Gorman: Conducting the soundtrack to Pitt sports
Jamie Dixon is so locked in during basketball games, especially during timeouts, that the Pitt coach only hears the band when its trumpeters perform “The Star Spangled Banner.”
“The national anthem for me is when I hear the band,” Dixon said. “I take great pride in that.”
So does the man who conducts it.
There are Pitt men, and then there's Jack R. Anderson. Some people live for Pitt athletics. Pitt athletics have been Anderson's life.
Anderson was born in 1947, a year before his father, Jack B. Anderson, became Pitt's assistant band director, a position Jack R. took over in 1986 before becoming Pitt's director of bands in '95.
“So that's basically all that I remember,” Anderson said, “being on the sidelines at Pitt Stadium and Fitzgerald Field House.”
Anderson is fond of saying that very few people get a job that allows them to live out their dreams, and he's one of them. Even if it came at the disappointment of his family, which wanted him to attend dental school and take over the practice handed down from his grandfather to his father.
They had only themselves to blame for his career path, as Anderson's family history is intertwined with Pitt athletics.
His grandfather, George P., attended Pitt dental school with football coach Jock Sutherland in 1915 and was a friend of basketball coach Doc Carlson, whose son, Cliff, was in the Pitt band with Jack B.
His love for music and passion for the Pitt band has allowed Jack R. the privilege of witnessing some of the great moments in Pittsburgh sports history.
Anderson played at the premier performance at Civic Arena, the Ice Capades; at Three Rivers Stadium, for Game 4 of the '71 World Series, the first-ever Fall Classic night game; and when Franco Harris made the Immaculate Reception.
Anderson witnessed everything from Don Hennon sinking shots in scoring 1,841 points to Dan Marino's pass to John Brown in the '82 Sugar Bowl to Jerome Lane breaking the backboard to Dante Taylor's final dunk on Senior Day on Sunday at Petersen Events Center.
Anderson has always watched games with the band, so he sees the action from a different angle. He doesn't get to follow every play because he's spying the coaches, referees and game clock for clues. The moment the game stops, his band starts playing.
“It's all tempo,” Anderson said. “If we've just had a big dunk or something, the band is ready to go and the whole place goes into the P-I-T-T cheer, and you just feel it in the building.”
Walt Harris recognized Anderson's dedication, his marching band and Pitt's cheerleaders and dance team in November 1997 following a frigid football practice that left Harris' face frozen. The band was just getting ready to go out for its own practice.
Harris got the groups together for a social, developing a synergy that eventually changed the atmosphere for football games at Heinz Field and, to a greater extent, basketball games at the Pete.
“I think he's one of the unsung heroes of the success of the University of Pittsburgh, period,” Harris said of Anderson.
Anderson loves that a former Pitt band bass drummer, Ian Smith, wrote the music for the first-down cheer at football games and other former drum line members were among the original leaders of the Oakland Zoo student section.
“I've oftentimes spoken about the band and the spirit and the passion with which the band members, alumni or current members play, and that stems from the continuity, the traditions and attitude that Jack possesses and brings to that,” Dixon said. “There are certain groups on campus that are truly passionate about the university, and the band is second to none.
“That starts with Jack.”
So does the way the Pitt pep band plays the national anthem. Anderson said the Pitt band is the only college band in the country to use elongated herald trumpets. Not only does Anderson direct it, but he also wrote and arranged the presentation.
Anderson is retiring after the Big East and NCAA tournaments this month and the symphonic band concert and commencement in April.
That's why he wore a smile showing his pure joy in conducting the national anthem one last time for a Pitt game at the Pete.
“You can hear the whole arena singing,” Anderson said. “I get goose bumps hearing 12,000 people singing. I only see the student section. They've started to lock arms and sway and sing. As we go on, it builds and builds.
“That's special, knowing it was the last time I'd be out there doing that. If you're going to leave a mark, you want leave a mark like that.”
An indelible one that has been music to our ears.