Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson: Music, Flutes, and the Unconventional Path

by Madonna

Ian Anderson, the founder and leader of the legendary progressive-rock band Jethro Tull, reflects on his illustrious musical career, his enduring love for the flute, and the quirks of fame in a candid interview. Approaching his 80th birthday, Anderson remains the sole constant in Jethro Tull’s ever-evolving lineup, and he’s currently on tour for “The Seven Decades Tour.”

Jethro Tull, founded in 1967, boasts a remarkable legacy with over 60 million album sales worldwide. The band’s eclectic fan base includes notable musicians such as Michael Stipe, Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Nick Cave, and members of bands like Midlake and The Decemberists, along with actress Lisa Lampanelli.


When asked about the possibility of unlikely fans, perhaps controversial political figures, attending Jethro Tull’s concerts, Anderson responds with his characteristic dry humor, saying he doesn’t pay much attention to the audience and prefers the anonymity that comes with performing in front of strangers.


Ian Anderson’s multifaceted personality often reflects a mix of prickliness and warmth. He has been a constant presence in all of Jethro Tull’s 30-plus lineups, a testament to his dedication to the band.


His journey into the world of music and flutes began in a household filled with music in Chelmsford, Essex, where his father played the organ, and his mother sang in the church choir. Anderson played the flute as a child but lost interest during his teenage years. However, he rediscovered his passion for the instrument in his 40s when he won music lessons at his daughter’s school fundraiser. Two decades ago, he founded a flute choir in Dorking, Surrey, where he currently resides.

The unexpected twist in his story came after the passing of his mother when he stumbled upon his old school reports. These reports revealed that, although he pursued studies in sciences and mathematics, his true talents lay in music and woodwork, a realization that inspired him to pursue his latent passions.

Anderson’s journey into flute-making began around the age of 70, when he attended workshops on Irish flute-making and baroque flute-making. He then set up a workshop in his garage, where he crafts baroque flutes and flute boxes, selling them to both amateurs and professionals. He finds immense satisfaction in the artistry and craftsmanship of flute-making, often spending days perfecting his creations.

Reflecting on his ongoing career, Anderson acknowledges the importance of staying creative and surprising himself when creating new music. He likens the process to riding a bike, emphasizing the importance of not falling off and being able to get back on if you do.

Jethro Tull’s legacy includes their iconic album “Aqualung,” which has sold over 12 million copies, and the groundbreaking 1972 concept album “Thick as a Brick.” The latter notably featured a single, extended song that topped the Billboard U.S. album charts, poking fun at the excesses of progressive rock.

Throughout their career, Jethro Tull’s signature sound incorporated Anderson’s flute, a rare feature in rock music at the time. His influence has left an indelible mark on the genre, pioneering the use of the flute in rock music.

Outside of music, Anderson ventured into salmon farming, owning several salmon farms in Scotland. His commitment to providing jobs and support for the community reflects his underlying socialist values. Although he sold his salmon farms in 2003, Anderson continues to tour with Jethro Tull and as a solo artist, enjoying the freedom to choose performance opportunities that align with his values and artistic vision.

As Anderson approaches his 80th birthday, he acknowledges the uncertainties of aging but remains optimistic about the potential for a longer and healthier life through the engagement and concentration required in music. Ultimately, he recognizes that genetics play a significant role, but music keeps him engaged and vital in the present.


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