* Willie Anderson * Detroit’s forgotten Piano Wizard

By Jim Gallert with Lars Bjorn

Willie Anderson had Fats Waller sized hands. He had many chances to leave Detroit and become nationally known, but he preferred staying home.

When Detroit pianists are discussed, Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Roland Hanna, and Hank Jones are always mentioned.[1] If the participants are in-the-know, the names of Terry Pollard, Harold McKinney, and Kenn Cox could pop up.[2] Willie Anderson (1924-1971) seldom is included. For thirty years preceding his death at age 47 in 1971, Willie Anderson (“Willie A”) impressed critics, musicians, and fans with his immense talent. He was one of Detroit’s finest pianists, the creative equal of Flanagan, Harris, et.al. Despite job offers from Billy Eckstine, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, and Coleman Hawkins, Anderson refused to leave Detroit. This is a biography of Willie A.


Willie Eugene Anderson was born on March 3, 1924, in Warrenton, Georgia. He was the eldest surviving child of Glen Eugene and Ethyl (Turman) Anderson. Ethyl was a remarkable woman, the driving force in their family. Glen, a carpenter by trade, held various jobs including night watchman for a printing company. He was a quiet, low-key individual who impressed Ethel with his inner strength and calmness. He played gospel melodies on his guitar and sometimes played them in church. Both parents encouraged their children to play an instrument or sing.

Anderson’s father, Glen, playing his guitar. Other person not identified.

The Anderson family moved to Detroit a few months after Willie’s birth.
They lived in several dwellings before settling in at 963 Brewster, a four-family flat located near the Brewster Projects. They relocated to a two-family flat at 2130-2134 Bellevue (about two miles east) in 1951 after being forced out of their home as part of the Detroit Plan.[3] Both addresses were located on Detroit’s near-east side, near Paradise Valley, center of gravity for Detroit’s African American population.[4]

Map of Detroit showing Paradise Valley. The Chrysler Freeway now occupies a large strip of Paradise Valley.

Anderson’s brother Glen played guitar and most of the children had modest musical talent but Willie was the standout. “He could play any instrument,” his sister Mary said. “He started on my father’s guitar but he could play anything he heard on the piano.”[5] His brother, Glen, Jr. recalled Willie playing the melody to My Blue Heaven on piano at age three.[6] Anderson never had formal training – with his quick ear and prodigious technique, he didn’t need it.
Anderson also enjoyed playing sports (he was a gifted athlete), practicing the piano and going to church. Anderson was a gifted athlete. “He got a lot of awards—he was very athletic, running and track,” says Mary. The Anderson’s were devoted churchgoers and participated in services, but Willie gradually lost interest, as his sister Gwen recalled.
“We was in church all the time. Beulah Baptist. And I would sing and Willie would play. And one time we had a minister at church. And he made his little speech, wanted to know if everybody was baptized and all, and Willie wasn’t. He never had joined the church. And this minister said, ‘well I don’t think he should be playin’’ the music if he’s not baptized.’ And he asked Willie why he wasn’t, and Willie said it was because he was playing music in bars, and he would be a hypocrite. And he didn’t want to do that. It (the incident) made him feel so bad that he just kinda weaned away from the church.”[7]

Ethyl Anderson

Anderson, like his father, was a low-key, unassuming guy. “He was very quiet,” says Mary. “Very soft spoken, talked very low. He was always neat from top to bottom. He had his clothes tailormade. And he’d help anybody who asked him.” Anderson was a slender man of above average height (5’11’’) who used words sparingly but whose music spoke volumes. He had large hands with long fingers, perfect pitch, and a highly developed sense of musical form. Bassist Paul Foster, Anderson’s longtime rhythm section partner, offered this description of his friend.

“He was very much an introvert except when he played. That took care of everything. He didn’t have to have anybody. He could play anything and he played by ear. Willie did not read (music)…Willie was very aware of everything around him but he didn’t have much to say. He’d take it all in and then give a two-word answer. He was a very nice person; he had a big heart. Willie was a self-taught musician.”[8]

Anderson’s family gave him emotional support and structure. Anderson was a shy man who had difficulty coping with the acclaim that his great talent brought him. Family was more important than education—Willie’s mom didn’t object when one of Willie’s sisters dropped out of high school— because it was less time spent ‘on the street’ and out of her control. The Anderson family home was a focal point for neighborhood socializing. Everyone was welcomed. Willie’s musician friends would drop by day or night, according to his sister Esther.

