This is part of CP's Music issue — check out our other profiles of Philadelphia musicians like queer hip-hop duo Sgt. Sass, Cinderella's hair-metal comeback kid Tom Keifer, harpist Gillian Grassie and OCD: Moosh & Twist, who keep getting shows shut down due to drunk teenagers.
The bass lines on saxophonist Steve Coleman’s new album, Functional Arrythmias, crawl sinuously under and around the composer’s jagged, eccentrically staggering horns, like a spider weaving its web by the dictates of some higher-order mathematics. At the Kimmel Center’s “Sittin’ In” jam session last Wednesday, singer Selina Carrera took the stage in front of DJ Statik of Illvibe and a funky rhythm section anchored by a rotund, booming bass sound.
At the core of both was bassist Anthony Tidd, a man who has long found ways to insinuate his deep grooves and deft virtuosity into virtually any musical situation. During the 12 years he spent playing for niche audiences with Coleman’s outside-leaning jazz groups, he was also producing records for pop and hip-hop superstars like the Black Eyed Peas, Pink and Macy Gray. Those two apparently divergent skill sets were equally critical in bringing the London-born Tidd to Philly in 1996.
In the early ’90s, Tidd was leading an eight-piece band called Quite Sane in his hometown when Coleman showed up on his doorstep with Richard Nichols, manager of a then-unsigned band called The Roots. Coleman’s frequent collaborator Greg Osby had recommended the young British bassist so highly that the saxophonist flew across the Atlantic to hear for himself. As Tidd recalls, “He put on a cassette — that’s how long ago this was — and I said, ‘This is amazing. Who programmed the drums?’ He said, ‘That’s a live drummer, a guy called Ahmir Thompson.’”
When The Roots later spent a year in London at Nichols’ urging, Tidd lived with them; and when they signed with Geffen Records, they and Coleman pooled resources to bring Tidd to the States. Through his work with the band he formed the production team Noize Trip with Melvin “Chaos” Lewis before stepping away from the record industry in 1999 to run the Kimmel’s creative music program.
“Coming into contact with a lot of different musicians in the pop industry, I noticed that there wasn’t a whole lot of creativity going on,” Tidd complains. “Musicians were being ushered further and further into the world of lawyers and accountants before they thought about the actual music itself. Four years ago, I felt it had reached a critical point and I didn’t feel like I could be a part of it anymore, so I decided to create a music program that I felt could combat that.”
Tidd instructs three ensembles, leads the monthly jam sessions and brings in notable musicians for regular “Meet the Masters” classes. He calls the top ensemble, for teens aged 13-17, “probably the best young band in Philadelphia. Were it not for the fact that they can’t get into the clubs, I would hire them for gigs.”
The son of Trinidadian immigrants, Tidd studied classical violin from the age of 5 until he switched to bass at 15. “I realized early on that there was something culturally lacking about classical music,” he says. “I couldn’t identify with it, being a young black kid in England. The music I did identify with at the time was people like Michael Jackson, James Brown, that kind of stuff, and I wanted to make those kinds of sounds on my instrument.”
He’ll be fusing those sounds beginning next month in the form of a new big band called PACT — Philadelphia Artists for Creative Transformation — which he’ll debut at the March “Sittin’ In.” He describes the band as “a big band that plays modern music, where the level of musicianship is excellent but which speaks to people who are listening to the sound that’s around now.”
He’s also returning to production on his own terms, building a studio at his new house in Brewerytown. He recently produced the theme song for this year’s second Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, and is designing a jazz camp for the Kimmel program.
“If I could sum up my mission,” Tidd states, “it’s to bring the public at large back into the fold of appreciating creative music.”