate Fred Anderson.
It helped, of course, to understand the historic significance of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)—the trailblazing South Side artistic collective that Anderson and a handful of other visionaries christened in the mid-1960s. It helped to have at least a tentative grasp of the searing, often chaotic “free jazz” that bellowed and moaned from Anderson’s powerful tenor sax. It helped to recognize how much of an influence and mentor Anderson was for thousands of aspiring young jazz musicians from Chicago and around the world.
But you really didn’t need to know any of those things to truly appreciate Fred Anderson. All you had to do was wander down to Indiana and Cermak on a sleepy weeknight and tuck into Anderson’s unassuming club, the Velvet Lounge. There, you might have paid your $10 cover and exchanged a few pleasantries with Anderson at the door, then settled in and watched this humble legend climb up on stage and continue a journey he’d been on for the past four decades—trying to uncover passion and truth through his horn. You may not have always been able to wrap your head around every sound pouring from his instrument, but there was no questioning the heart and soul from which they were emanating. Here was a man who didn’t know the meaning of the phrase “mailing it in.”
Anderson died this past Thursday, June 24th, after a heart attack, at the age of 81. Large crowds of friends, musicians, and longtime admirers will turn out to pay respects during his memorial service tonight at Leak & Sons Funeral Home at 7838 South Cottage Grove Avenue (the wake is at 5 p.m.; the funeral service starts at 6 p.m.). But perhaps the most fitting tribute—not just for jazz fans, but for music lovers and Chicagoans in general—is a trip down to the Velvet. Because while Fred may no longer be working the door or gracing the stage, his spirit will continue to flow through the little club that was his pride and joy.