“When we were growing up, musicians would come to the house. And they would be playin’. The house would be full of people. We went to sleep with music and we woke up with music.I had the kind of mother that welcomed everybody. Milt Jackson used to come over because he loved navy beans, he loved beans. And my mother cooked beans. Yusef Lateef [then known as Bill Evans] liked hamburgers. Everything we had, we shared.”[9]
Except for a year when he moved in with his then current girlfriend, Willie A lived his entire life with his family. He fathered two children by two women but never married.
The Anderson’s were very much a down-home family, and carried with them the folksiness and warmth often found in the south. “Everyone called my mother Mama A,” recalled his sister Esther. “Willie didn’t want to leave her. People called him ‘mama’s boy’, said he was tied to her apron strings. He didn’t care.”[10] Anderson attended Miller High School, located less than a mile from his house.

Miller had a heavy concentration of gifted students in the late 1930s, including Art Mardigan (Mardigian), Yusef Lateef, Lucky Thompson, Milt and Alvin Jackson (AJ). Some of the students formed a band, as Alvin remembered.
“In high school…me and my bro worked together with (saxophonist) Lucky Thompson, (drummer) Art Mardigan, (pianist) George Sirhagen, (saxophonist) Marion DiVeta. In those days they had swinging clubs for teenagers and just served ice cream, sodas, and we worked all kinds of spots for kids like that…[11]

Miller High School students, c1939, ?Miller High School, Detroit. Performing for a younger audience after school. Art Mardigan-dms, Alvin Jackson-bs, Willie Anderson-p, Lucky Thompson-ts, ?-vcl, Milt Jackson-vbs


He dropped out of Miller during his senior year; it was obvious music was his life and would be his profession. His income would help support their family. Anderson’s sole day job was a brief spell in a radio repair shop after school. Anderson was generally well liked but was once roughed up by some local teens one day after school. When they discovered Anderson’s identity, the youths went to his house the next day and apologized to Mrs. Anderson.


WILLE A TAKES OFF
Anderson began playing professionally while in his mid-teens. On his AFM Local 5 application form Anderson cited a job at the Three Star bar, 2840 Hastings, in 1941, when he was about seventeen, as his first professional engagement.[12] An article written during the late 1940s states Anderson “made his first professional appearance at the age of fifteen, with the George Washington instrumental quartet.”[13]
Anderson claimed proficiency on Piano, bass, euphonium, tuba, drums and trumpet.[14] Gwen recalled, “Any instrument you brought to him, he could play. I remember one time Willie went on a gig, and they was supposed to have a piano there and they didn’t have the piano. He had to play the upright bass. And when he came home, his fingers was a bloody mess.”[15]

Anderson and Eddie Safranski face off at a Jam session.

He joined trumpeter King Kolax’s band in 1942 for a “short tour”, one of the few occasions he was away from home.[16] Anderson returned home and was drafted sometime after his eighteenth birthday in 1943. Anderson was stationed at Camp Plauche, Louisiana, in the Special Services group and played in the Colored Post band. John Hammond, known for boosting the careers of many musicians like Charlie Christian and Billie Holiday, was also in the SSG when he heard Anderson play in the Colored post band. Hammond was so impressed that he nominated Anderson for the “All-American Jazz Band” in Esquire’s 1945 Board Of Experts poll.[17] Willie Anderson was discharged in 1944.
Back in Detroit, Anderson’s friends welcomed him to a music scene in full swing.
Milt Jackson, then with saxophonist Ted Buckner’s band at Club Three 666, left later in the year to form a quartet with Anderson, guitarist Emitt Slay and bassist Millard Glover.[18] A local newspaper columnist named the group the Four Sharps.
Jackson sketched the background to the group in an interview with Whitney Balliet.

