Sheila Anderson Interview
Sheila E. Anderson Interviewed by Kam Williams

Kam Williams (KW) When did you first develop an interest in jazz?

Sheila Anderson (SA) When I was about 6 years old. My late Brother, Chips, had an incredible collection of music and I gravitated to his jazz records. It was not until I was grown and noticed the dates of those albums that I realized how young I was when I first heard them.

KW: What does the music mean to you?

SA: It feeds my soul. To paraphrase a line in a Lou Rawls tune, there is a song for every thought and every special occasion. Music can uplift me from a funk or help me feel deeper about it, should that be my choice of emotion that I want to experience.

KW: Do you play an instrument?

SA: I own a flute' [laughs] Seriously, until the age of 16, I had toyed with the idea of being a jazz musician. Between hearing Eric Dolphy play flute and my involvement in the NAACP I realized that I did not have what it takes to be a working musician.

KW: How did you become a DJ?

SA: Sheer chutzpah and hard work. I had been a volunteer for WBGO, Jazz 88.3FM, for several years, and I noticed that there were regular openings during the weekend shifts. To my surprise, I was allowed to learn the board [engineering]. After one-and-a-half years, I felt I was good enough to handle the Sunday morning shift, but I was turned down. As fate would have it, about a year or so later, I was asked to host that Sunday morning program, Sunday Morning Harmony, temporarily, and that was in 1995. I did not go to announcing school, I learned on the job and it was rough!

KW: What period of jazz is your favorite?

SA: I would have to SA:say the bebop era, but I also like the early avant-garde period of Ornette Coleman.

KW: Who is your favorite musician?

SA: That is a difficult question, because I can't say that I have a favorite. Some of my favorites are Tommy Flanagan, Cannonball Adderley, Eric Reed, and Oscar Brown, Jr.

KW: What is your favorite album?

SA: I'll name three: Miles Davis' E.S.P, Eric Dolphy's Far Cry, and Richard "Groove" Holmes' Soul Message.

KW: Given that jazz radio stations seem to play either the revered icons or smooth jazz, how hard is it for new artists who don't play slick Muzak to get their CDs on the air?

SA: Well, being on public radio we are in a different position to play new artists. Each announcer programs her or his music. However, we are bound to a "clock" where we are expected to play certain type of music at various times of the hour which includes two to three new artists. Gary Walker, the music director is very good about rotating new artists for us to choose from.

KW: What made you decide to write this book?

SA: Two things. One, when I was working on my first book, "The Quotable

Musician: From Bach to Tupac," I was fascinated with the mind of the musician behind some of the quotes. For ten years I have hosted and produced a TV show where I interview musicians. My publisher was looking to do a new series of "How to Grow" books, so it was natural that I would do this one.

KW: Would you encourage your own child to pursue a career in jazz?

SA: I do not have any children but, yes, if it was his or her passion. I see how frustrating it is when people do not follow their passion. Life is not easy for artists in any musical genre, but with the right tools, I believe a musician can make a career in jazz.

KW: What do you see as the future of jazz?

SA: Wow... This is a difficult question to answer. I may get in trouble saying this, but I see more and more white kids learning and playing jazz.

Young Black children seem to gravitate to "Beats" and find jazz music boring. My concern is that it will turn into a genre of music of dead artists but when I hear musicians like Eric Reed, Gerald Clayton [son of John Clayton, nephew of Jeff] and other talented young people, it gives me hope that the music is in the right hands.

KW: Which of the musicians that you interviewed for the book did you learn the most from?

SA: Oscar Brown, Jr., Al Jarreau, Ruth Brown and Richard Smallwood.

KW: What pitfall dooms more aspiring jazz musicians than any others?

SA: I would say the business part of the music holds most musicians back. It is tough to navigate this business, and there are fewer venues for musicians to play. However, the A-Team will be working no matter what.

KW: The A-Team?

SA: Yes, those are the musicians who are the most visible and who command the higher fees. As I point out in my book, they have 100% of three things, talent, marketing and business acumen. The percentage of each does not matter but the three areas must equal 100%. That is why, in many fields, you might notice that talent is not always the factor that sets people at the top. The A versus B-Team concept can be applied to all areas of life.

KW: How does it apply in your book?

SA: My book is as much a book of success as it is about growth as a musician. Though there is no guarantee that we will succeed, there are things that people do that will determine failure. I use several true to life examples of things that musicians often do that do not help their careers.

KW: Who will benefit from reading your book?

SA: I had two audiences in mind when I started working on it, but now that it has been read by so many people, I see that there are three audiences.

First, young musicians starting out, who want to learn the nuts and bolts of the music business. Second, people who are interested in the stories of the musicians interviewed. And third, people who want to succeed.