Trumpeter Ara Anderson was born in 1974 and raised in his native San Francisco, CA. His father, a trombonist, earned a degree in jazz composition from the Berklee College of Music in the early '70s. His mother, a Syrian-born Armenian whose family had moved to Massachusetts, was working in the Berklee library when they met. Anderson began singing and playing trumpet, violin, drums, and piano in fifth grade, with encouragement from his father. Throughout his school years he played in several orchestras, concert and jazz bands, and in church services on handbells or with vocal choirs. In extracurricular musical activities, he joined an after-school jazz ensemble led by the renowned jazz bassist Herbie Lewis. Moving on to higher education, Anderson studied classical pedagogy and performance at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In the Bay Area, he has led the brass octet Boostamonte, and has been a member of the West Coast version of Transmission, a band founded in Ann Arbor, MI, by bandmates Colin Stetson and Stuart Bogie. His most prominent group as musical director is Iron & the Albatross, with vocalist Katy Stephan, drummer Ches Smith, and bassist Todd Sickafoose, playing what has been described as junky circus-chamber music.
As a sideman, Anderson has been a prominent member of the backup band of Tom Waits with Stetson and joined the expanded lineup of Tin Hat, and has accompanied OK Go, J.C. Hopkins, Geoff Hoyle, Jolie Holland, Jonathan Richman, Sean Hayes, Victoria Williams, Ted Reichman, Ron Caswell, and Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks. Anderson has also been involved in stage plays and musical tragicomedies, working with the New Pickle Circus, Guilty as Sin, and Killing My Lobster. A long list of supplemental credits has him performing with People's Bizarre, Joe Craven, Giant Value, Panthelion, Tin Cup Serenade, the Cannery, Myles Boisen, Gino Robair, Dawn Harms, Larry Taylor, Bebe Risenfors, Matt Brubeck, Roger Riedlbauer, Eric Perney, Tim Strand, Aaron Novik, and Erik Walker. In addition to the trumpet and cornet, he plays tuba, baritone horn, glockenspiel, celeste, toy piano, pump organ, and various percussion instruments. He is the cousin of prominent Michigan artist Margaret Ann Squires.