“I had met Dizzy Gillespie in 1942 and through him I had an opportunity to join Earl Hines band, which he was with. At least there were about to be negotiations to join the band, but I got drafted and ended up in the Special Services in the Air Force. I never went overseas and got out in 1944, and went back to Detroit, where I organized a little group called the Four Sharps. It had guitar, bass, piano and me, and we were sponsored by the Cotton Club.” [19]

Detroit radio host and promoter Bill Randle, host of “Strictly Jive” on WJLB, produced a remarkable series of jazz and political events in 1944-45. They were based at the Detroit Institute of Arts or the Schubert Lafayette Theater when the DIA was unavailable.[20] Randle, who lived in the thick of Detroit’s burgeoning jazz scene, was ecstatic about Anderson. “I mean, I LOVED Willie A! He was the best piano
player in Detroit.”
[21]


Four Sharps, ?Cotton Club, Detroit, c1944. Jackson / Anderson Millard Glover / Emitt Slay

The Four Sharps played various venues around town, including the Civic Center, the Cotton Club, and Club B&C.[22] Jackson’s departure in October 1945 to join Gillespie’s group in New York City effectively finished the band. Randle used the Four Sharps for a number of his concerts. “This group, The Four Sharps, played an important role in the early Detroit modern jazz scene and was the rhythm section basis, with (drummer) Art Mardigan added, for a number of the important jazz concerts…”[23]
Randle, an early admirer of Dizzy Gillespie, brought Diz to Detroit for a concert on March 11, 1945. Gillespie, like most of the jazz world, was unaware of the wealth of talent in the Motor City, and he was apprehensive, as Randle recalled.
“Dizzy was concerned at first about the ability of local jazz men to back him on the date. After fifteen minutes of running down Groovin’ High, Dizzy Atmosphere Shaw Nuff” and others, Diz was ecstatic, particularly about Willie and Milt.”[24]


Anderson also backed Coleman Hawkins at Randle’s May 1945 concert. Hawkins tried to hire Anderson, and he developed a fondness for Detroit pianists. Hawkins later worked and/or recorded with Jones, Flanagan, Hanna, and Harris.

Bill Randle and Rudy Rutherford, onstage in Detroit during ?1946 award ceremony. Rutherford finished sixth in the Clarinet category for Esquire Magazine. He might have won a Downbeat or other Award..



PIANO STAR

By 1946 Anderson attracted regular attention from Detroit’s black press. He was referred to as the “piano find of 1946” or “new star of 1946” and cited as an Esquire or Down Beat poll winner, probably due to John Hammond’s single vote in the 1946 Esquire Critic’s Poll. Willie Anderson never won a national award.[25]

He joined guitarist Emitt Slay’s trio at the newly opened Club Sudan[26], in Paradise Valley, in March 1946. A contemporary report in the Michigan Chronicle paints a picture of the downstairs club. “…there you can usually find note readers like Warren Hickey, Willie Hawkins, Edwin Davis, Jimmy Keyes and others who drop in to do a jam session with the Emitt Slay Trio, currently furnishing the music for dancing at this
popular eating spot…(the) trio played Nat King Cole songs…they also soon will play original compositions like Big Stocking Hanna, Good Love Bessie, and Motor City Uproar.
[27]

Club Sudan, Detroit, 1946. Willie Anderson-pno, Jo Jones-dms. Club Sudan was the third nitery to open in the Norwood Hotel. The lack of a liquor license meant youngsters such as Kenny Burrell could legally enter. Whiskey and Beer came in the back door “by the case,” according to Bill Randle.

Bill Randle had a business affiliation with the owner and broadcast his WJLB-AM “Strictly Jive” shows live from the club, a la New York’s Symphony Sid. “I had jam sessions, we used to broadcast them live for four hours at a time, ” he recalled.[28]
Paul Foster was the third member of the Slay trio, and he remembered: “Emitt sang; he was commercially oriented. Willie hardly talked, let alone sang. Emitt did not drink much, Willie drank too much, and I drank to be gay (happy)…”[29]

Following an altercation at the club one summers night, Slay left the group and Anderson took over.[30] He brought in guitarist Billy Burrell, elder brother of Kenny, to replace Slay. Kenny, then sixteen years old, had many opportunities to sit in with the trio.[31]

“At the Club Sudan there was a very informal atmosphere in the late 40s, even though the trio was hired for the gig, it was really like an open jam session, so I really had a lot of chances to sit in. Willie A had such a distinctive style of his own that (the trio) didn’t sound like Nat Cole at all. Willie A was phenomenal”[32]

Despite claims to the contrary, Anderson never won a national jazz poll.

