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Native-American Jazz Funk? Asenap in ABQ Meets Navajo Jazz Trumpeter Delbert Anderson

Native-American Jazz Funk? Yeah, that's the Delbert Anderson Trio.
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This is the story of how I met Delbert Anderson...I attended the State Fair of Texas recently. It’s an enormous fair that could swallow three other state fairs. The University of Oklahoma had just lost to the Texas Longhorns on the football field, we won’t dwell on that too much, and I was acting as a tour guide to two friends in town for the weekend. At the fair, I shot many small basketballs into rims that were much too small, we ate corny dogs and we stumbled around a fun house. It was good times.

Afterwards, a tornado sculpture sitting atop the roof of a nearby dive bar beckoned to us and we found ourselves inside the Doublewide Bar.

Upon entering, we spotted a Native standing at the end of the bar; a Navajo to be specific. My buddy being Kiowa, and I being Comanche, we had to figure out who the other Native was.

Small-Town talk in LeClair's 'Bridge'

Turns out, the Navajo in the corner was trumpet player Delbert Anderson, of the Delbert Anderson Trio, a jazz-funk group based out of New Mexico. They were playing a residency at the State Fair of Texas. Delbert bought us a round and shared stories of his experiences playing at the fair. After a drink Delbert and his friends took us on a tour of the nearby Deep Ellum club district, where we got to know him a bit more and I made him promise to let me interview him when I could actually hear him, away from the din of loud music and Dallas hipsters bouncing from club to club.

A Bit About Delbert Anderson and the Delbert Anderson Trio

Navajo jazz performer, Delbert Anderson began his jazz studies in 2004 at Eastern New Mexico University. Having studied with such jazz musicians as saxophonist Christopher Beaty and trumpeter John Kennedy, he still considers himself a willing student today, and takes lessons from trumpeters Mick Hesse and Bobby Shew.

Constantly asked to join other artists for jazz gigs, Anderson started the Delbert Anderson Trio in 2013, along with Mike McCluhan and Nicholas Lucero. The group has been performing throughout the states since.

My Conversation with Delbert Anderson

How would you describe the music that you play? I've heard it described as jazz, you described it as funk also?

When you hear us, many say we don't sound like jazz. Our trio is made by three different guys whose influences are very different. Mike brings the jam band aspect to the group. Nick loves funky beats and is heavily into fusion. I like to improvise and love New Orleans music.

When we compose, our music comes from melodies long ago, and because the old Native American melodies have one long melody, we decide what we are inspired by and bring that melody back to our age of time and fuse it with what we are today. I would almost like to call our style simply "music." After people hear us perform, they say that the trio sounded like: jazz, funk, fusion, world, jam, Asian, etc. I must say they are not wrong. For now, we call it Native American Jazz/Funk.

Why should people care about jazz? Why are you drawn to it?

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Jazz is known to be America's Music. Jazz was created by many different cultures in America. After the jazz foundation was created, many musicians expanded on the music which brings us to most music we hear and play today. I see my music as being an addition to the jazz genre to create a new form of contemporary music. It's hard to give music a genre when it's contemporary. If I had to choose, I would simply call it "music". Musicians have been playing standard jazz for many years, the same tunes...the one thing that keeps jazz alive is the improvising aspect.

Our trio tried playing jazz standards when we first got together, we found out really quick we were not something new...yet we loved improvising, funk and jam bands. Soon our sound began to change and with the help of my cultures early music, we created a whole new form of music. Many musicians have not fused such genres with ancient Native American music, however, we know of tenor saxophonist, Jim Pepper, who began to fuse jazz with his native culture. We like to say we are continuing Pepper's legacy.

I believe our music is important in terms of preserving cultural music. Ancient Native American music fused with jazz is just the beginning, who knows a year from now we may be fusing with other world cultures. Our music preserves cultural music and puts it in an understandable musical sense for all ages.

Being contemporary to me is creating something that is not planned in the present moment. The fusion of Native American culture and jazz does sound unique but our solos make it even more contemporary.

How did you become interested in the music you play?

My mid-school teacher, Janet Isham, was the one who introduced me to jazz. After playing in our first rehearsal, I remember I loved playing to the backbeat of the drums. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. From that point on I was hooked. I played in jazz band till I graduated high school. During high school I was playing with the college jazz band and picked up on improvising. I didn't know much of improvisation until I went to college and began to study improvisation at Eastern New Mexico University.

As far as other people being influenced by rock, metal and country, I think it's great to see them go out and begin to experience performance. I understand that those genres and rap have been popular on the reservations for quite some time.

I do encourage all the musicians to invest in private lessons of their instrument. Right now many musicians on the reservation are self-taught. Once they begin to learn the aspects of the instrument and do some studying, only then will they be able to create new music they love. I'm happy that others are going out there and playing, that's what it's all about.

Who are your influences?

My influences come from so many people. Ones that I have focused on heavily throughout my music journey are: Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Michael Brecker, Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Troy Andrews, Brian Blade, Esperanza Spalding, Antonio Sanchez...and many more.

So what's next for the Delbert Anderson Trio?

We will be coming out with our second album this December. We have jazz festivals lined up and some PBS specials and documentaries that are scheduled for next year. We will be doing more recording for independent films. The trio will begin to perform with orchestras and symphonies. Tons of collaborations will occur in general.

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