Those who like jazz “don’t just like it, they love it,” say the 27-year-old Anderson twins, Peter and Will, who have been loving and playing this distinctive American art form ever since they were 8—when their parents took them to a jazz big band concert in Maryland.
Keyed up after the event, they knew immediately that this music was for them. They ran into the kitchen with their news: “Mom, we know what we want to do for the rest of our lives.” And when their parents bought them their first jazz CD with Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington, the sounds solidified their choice of instruments: clarinet, and a year later, saxophone. Their maternal grandfather, whom they never got to know, was a “jazz fanatic” and owned thousands of records, so they feel they are keeping up the family tradition.
Though neither of their parents are musicians, and nor is their older sister, everyone’s been “totally supportive.” A heady high school experience exposed the Anderson twins not only to top-notch music mentors but to a rigorous academic program that stressed structure and discipline—which helped them to handle the touring they began at the age of 15. They loved math and science, but loved music more. As such, the twins moved on to Juilliard, where they studied classical and jazz—“intimately related,” they note. Thelonious Monk describes the two as “one,” but in choosing jazz as their primary style, Will and Peter went for “the freedom and individuality that the swing beat allows.” And in focusing on the American Songbook, they welcomed the “challenge of arranging [the songs] in an interesting, obscure and beautiful way.” They also, on occasion, perform their own compositions.
At Juilliard, the Andersons met and played with some of the greats who came to give clinics in the jazz program—among them Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Heath, the Village Vanguard Orchestra and Wycliffe Gordon. They particularly remember studying with Joe Temperley, a baritone sax and bass clarinet pro who was wonderfully inspirational but “never afraid to give criticism” (and who, in his late 80s, is still going strong). Recent headline gigs in the city include some of the best known clubs—Iridium, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Symphony Space and 59E59, where their 2013 appearance, “Le Jazz Hot,” broke the club’s box office records
Don’t try to figure out who’s doing what and when. These immensely talented, Grammy-winning but modest virtuoso youngsters chase one another on alto and tenor sax, and never more so than when they’re joined by colleague Alex Wintz on guitar. They all hope to make a difference in the way jazz is regarded, they say. Myths persist about the age of the jazz audience as an older, sophisticated theatre crowd, but as Ellington once remarked, there are only two types of music: “good and the other kind.” So even though the trio’s selections for Guild Hall—standards by Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers Duke Ellington, Bud Powell, Vincent Youmans, Jerome Kern and Thelonious Monk—may at first seem to reinforce this impression, the way the trio plays the classics is meant to attract a wider jazz audience which, they say, is “non-generational” and transcends race and ethnicity as well. With that in mind, the twins look to extend performances to schools, parks and museums, while still keeping up their steady gigs at clubs and concert halls.
On Monday, July 28, they’ll be making their debut performance on the East End, where they hope to reunite with Hamptons friends and make new ones. Audiences both new and old will have a fine opportunity to hear what the trio brings to the standards—elegantly composed conversation among the instruments, arrangements so clean and warm, with dissonant harmonies so subtly satisfying, it will seem as though the songs are being heard for the first time.
Peter and Will Anderson, joined by Alex Wintz, will perform at the John Drew Theater, Guild Hall, Monday, July 28, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 to $40. Call 301-661-0431. For more info, visit guildhall.org or peterandwillanderson.com.