Strictly Jive concert, May 25, 1945, Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Avenue. Hawk listens intently to Anderson solo. Hawkins admired Detroit pianists.

After the Club Sudan job ended in 1946, Anderson ended up at the Tropical Show Bar on Dexter Avenue. He worked there frequently during 1947-48.

Metronome writer Barry Ulanov visited Detroit in 1946 and mentioned Club Sudan, and Anderson, in his write-up. He returned ten years later and praised Anderson in a Down Beat article. “I had forgotten what a wit Willie is…he’s a Count Basie with 10 fingers, filling in with more notes and ideas than you or I ever thought could be sandwiched in-between the familiar measures of a “Billy Boy” or “Caravan” or anything else…Not streams of meaningless notes, mind you, but delicate little phrases, counter-melodies in miniature, notes that are more like comments if you know what I mean. And Willie’s right hand…has a looseness which only the great concert pianists usually posses or an Art Tatum may have. And with it, always the steady beat, not pounded but insistently propelled by his left hand. Quite a musician.”[33]
Anderson, alone or with his trio, was in demand, and he stayed in demand the rest of his life. He worked with ex-McKinney’s Cotton Pickers vocalist / guitarist Dave Wilborn, his old boss Emitt Slay and future tenor sax star Billy Mitchell, to name just a few. He was sought after for jam sessions as well. His quick ear, good sense of time and creativity were assets in any rhythm section. Nationally known musicians who came to Detroit were usually aware of Anderson via the musician’s grapevine and he got many job offers.

The first of two offers from Billy Eckstine’s manager, dated July 13, 1946. Eckstine’s orchestra was packed with great musicians.

He got firm offers from Benny Goodman and Al Hibbler (who,
when he was in town, stopped by Anderson’s house) as well as the aforementioned offers from Billy Eckstine and Coleman Hawkins. Dizzy Gillespie tried to hire Anderson at least twice—after the 1945 Randle concert, and in the early 1950s. “My brother wouldn’t go with Dizzy that time because he was playing Rock ‘n Roll, and Willie didn’t like Rock ‘n Roll,” Mary says. Anderson’s sentiments toward Rock
‘n Roll aside, it’s doubtful he would have accepted any offer that required extended stays outside the city. Everything he wanted from life was in Detroit. Willie Anderson was a Midwestern Peck Kelly.[34]

“Pianists like Willie Anderson and Bu Bu Turner put the fear of God into you, especially if you were just starting out. They were amazing musicians.”

Pianist Charles Boles

WILLIE A THE TEACHER

Anderson’s playing set a high standard for aspiring musicians, especially pianists. Pianist Charles Boles (b. 1932) put it this way. “Pianists like Willie Anderson and Bu Bu Turner put the fear of God into you, especially if you were just starting out. They were amazing musicians.”[35]
Anderson always encouraged younger musicians. He exemplified “the Detroit way” – older musicians helping younger musicians. He taught many a beginner how to navigate the tricky waters of improvisation as the following examples illustrate.
The excellent baritone sax man Thomas H. “Beans” Bowles encountered Anderson at a jam session. Bowles, then in his early twenties, was, by his own admission, a “bad player”. Musicians would leave the bandstand when he approached, but Willie Anderson stayed. “He said, ‘Slim, play B-flat, then E-flat,’ and he took me through 2-3 songs on stage and said, ‘Go home and practice.’ Best thing ever happened to me.”[36]
Pianist Kenn Cox heard Anderson when Kenn was fifteen years old. Kenn was “fascinated with his playing,” and wanted to take lessons from Anderson. “The guys told me to go over to his house and take a bottle of his favorite wine…I spent the afternoon with him. Being a holdover from the swing era, he thought of the left hand a lot differently from the latter-day pianists. He showed me some things about stride piano, a “cheat” guide. He wasn’t quite Tatum-ish, more like Garner. I actually thought of him more like Nat King Cole.”[37]
Twenty-year old saxophonist George Benson worked with “Willie Anderson and his Four Sharps”[38] at the Parrot Lounge in the fall of 1949. Benson credits Anderson with teaching him how play jazz. “That’s how I really learned how to play, listening to him six nights a week…that’s how I learned to improvise. He was one of the greatest piano players in the country…he played better than Tommy (Flanagan)…at that time…Willie A was just a natural.”[39]

