Hometown Hero: Anthony Tidd

By A.D. Amorosi| Photo by Dimitri Louis

“The way I look at it, ‘jazz’ is a lineage,” said London-to-Philadelphia transplant bassist, composer, and teacher-mentor Anthony Tidd. He’s reflecting on the fact that he’s as known for collaborations with nu-jazz masters Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, and Roy Ayers as he is working within The Roots and playing alongside hip hop greats such as Common, Ursula Rucker, and Black Eyed Peas.

“What I do is ‘creative music.’ For many, jazz is a genre, as opposed to an approach. The masters of black creative music have inspired me.” That means, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, and Bob Marley to start.

Improvised music is where excellence and self-expression reign, where culture and community meet—of African, Cuban, Jamaican, Brazilian, and Trinidadian descent—the latter of his own roots. Where diverse rhythm meets the road is also a part of his heritage, as he grew up in England, studying classical music at university, exploring European ways-and-means, but also living and learning the streets of London’s Caribbean subcultures, and that rich diversity. Think Shostakovich meets Lee Scratch Perry, perhaps.

Starting on violin, Tidd wound up on bass as a matter of circumstance (the M-Base ensemble he formed in his UK youth, Quite Sane, needed four strings), and quickly mastered it, naturally, as if it was another appendage. Influenced by Level 42’s Mark King, Stanley Clark, and James Jamerson, Tidd’s signature sound is free, flexible, and funky. He has evolved the bass, as well as his own curly compositions, the more his “obsessions” grew from his youth. “I played with my dad’s 4-track recorder as a kid and learned all the instruments to utilize that. When I was about 12, I started wondering what was ‘major’ and what was ‘minor,’ what musical structure meant, why what fit and what didn’t.”

Tidd “re-engineered” his own music, found approaches of his own devising, and came up with his own conclusions. Stumbling onto Public Enemy, Stavinsky’s theory of forced relation, and Steve Coleman, Tidd made theory into reality. “All of the theories that I apply to playing, I can turn into a program,” he said.

“Philly was the ultimate melting pot with a bubbling music scene on fire when I got here. I stayed because I became part of the community, integrated.”

Meeting Philadelphia’s The Roots during their time in London in the late 90s—“then getting a plane ticket from Questlove to come and play in Philly”—didn’t just change Tidd’s address. “Philly was the ultimate melting pot with a bubbling music scene on fire when I got here,” he said. “I stayed because I became part of the community, integrated.”

The move to Philadelphia changed his musical outlook, his aesthetic and personal life, and his own quest toward education, mentorship, and entrepreneurialism. “When I was 17 in London, the first American I played with was blues guitarist Jimmy Dawkins, and the next was Greg Osby, then Steve Coleman—they came from a lineage, one of mentorship, but more exactly, orature.” These players listened and copied what they saw and heard—on the bandstand or the rehearsal floor—and learned to personalize, to improvise, through working hand-in-hand, experientially, with the masters-mentors. They actualized what they had learned, internalized it, and mixed in other genres—think “the Lego bricks” of hip hop, reggae and grime on a “cellular level”—and let it rip.

“In turn, the obligation to pass on what one has learned to the next generation is paramount to jazz culture,” Tidd said.

Along with paying it forward by connecting to Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts  where he curates “Sittin’ In Jam Sessions,” and serves as director of the Creative Music Program, Tidd has gone beyond education, and into entrepreneurship and the communal with ACT4Music. The cloud-based gig portal—created pre-COVID-19—is a “virtual venue” that Tidd that can tend, one where Philly-friends (like Tim Motzer and Eric Wortham) can experiment, and where Tidd can offer creative musicians an on-line festival setting for curated-from-home video-music performances. With that, ACT4Music is the next most important thing to Tidd, a cumulative amalgamation of his talents and ideals. 

“This is the future I’m trying to create, a platform that leans toward the creative side and allows artists to be supported by audiences.”

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