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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 12, No. 10 June 2007

Genuine and Personal: The Art of Joshua Redman

by Paul Serralheiro / June 14, 2007


When tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman first appeared at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal in 1991, he was 22 years old and touring with his father, Dewey Redman. Joshua had decided to devote his time to music, deferring plans to attend Yale Law School after graduating from Harvard, summa cum laude. Later that year the young, essentially self-taught musician won first prize at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition and found himself on the crest of the acoustic jazz revival that had begun with Wynton Marsalisí arrival on the scene a decade earlier. Redman was, along with musicians like Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, Antonio Hart and David Sanchez, one of the young lions ready to leave his mark.

Today, at 38, Joshua Redman has eleven recordings as leader under his belt and is currently on a concert tour that will take him to seven Canadian cities in nine days, beginning in Calgary on June 22 and ending in Montreal. His latest recording, Back East, contains two tracks featuring his father, who passed away in September 2006. In a phone interview held shortly before his tour he spoke about his appearance at the festival with his famous father. ďI do remember appearing in Montreal in 1991. It was the first time I had been out of the country and it was one of the first times I went on the road to play. It wasnít the first time Iíd played with my dad, Iíd played with him the summer before at the Village VanguardÖof all places!Ē

Apprenticeship

Recording the recent tracks with his father, Redman says was ďa really meaningful experience and obviously took on more meaning after he passed away ó something we had no inkling of when we did the session. I hadnít played with him much after I stopped playing in his band. I worked pretty regularly with him from about 1991 when I moved to New York until the middle of 1993Öand it was a great opportunity to play with a master musician and great saxophonist; it was an apprenticeship, in a sense, and a wonderful way to get to know my father whom I hadnít grown up with. It was really great to get to know him, through music, which was obviously what we had the most in common.Ē

The experience with his father was typical of the way Redman learned his art. Formal training in music was limited to early lessons in his native San Francisco in Indonesian and Indian music classes that his mother had enrolled him in. Listening to the masters, like Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz and John Coltrane, was how he absorbed the language. Never feeling overwhelmed by any of them, Redman grew from his listening: ďMy teachers have all been remarkable musicians, people Iíve listened to and played with over the years, and still do, not to forget those Iím playing with now. For me it has always been about learning by doing.Ē

This approach was once the standard way to learn jazz, although music school has now become the norm. In Redmanís view, either one is good: ďI donít believe there is a best way. Thatís something I feel strongly about: there are so many approaches to learning jazz and playing it, so everybody has to find their own way. And thatís one of the reasons Iíve never taught, myself. Iíve always shied away from it, because some of the best teachers are those who are very confident in their approach, their ability to show a student the correct way to do something, or what they believe is the correct way, but Iím always seeing the other ways of going about it, to question and qualify such things.Ē He is quick to add, in a humble tone that is surprising, given his remarkable abilities, ďhad I known I was going to be a professional musician, it would have been nice to have gone to music school and had some kind of fundamental training and knowledge that some of my peers have had, but I donít have regrets and canít change the way Iíve learned music either. Actually, Iíve had so many opportunities to play with great musicians and I feel that is the most important thing in learning how to play.Ē

Team Player

Although a recognized name and powerful soloist, Redman is also a team player, a point he elaborates on during the conversation: ďIíve always been committed to having a working band. To me some of the best jazz music is made not by individuals but more by set groups; in that way, you get to know other musicians and develop a chemistry with them, you find a greater empathy so as to transcend your individuality and make a collective statementÖthat, to me, is what itís all about.Ē Redmanís current tour will feature different trio members who appear on Back East, at different times, a marked departure for the saxman. ďIím looking forward to that,Ē he hastens to add, ďbecause these are musicians I feel comfortable with, that I know well and with whom Iíve played a lot before, so it is the variety of it all that I am really looking forward to, which will make interaction both challenging and interesting.Ē For the trio on the Canadian tour, ending at the Jazz Festival in Montreal, Redman says ďitís going to be Reuben Rogers on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. Actually, this will be the first time that Antonio and I have played together, though weíve known each other for a while.Ē

While widely acknowledged by critics and fans alike to be a consummate musician, Redman has enjoyed a high degree of popularity, perhaps in part due to his assimilation of more modern styles like funk and rock. As likely to listen to Bjork, Stevie Wonder, and Prince as to the masters mentioned above, the saxophonist is a voracious listener, although he points out, ďI donít see that as being part of my work as a jazz musician, but itís just a love for music, and when I think about it, Iím really a listener before Iím a player.Ē

As popular an artist as can be expected in jazz, Redman, who composes much of his own material and usually produces his own recording sessions, does not see himself as an entertainer. ďI really donít see modern jazz as entertainment. Thatís not to say that the audience canít be entertained, but I donít see that as being what the music is about. Thatís certainly not what Iím striving for as an artist. I feel I have a huge responsibility to the audience but that responsibility isnít to entertain them. That responsibility is to try to give them the most genuine and personal creative statement that I can give them in that moment. Thatís my responsibility as an improvising musician.Ē

Joshua Redman will be performing at the Montreal International Jazz Festival on June 30, 6 pm Thť‚tre Maisonneuve.


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