RECORDINGS

Detroit had several active record companies in the late 1940s, so it’s not surprising that the Willie Anderson trio was recorded. They cut two titles for Fortune around 1947-48 and four titles for Jamboree, a New York City based label, around the same time.[40] Anderson may have gone to Manhattan to record but the trip was a washout. “(Willie) went to New York City, once, for a week,” says his sister, Bernice. “There was supposed to be something organized over there for him but it didn’t happen.” [41]
The frenetic pace of Manhattan must have been a real shock to a shy person like Willie Anderson. Detroit was, and still is, a big small town that has a down-home quality to it. John Hammond wanted to sponsor a recording date with Anderson, and supposedly left money with someone in Detroit for that purpose, but the session, if it took place was never issued. The six numbers Anderson’s group waxed show how cohesive the group had become from playing together five or six nights each week for two years. Anderson’s trio clearly reflects the influence of Cole’s group. Anderson’s trio was criticized for their overt Cole connection in a Michigan Chronicle review of Randle’s December 1944 concert. The tunes include clever arrangements of novelty numbers, ballads, a blues and bravura performances
of The Man I Love and Just Squeeze Me featuring Anderson. The Man I Love is the best of the bunch; it could have been performances such as this, which inspired Barry Ulanov to praise Anderson. There are echoes of Nat Cole and Erroll Garner but the sound and style are Willie Anderson’s.

Anderson recorded for Fortune and Jamboree with his trio under his own name

He also recorded with a pick-up band led by the obscure drummer Charles Johnson. Johnson’s name doesn’t appear in any articles in the local press and none of the surviving musicians from the 1940s can remember him. We have found listings for Charles Johnson, bassist and tenor saxophonist but not a drummer. He could have been an amateur – underwriting session costs and playing drums on one number.
Future Flame Show Bar bandleader Maurice King arranged both selections. Yusef Lateef and Anderson are featured on both tracks. Pepper Adams is present but doesn’t solo. Jim asked Yusef Lateef about Johnson, but he had no recollection of the person, or the records.

LATER YEARS

Anderson’s preferred presentation was a trio. His later groups used piano-bass-drum format. By 1967 Billy Burrell switched to electric bass on some of their gigs, and Anderson occasionally played electric piano.
Drummer William “Drew” Evans worked with Anderson’s trio in the mid-1960s and recalled the experience. “Willie liked to play Charlie Parker tunes and standards,” he remembered. “His chords were so full it felt like you were playing with a big band. He set the tempo and it never moved, you always knew where he was at.”[42]

Paul Foster played Electric bass on this c1956 gig.
A later Willie Anderson Trio. Not sure who the other musicians are.


ANDERSON’S LACK OF RECORDINGS
It seems amazing that Anderson’s recorded legacy is so paltry, somehow his style seems to have slipped through the cracks in Detroit’s recording industry. Until Motown Records surfaced in 1959, Detroit’s recording industry consisted of small operations with limited distribution. Motown Records recorded several jazz artists during the early 1960s on their Workshop Jazz label, but not surprisingly their focus was on musicians who worked for them, or musicians they wanted to hire.
There were numerous Detroit labels active during the 1960s but they, too, focused on pop with the odd blues or jazz recording. The established jazz record companies of the 1950s recorded many Detroit musicians but they were younger, played Bebop and recorded in Manhattan. It may be that Willie Anderson’s style, though beautifully developed and executed, was considered old fashioned and therefore ignored. Record companies generally don’t stray far from the “latest thing” philosophy.


