Looking Backward and Forward: Peter and Will Anderson

May 10, 2015 Updated: May 31, 2015

There are many famous sibling groups in jazz, and even identical twins (for example, saxophonist Marcus Strickland and drummer E.J. Strickland), but Peter and Will Anderson are unusual in that they play the same instruments.

In Kyle Athayde’s large-scale work, “Reed Reflections,” which was written for them, they show their mastery of clarinets, flutes, and saxophones. (The work can be seen on YouTube at:

On their new CD, “Déjà Vu” and in “The Joy of Sax” (their recent live show at 59 East 59th Street Theaters), Peter played tenor sax and Will alto. Each of their outings is a fresh project with a different sound.

On the recording, the group is composed of Jeb Patton on piano, David Wong on bass, and Phil Stewart alternating on drums with Albert “Tootie” Heath (one of the eminent Heath brothers).

The album (on which Peter and Will each penned four pieces) suggests that their musical center of gravity is in the straight-ahead jazz of the 1950s and 1960s.

They swing Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” and wax lyrical in World War II era nostalgia (“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and “Lover Man”).

At the live performance, they had Pat Bianchi on Hammond B-3 organ and Kenny Washington on drums. Washington was one of their teachers at Juilliard, where the Andersons studied.

From the first number, George Duvivier’s appropriately titled “Foot Pattin,'” it was clear that the music was funkier at 59th Street than on the CD, thanks to the organ. The group achieved a fuller sound by adding a third saxophonist, the mellow Harry Allen on tenor.

Peter and Will not only play the works of past masters but seek them out. Before playing “Blues After Dark,” by sax player Benny Golson (who had performed as a teenager with John Coltrane and has composed many jazz standards), they spoke about the long emails they receive from the loquacious octogenarian. Ironically, he had nothing to say about that piece.

At one point, Peter announced that the next number would be a tune by a contemporary “overlooked composer … me.” “Déjà Vu” (the title track of their latest album) would have fit in a classic Blue Note album of the 1960s by artists like Horace Silver or Joe Henderson.

The “Joy of Sax” included standards and lesser known pieces and presented the performers in a three-sax front line (on Wes Montgomery’s finger-snapping “Full House”) alternating with solo numbers.

Among the lyrical gems were Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “How Insensitive.” Allen soloed on one of his own ballads. The brothers’ admiration of Charlie Parker came through in “Confirmation.” The organist and drummer were featured on a soulful rendition of “It Can Happen to You.”

One surprise was an upbeat version of “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Walt Disney’s cartoon “Pinocchio.” The group ended “The Joy of Sax” with a driving rendition of Duvivier’s “Go Power.”

In an exclusive interview after the show, Peter and Will spoke about their background. They were raised in Bethesda, Maryland, and neither of their parents are musicians. However, their mother and father brought home albums, and the brothers were impressed by jazz recordings by Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie, among others.

When they were in fourth grade, the brothers started to study clarinet and the following year took up saxophone. They studied at Juilliard because they believe it is important to have classical training. Peter and Will make it a point to play with elder statesmen of the music, such as Bob Wilber (a link to Sidney Bechet and early jazz) with whom they made an album, “The Music of the Soprano Masters.”

They have also performed with Jimmy Heath, James Moody, Hank Jones, Clark Terry, Frank Wess, and Benny Golson. They pointed out that jazz is an “oral tradition that is passed on” and they learn as much as they can from their predecessors.

The twins have presented tributes to swing giants Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and the Dorsey Brothers. One reason that they enjoy performing at the 59th Street Theaters is that they don’t have to use microphones.

As for upcoming plans, they are touring the country in a trio with guitarist Alex Wintz and are thinking about making a live recording. 

For more information, visit peterandwillanderson.com