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Jay Anderson Brings Jazz into the Mixtape Age

May. 9, 2017
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Illustration by Jecillia Negron

Jay Anderson believes there are Milwaukee musicians who play more gigs than he does, but he can’t name any off hand. This month alone the prolific saxophonist estimates that he’ll be playing somewhere around 23 or 24 shows, “and that’s on the light end,” he says. “Last summer, either in June or July, I had a month where I had more shows than there were days in the month.” 

This Saturday illustrates how quickly Anderson’s schedule can fill up. He’ll be playing three shows, first with his soul/hip-hop band Foreign Goods that afternoon at the Milwaukee Psych Fest at Company Brewing, then that evening with the hip-hop collective New Age Narcissism at the Pabst Milwaukee Brewery’s street festival, and then later that night at the same festival with singer/rapper D’Amato.

When he isn’t gigging, he’s recording. Last year Anderson released an album called Jazz?, a record that, like his live calendar, features a little bit of everything. Anderson likens it to a mixtape, a kind of catch-all of sounds, moods and ideas. 

“I started talking to WebsterX about what a mixtape is, and he was explaining how rappers have mixtapes that group together different shit from different sessions, so I was like, ‘Well, can I have one?’” Anderson recalls. “He said that a saxophone player can’t have a mixtape, but I said, ‘why not?’ At that point I had 25, 35 different finished recordings, and I thought, since I already have a bunch of those, let’s pick my favorite and put them together.”

Jazz? features a rotating cast of collaborators. Anderson’s Foreign Goods bandmate Klassik lends the beat to opener “Death,” while electronic producer Strehlow contributes a trippy beat to “Off the Grid.” For the record’s most heated number, Anderson’s trio Stomata (who themselves will release a new album later this year) are joined by DJ Madhatter for a tumultuous remix of “A Night in Tunisia” that splices the Dizzy Gillespie standard with distressed audio of news coverage from last summer’s Sherman Park uprising. To ensure all those disparate tracks hang together, the record was produced and sequenced by Kiran Vee (New Age Narcissism producer Q the Sun) and mastered by Strehlow.

The record was released through the newly minted VoodooHoney Records label, which Anderson launched with input from local art scene staples including artist Reginald Baylor, Radio Milwaukee DJ Tarik Moody and former Alverno Presents Artistic Director David Ravel. In addition to Anderson’s many projects, the label’s roster includes artists like SistaStrings, Lorde Fredd33, B-Free and poet Kavon Cortez Jones.

Anderson said he was inspired to start the label when he noticed local talent struggling with the ins and outs of navigating the music industry: getting music on iTunes, scoring radio play, landing press coverage—the basic things that labels assist with. 

“That stuff seems simple and easy, but a lot of artists don’t have the time and energy to do that and make music,” Anderson says. “For me, that’s not a problem, though. I sleep like four hours a day, and I’m still bored a lot.” 

Jay Anderson’s Jazz? is available on iTunes.

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