Anderson’s longtime friend Al Martin brought his bass and his tape recorder to Anderson’s house around 1969. The two musicians had a conversation through their instruments. Martin captured about twenty-five minutes of their music on tape. Willie’s piano is out of tune, perhaps a sad comment about his last years, but his effortless improvisations speak of his greatness. It is on this non-commercial recording that his approach to the piano comes closest to the playing of what is
sometimes called the Detroit piano school, in particular the playing of Tommy Flanagan. Anderson suffered from an unidentified illness that kept him off the scene in the mid 1960s. When veteran jazz deejay and promoter Ed Love sponsored a tribute to Anderson in the late 1960s, Detroit’s jazz community turned out in force. Anderson played and impressed all of the musicians present with his swinging improvisations.
A regular smoker who drank strong spirits or wine everyday, Anderson fell ill the last year of his life. Never one to complain, he put up with the sickness as long as he could before seeking medical attention. His Doctor put him in the hospital immediately but it was too late for Willie A. He succumbed to cancer of the tongue on April 15, 1971, following a week’s stay in the hospital.
When Willie Anderson died Detroit lost one of its greatest musicians, one whose talent remained largely hidden from the outside world during his lifetime. Detroit musicians who heard Anderson, like Tommy Flanagan, never forgot him. Flanagan said Anderson “played with facility like Tatum” and remembered Anderson’s recording of The Man I Love fifty years after he made it.[43]
“He had long, beautiful fingers,” he told Whitney Balliet, “and he was self-taught and could play bass, saxophone, and trumpet. Benny Goodman tried to hire him, but he would never go – maybe he was embarrassed at not being able to read.”[44]

Willie Anderson was a Detroit original. He enriched everyone who listened to his music.


Notes:

