Buffalo Philharmonic JCOI: Composer Spotlight – Anthony Tidd

Anthony Tidd,  a Philly transplant from London, is a well-known name on the jazz scene and veteran touring bass player, with appearances alongside many staple names including, Steve Coleman, The Roots, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Wayne Krantz, Meshell Ndegeocello, Common, and Jill Scott, to name a few. Anthony has also made a name for himself in the music production world, producing records for well-known artists such as, The Roots, Macy Grey, Zap Mama, The Black Eyed Peas, Jill Scott, and Ursula Rucker, as well as composing scores for major film and television projects over the years. As Director of his Creative Music Program and curator of his popular concert series Sittin’ In, both hosted at the prestigious Kimmel Center, Anthony now divides his time between all of the above, as well saving some to educate the next generation of musical talent.

Anthony participated in the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute (JCOI) Summer Intensive last year and answered these questions for SoundAdvice. His piece The Beginning of the End was selected for the Buffalo Philharmonic JCOI Readings, Wednesday, September 21, 2016 at Kleinhans Music Hall.

Composer, producer and performer Anthony Tidd.
Photo by Dimitri Louis

American Composers Orchestra: You are an accomplished performer on the bass as well as a composer, sharing the stage with Steve Coleman, The Roots, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Wayne Krantz, Meshell Ndegeocello, Common, and Jill Scott, among other staple names. Can you talk about your experience as solely the composer, off stage and a spectator? What aspects of this role do you enjoy, not enjoy?

Anthony Tidd: I actually started playing musical instruments solely because of my desire to make records. This was way before sequencers and computers, so there was no other way.

One of the first stories my parents tell of my early childhood is about a visit to my uncle’s house. My family is Trinidadian, and so any visit to a relative’s house would inevitably become a party and of course involve music and dancing. At the time I was just three years old, so naturally my parents would keep a close eye on me. I was very prone to getting into mischief. Anyway, at some point in the night my parents became worried because they can’t find me. They search everywhere and eventually find me standing staring at the record going round and around on my uncle’s record player while everybody else is dancing. Apparently, they didn’t want to disturb me because I was quiet, so they left me there, where I stood for two hours, until it was time to go home.

I can remember being deeply fascinated with the records and how such a beautiful sound could come from a plastic disc, as though all the people making the music were somehow inside of it. From that moment on I became interested in music, the recording of music and then inevitably musical instruments and composition.

I made my first recordings at six, using an old two track reel to reel that my father gave me. It was the type that allowed you to lay one track and then another, playing along to oneself. Naturally in order to make my own records I needed to both learn about instruments and composition. I started by teaching myself how to play the guitar, and eventually I also learned bass, drums, percussion, piano, keyboards, violin, and a little saxophone, solely because I thought the recordings needed these sounds.

By the time I was sixteen I had my own sixteen track studio in my bedroom, played at least five instruments, and I had made around 15 “albums” documenting my progress in music production, engineering, musicianship and of course composition. Today I own my own professional studio.

ACO: You are also accomplished in the world of music production, producing records for The Roots, Macy Grey, Zap Mama, The Black Eyed Peas, Jill Scott, and Ursula Rucker. Can you talk about any parallels between producing a record and composing a work for orchestra? Do they require a similar need to step back and understand the work as a whole?

AT: Well, as I said above, any production of music means that you need to learn something about composition, or you should. Really, it’s all about composition and the manipulation of sound. I don’t see a separation. I am just as interested in my mic collection and vintage mic pres as I am in composition and improvisation.

Though I did receive some formal training on violin and piano at the Newham Academy of Music in London, it was very rudimentary. I left the academy by age 15, and so the majority of what I learned about musicianship, theory, composition and improvisation came from trial and error (mostly error) done on my own. Music for me has always existed off the page.

I became more interested in the theoretical side of musical composition at around 13. I began to make up my own theories based on what little I had already learned by that age. I wrote most of these down in a book. My older friends would eventually enlighten me to the fact that I did not invent Symmetry, Polarism, or Modes, etc. Thankfully I also sought out theory books, and perhaps more importantly people, who could teach me what I needed to know.

I had a few great mentors along the way; Eugene Skeef, a South African percussionist/composer in London, who would later introduce me to Bhekki Mseleku, an amazing multi-instrumentalist, improvisor and composer, also from South Africa. I learned a lot from both men.

At 16 I was introduced to the music of Steve Coleman by Steve Williamson who, at the time, was pretty much the most famous jazz musician in London, so I also learned a lot from him. I eventually met Steve Coleman at 18. Along with Rich Nichols, (the Roots’ manager and major contributor to their music production and sound), Steve brought me out to the US for the first time the following year.

Rich Nichols gave me my first opportunities to produce for major U.S artists, provided me with a place to live, bought me my first recording equipment in the U.S, and also financed (my band) Quite Sane’s first commercial release. Steve taught me most of what I now know about improvisation, the “jazz” lineage, computer programming, education, music theory, arranging, and much more.

So my approach to composition is now a combination of traditional techniques, improvisation, and my own approaches, which I think came from my fascination with recording, music production and sound.

ACO: Can you talk about your experience at the JCOI Intensive? What aspects of your piece were influenced by techniques you learned or ideas you encountered during the program?

AT: Well, the program was incredible! Too much to put into words! Perhaps the greatest influence for me was meeting other great black composers, such as James Newton, Nicole Mitchell, and in particular Anthony Davis, who came from a “jazz” background, managed to to compose pieces for orchestra and even operas, and most importantly, had them played!

I have been fascinated with large ensemble composition for some time. I wrote a few pieces for orchestra, which only ever made it to “general midi”. Actually I had one small 4 minute piece played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra while I was in South Africa. I was around 20 at the time, and it was a disaster……

I’ve spent the last six years regularly composing for a music program, which I created and now direct at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, called the Creative Music Program. A huge part of the curriculum revolves around the tutors composing original works for their ensembles, which are mostly big bands. In fact, I initially hired my staff based on their composition and arranging abilities. One of these ensembles, The Magenta Ensemble produced a number great profession level young musicians, so I was able to write for them as though they were already at university (college level). This gave me lots of opportunities to try out new ideas, whilst teaching about more established principles.

I also had a good deal of experience with string arranging from the recording and record production world, and a number of large scale productions and shows with the Roots, but my experience with orchestras, like most black composers, was limited to mostly “General Midi”.

So, the greatest thing about JCOI is access.

Learn more about Anthony at www.tiddster.com.

Follow Anthony on Twitter.

Learn about his programs at the Kimmel Center:

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