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Fred Anderson dies at 81; tenor saxophonist

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Fred Anderson, a tenor saxophonist known for having a smooth, velvety playing style and a Chicago club that was considered one of the cradles of contemporary jazz, has died. He was 81.

His sons, Eugene and Michael, said their father died Thursday, but they declined to provide additional details. He had a heart attack June 14.

Anderson, a Louisiana native born March 22, 1929, performed in relative obscurity for years, saying he was determined to stay in Chicago and help foster cutting-edge jazz instead of going to New York or elsewhere. He took odd jobs until 1982, when he opened the Velvet Lounge, naming it after someone's praise for his playing style.

"The idea was to keep young musicians going … (so) they could develop their music here before taking it out to the world," Anderson said in 2006. "Those who come through here learn how to listen and how to play with each other — which is very difficult. That's how jazz has developed from the beginning."

He kept the club going almost single-handedly for decades as owner, sometimes bartender and resident mentor to aspiring musicians who wanted to experiment with hard-edged, freewheeling jazz.

Anderson rose to prominence in the 1990s, when music companies began to release recordings of his work to favorable reviews and he became a regular on the jazz-festival circuit.

In 2006, Anderson described what he called the most difficult task of his life: moving the club to a new location and watching as crews bulldozed the much-beloved venue to make way for a housing complex.

Velvet Lounge devotees helped raise money to help Anderson move the club half a mile away.

Forty years ago, Anderson joined other black artists in founding the Assn. for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a groundbreaking group dedicated to reviving a faltering 1960s jazz scene in Chicago.

In addition to his sons, Anderson is survived by five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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