  • 1 Harris (b. 1929), Flanagan (b. 1930), Hanna (b. 1932), Jones (b. 1918).
  • 2 McKinney (b. 1929), Bonnier (b. 1931), Pollard (b. 1931), Cox (b. 1940).
  • 3 The Detroit Plan was an urban renewal project to clear the city of slums. American Odyssey, by Robert Conot (Wayne State Press: 1986), p. 402.
  • 4 Paradise Valley was a remarkable community that nurtured black business and cultural assets. For a discussion of Paradise Valley and its clubs, see Lars Bjorn with Jim Gallert, Before Motown: A History Of Jazz In Detroit, 1920 – 1960 (University of Michigan Press: 2001), pp. 37 – 59.
  • 5 Mary Level, interview by Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert, Detroit, Michigan, September 21, 2003.
  • 6 Willie Anderson obituary, uncredited, undated.
  • 7 Gwen Johnson, interview by Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert, Detroit, Michigan, September 21, 2003.
  • 8 Paul Foster, interview by Jim Gallert, Detroit, Michigan, February 10 1991.
  • 9 Esther Thomas, interview by Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert, Detroit, Michigan, September 21, 2003.
  • 10 Esther Thomas, interview by Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert, Detroit, Michigan, September 21, 2003.
  • 11 Alvin Jackson, interview by Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert, Detroit, Michigan, October 10, 1991.
  • 12 Anderson joined American Federation of Musicians Local 5 on April 9, 1945.
  • 13 “Tomorrow’s Stars”, Preston G. Gary, Michigan Chronicle, c. 1948. The article contains very specific information about Anderson’s life that was likely supplied by Willie. George Washington was a Detroit bassist and should not be confused with the trombonist.
  • 14 There are press reports and first hand accounts of Anderson playing bass, on which he was said to be ‘good’.
  • 15 Johnson, interview by Bjorn and Gallert.
  • 16 Kolax’s band played at Club Three 666 in November 1942, and the Graystone Ballroom in March 1943. Anderson could have joined them in November and returned home in March. Chicago pianist Clarence “Sleepy” Anderson (no relation) played with Kolax around 1944. Kolax also played at Camp Plauche in 1944 when Hammond, and presumably Anderson, were there.
  • 17 John Hammond with Irving Townsend, John Hammond on Record (New York: Summit Books 1977), p.256. Hammond called Anderson “a phenomenal young pianist who is also a whiz at valve trombone, guitar, bass and trumpet.” Paul Eduard Miller, ed. Esquire’s 1945 Jazz Book (A.S. Barnes: 1945), p.63-64. Hammond never forgot Willie A; he attended his funeral.
  • 18 Michigan Chronicle, December 22, 1944.
  • 19 Whitney Balliet, American Musicians II: Seventy-two Portraits in Jazz (New York: 1998), p. 314. Randle believes they met for the first time at his 1945 concert. Gillespie was with Hines in 1943; Hines’ orchestra played Detroit four times in 1942 and twice in 1943.
  • 20 Randle’s first event, billed as “Detroit’s First Jazz Concert”, took place on September 30, 1944 and featured Buckner’s Club Three 666 band.
  • 21 Bill Randle, phone interview by Jim Gallert, April 9, 2000.
  • 22 The group’s final notice in the Michigan Chronicle was on May 26, 1945.
  • 23 Bill Randle, liner notes, Ray Charles and Milt Jackson, Soul Brothers, Atlantic Records LP 1279.
  • 24 Ibid. Gillespie offered jobs to both men.
  • 25 Paul E. Miller, ed., Esquire’s 1945 Jazz Book (New York: A.S. Barnes, 1945), p.64. We were unable to find any evidence of Anderson winning an Esquire or Down Beat poll. He did win polls in the local black press.
  • 26 This location, in the basement of the Norwood Hotel at 550 E. Adams, was home to Club Plantation and Club Congo before Club Sudan.
  • 27 Michigan Chronicle, April 6, 1946.
  • 28 Randle, interview by Gallert.
  • 29 Foster, interview by Gallert. Pianist Nat “King” Cole popularized the piano – bass – guitar format in the late 1930s, as did Clarence Profit. His trio spawned similar groups around the country. Cole was also a brilliant pianist whose piano style influenced many pianists, including Willie Anderson.
  • 30 I am uncertain if Club Sudan discharged him or if he left of his own accord. Slay formed another trio that featured pianist Johnny Allen.
  • 31 Club Sudan didn’t have a liquor license so younger customers were allowed, although Bill Randle stated that alcohol “came in the back door”.
  • 32 Kenny Burrell, interview by Jim Gallert, Detroit, Michigan, December 1, 1991.
  • 33 Barry Ulanov column, Down Beat, April 18, 1956.
  • 34 Peck Kelly (1898-1980) was from Houston, Texas. By all accounts, he was a brilliant pianist who was never tempted by any of the numerous offers he received to “join bands” or make records, or travel. He preferred working as a single or with his band, “Peck’s Bad Boys”. There are tapes of his later playing, and they were issued on two LP’s.
  • 35 Charles Boles, conversation with Jim Gallert, Detroit, Michigan, July 2003.
  • 36 Beans Bowles, interview by Lars Bjorn, Detroit, Michigan, June 16, 1998. Bowles (1926 – 2000) later worked with Bill Doggett and was a mainstay of Motown Records.
  • 37 Kenn Cox, interview by Jim Gallert, Ferndale, Michigan, February 29, 2000.
  • 38 Interestingly, Kenny Burrell recorded for JVB in 1957 using the name “Kenny Burrell and his Four Sharps”.
  • 39 George Benson, interview by Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert, Detroit, Michigan, March 17, 1991. Flanagan worked in Benson’s quintet in Toledo, Ohio, in 1951.
  • 40 The Jamboree titles could have been cut locally and leased to the label.
  • 41 Bernice Fluelen, interview by Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert, Detroit, Michigan, September 21, 2003.
  • 42 Drew Evans, phone interview by Jim Gallert, December 14, 2003. Evans, who was friendly with Art Blakey, claims Blakey tried to hire Anderson.
  • 43 Tommy Flanagan, interview by Lars Bjorn, Ann Arbor, Michigan, November 14, 1987.
  • 44 Balliet, American Musicians ll, p. 456-7. Paul Foster, too, said Goodman tried to hire Anderson.

Here are two samples of Willie Anderson’s playing:

The Man I Love – Willie Anderson Trio
A&M Blues, Willie Anderson and Al Martin Private Recording, used with Permission

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