April 23, 2002

Living in the Present

by Jim Newsom

Who inspired the most famous flutist in rock and pop music to take up the flute in the first place?

"Eric Clapton," said Ian Anderson. "Eric Clapton is not known for being a flute player, and that was the reason I took up the flute. I figured I was never going to be as good a guitar player as he was, so I better learn to do something he couldn't do."

Rock music in the 1970s would have been much less interesting had Anderson not made that decision. He and his band, Jethro Tull, lit up the record charts in the early-to-mid '70s with a string of top-ten albums---Aqualung, Thick as a Brick, Passion Play, War Child and Songs From the Wood. The band's hit singles "Living in the Past" and "Bungle in the Jungle," and album cuts like "Teacher" and "Locomotive Breath" continue to be staples of Classic Rock radio.

"I didn't want to be just another third-rate guitar player who sounded like a bunch of other third-rate guitar players," the Pied Piper of Rock said in an interview last week. "I wanted to do something that was a bit more idiosyncratic, hence the switch to another instrument."

His flute playing has come a long way from very humble beginnings.

"When Jethro Tull began, I think I'd been playing the flute for about two weeks. It was a quick learning curve…literally every night I walked onstage was a flute lesson."

Learning to play the flute while making music in the context of a rock band led him to create a distinctive personal style.

"Actually, the first period of trying to play was very unproductive for me. When I tried to blow it, I hardly got anything from it. Eventually I managed to get a noise out of it by using that technique which I later heard Roland Kirk using, which was singing the note at the same time as you play it.

"I guess if I'd ever had flute lessons, I would have given up," he laughed. "If I'd been a proper flute player, then I would have found it so difficult to make the instrument integrate into a rock band."

Anderson's trademark stance, playing the flute while standing on one leg, "evolved when I was playing harmonica, hanging on to the microphone stand. It was easy to lift one leg in the air and kind of wiggle about. Then it became noticed by the people who wrote the very first reviews of Jethro Tull back in 1968: 'This guy plays the flute, and he stands on one leg.' They kind of put the thing together. It wasn't that I stood on one leg playing the flute to begin with, it was the harmonica. So I then started to stand on one leg playing the flute, just because that's what people thought that I did, even though I don't think that I did. The press kind of invented it for me, putting one and one together and getting three."

Anderson, though, notes that the stance is really a natural one for a flutist: "Playing the flute is an unbalanced thing to do. Playing a side-blow instrument like that, your body is somewhat contorted and off-balance. If you stand on one leg, it forces you to make sure that your body is correctly postured to hold the instrument and to breathe while you're doing it.

"Strangely, as I found out many years down the line, it is the pose of the Indian god Krishna who plays the flute to win the affections of the young female goat herders. It is the posture of at least two Indian gods in Central and South America, and many depictions of the god Pan show one foot being raised."

Anderson cites Stand Up as a particular favorite of his among the many Jethro Tull albums of the last 34 years. "It's the first album of original music that I wrote. It has elements that were the forerunners of things that showed up more obviously in later albums---classical music, blues, jazz, folk music, eastern music, Mediterranean music."

The band has a new CD and DVD coming out at the end of this month, both entitled Living with the Past. Both feature live concert performances recorded in London last November, and include additional music, conversation, and a three-song reunion of the original quartet.

Anderson and the band have a full schedule far into the future. Besides preparing for the sixty dates on this American tour, he has been "doing some orchestrations for work I'm doing with symphony orchestras this year in Europe and maybe next year in the U.S.A."

He also has solo concerts scheduled for this fall and next spring, plus recording dates. "For me musically, the next 19-20 months are mapped out."

But now, it's time to rock across America. Saturday night's performance at the Norva is the fourth date on their current tour.

"As always, our concerts are a mixture of old and new songs," he says of the setlist. "We try and be fairly indicative of the different musical styles of the different eras that Jethro Tull has played through."

And once again, fifty-four year old Ian Anderson will prance around the stage, "wiggle about" on one leg, sing out the songs we all know by heart, and prove, as he sang prophetically twenty five years ago, "you're never too old to rock and roll…if you're too young to die."

copyright © 2002 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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