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'Warmdaddy' warms up before Feb. 29 Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra concert

Whitworth is sponsoring a concert featuring the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with jazz great Wynton Marsalis on Feb. 29 at the Spokane Opera House. In advance of the concert, Wess "Warmdaddy" Anderson, 39, who has played with Marsalis for 16 years and is lead alto saxophonist in the LCJO, spoke to Whitworth Communications Director Greg Orwig from a tour stop in Chicago.

- You and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra are doing as much as anyone for jazz education. What do you hope to accomplish?

Anderson: I want to educate young musicians and to help them understand the whole history of jazz music and what it means to be a jazz musician. I was raised in New York City and my father was a musician, so I grew up with jazz, as an apprentice. I saw first-hand what happened on the bandstand. A lot of time what happens now is taken directly from a book. What's lacking is the on-the-job training in what it takes to be a professional. So I try to bring that.

- What would it take for jazz to attract the attention of the pop music scene or the producers of the Super Bowl halftime show?

Anderson: Jazz is more about the art scene. Jazz isn't in the age bracket that appeals to the pop scene. You won't see jazz in the mass media, because it takes a lot of time to take it in and appreciate it. Unless you're in it, interacting with it and playing it, you can't get below the surface of the music. The thing about jazz is that you're always improvising and interpreting it. It's not about meeting someone else's expectations of the music.

- Whitworth's jazz ensemble has performed all over the Western United States as well as in Cuba and Europe. It seems that jazz is still appreciated more overseas than it is right here in the U.S. Why?

Anderson: People in Europe and overseas appreciate all of the arts more than in the U.S. At the same time, people in Europe appreciate all American culture, and jazz is a part of that. Early on, a lot of jazz musicians went to Europe because they were valued more as human beings. But a lot of musicians today still have the mindset that they'll be appreciated more overseas.

- What role can/should the arts play in making connections across political and cultural boundaries?

Anderson: People in other countries appreciate the true feeling of being an American which is about freedom. And jazz is about freedom of expression and improvisation. I've played [the music of] Charlie Parker with musicians in Moscow, Russia. We don't say a word, but we communicate all night long. Music is the common language.

- You've played with Wynton Marsalis for 16 years. What makes him stand out as a musician and as someone who has transcended music?

Anderson: When I first saw him I was in college and I could tell right away that he believed in music and had integrity regardless of what the jazz scene or music scene had to say about him. But not only is he a musician who knows the music; the man is very intelligent. So he is able to communicate about the music in a ways that not every musician can.

- It's been nearly eight years since your last studio album. Do you have any recording projects in the works?

Anderson: Jazz seems to go through trends of one instrument at a time, and right now, because of Norah Jones, everyone's looking for jazz voices. So, that makes it hard right now for instrumental jazz musicians, but I'm working on a record deal in Japan. There are a lot of jazz musicians who are popular overseas because that's where they can get recorded. It's sad, because jazz was born here but jazz musicians can't make a living here.

- Where did you get the nickname "Warmdaddy"?

Anderson: Our drummer, Herlin Riley, who I've played with for 16 years, gave it to me. I got it because I enjoyed interacting with people after the concerts, and Herlin commented how warm I was. I think if people love your music, you have to embrace them.

For more information about the Feb. 29 Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra concert at the Spokane Opera House, visit the Spokane Symphony website at: www.spokanesymphony.org/ind.php?page=showevent&id=123&id_series=13

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