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BASSIST-SINGER ANEESA STRINGS
November 18, 2016 | by Erin Putnam
High School All-Stars Alumnus Aneesa Strings
Meet Aneesa Strings. You may not have had the chance yet, as she has been busy earning accolades in academia and cutting her pedagogical teeth all over the country. But the Oakland bassist and All-Stars 2010 graduate has returned to the Bay Area with one album already under her belt and is diving deep into the gigging scene. Read on to learn this amazing alumna’s thoughts on recording projects, jazz in the university, and the next generation of young players.
How long had you been playing bass by the time you were a part of the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars? Who were those early teachers and influences that made you pick up the bass?
In seventh grade, my parents made me learn an instrument of my choice. I wanted to play violin, but the beginning strings class needed a bassist. So, out of disappointment and necessity, I picked up the bass. I immediately took to it and when I heard Haitian Fight Song by Charles Mingus, I knew I wanted to do this for life. I had been playing for five years when I auditioned for SFJAZZ High School All Stars. Khalil Shaheed, the late founder of Oaktown Jazz, strongly recommended that I audition for the program and I was elated upon notice that I was accepted.
Tell us about your first major recording project, "A Shift in Paradigm."
I decided to record my first album while I was in college at USC because I had some magnificent resources around me that I knew I'd be hard-pressed to find once I was out of school and truly submerged in the professional world. Patrice Rushen is the chair of the Popular Music department there, and she helped me get studio time in the USC facilities as well as walked me through many of the steps of production. I was actually discouraged by many; some thought I should focus on school, others thought I should wait until I really knew who I wanted to be as an artist. I decided to go through with it because the songs were "burning a hole in my pocket" so to speak. I knew that I had to deliver this music to the world - not only for me, but for the people that it would inspire. I reached out to SFJAZZ for financial support during the process, and some members of the board of SFJAZZ actually contributed to my project because they remembered me from high school! That was the most encouraging, reassuring things I've experienced in my short career.
After your first album, you got your master's in music; what were your major take-aways from jazz in the academic world?
I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the school that I got my masters from, which is the MSU College of Music under the direction of Rodney Whitaker. I believe that a musician's experience with jazz in the academic world is completely dependent on who he or she decides to study with. The teachers, their philosophy, their experience, their connections, and teaching methodologies should be thoroughly evaluated before a student chooses to attend a university or enroll in a program. It's very important for jazz programs to have clinics and master classes from musicians that are not involved in the academic world so that the students can get a perspective of what it's like to be a working musician without being a professor. The tolerance for incompetency or unpreparedness is much higher in educational settings than it is in the working world, and I think that jazz students should take each and every rehearsal and performance seriously, as this is a chance to work on your craft for only a grade, and not for more consequential things like money or reviews. I think having an education in jazz is amazing because you're completely submerged in the music for 4 years or more. Learning the history of the music and its relationship with this country, the stories of the musicians who paved the way, the theory behind the music and how to read it, write it, and arrange it from people who have dedicated their lives to it is an invaluable experience. However, it never takes the place of real-world experience.
Tell us about your work with budding jazz musicians; what does it take to fan that spark and get kids on track?
I think it's very important for budding jazz musicians to see that jazz is a real lifestyle, and that people actually still play this music daily (or nightly rather) and listen to it, so that it doesn't seem like some remote past time from their history books, but an actual choice of profession. Students need to hear and play songs that they like, they need to be engaged in choosing the music they play in their classes and be given the tools to improvise and express their individuality within the group structure. It's also very important to learn the tradition of the music, but not to the point of dogma or boredom. If young musicians feel like jazz is something they can add to and change rather than something to only imitate, I believe they will be more likely to study the tradition and be a part of the jazz realm.
What's next for you?
I'm living in the Bay Area, teaching and gigging locally. I am currently working on my next album. I will be doing a crowd fund very soon, so hopefully whoever's reading this will follow up and contribute! This album will be R&B/Soul, arranged for horns and even strings. I have been working on these songs for about 2 years now, and it is a true labor of love, tedious detail, and attention. It will feature some of the best musicians in the Bay Area, and even some SFJAZZ alumni! I grew up listening to and loving classic R&B and Soul music, and I believe that my masters in jazz education informs my interpretation of the music from some of the oldest and earliest documented music of the black American experience. I plan on releasing the record in 2017, although I don't currently have a release date. I want to spend some time in New York next year as well, so I can get that experience and get some jazz credibility, because of course no one takes you seriously until you make your pilgrimage to the Jazz Mecca. Beyond that, who knows? I am hopeful and excited for what the future holds, and until then I'll just keep shedding…
Keep up with Aneesa on Twitter and access more tracks on her website. You can see and hear more of our alumni’s recent strides this Saturday at our Alumni Concert, led by bassist and poet Logan Kane (’14).