Jazzman Joshua Redman hits his stride
By Greg Cahill
FOR ME, music is an emotional and spiritual experience," says jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman. "When everything is right, there's a connectedness that runs between me and the other musicians and the audience. There's a feeling that the music that is being played isn't simply the accumulation of all our individual impulses and motivations as musicians--instead it has a collective identity.
"In some ways, if things are going right, it feels as if the music is playing you as much as you are playing the music--you feel like an integral part of a collective experience."
A lot of folks can relate to that in Redman's music--fans and critics alike have hailed this 30-year-old jazz star. In the past seven years, the much-in-demand tenor and soprano saxophonist, a Berkeley native, has garnered a Grammy nomination and top jazz honors in just about every prominent music poll, from Rolling Stone to Downbeat. As one of the much ballyhooed young jazz lions--whose boyish good looks earned the saxophonist a lucrative sponsorship from the trendy DKNY clothing line, making him the first jazz musician to fuse with a fashion firm--Redman has leant a certain flair to the genre. He even landed a small film role in Robert Altman's 1997 film Kansas City, portraying jazz sax legend Lester Young, and reprised the role in a PBS-TV Great Performances episode.
His most recent release, Timeless Tales (for Changing Times) (Warner), features covers of new standards by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, and Prince. "These songs don't just move me as a listener; they engage me as a player, improviser, arranger, and bandleader," he explains in the disc's liner notes. "They're just 10 great songs, written by 10 great songwriters.
"Ten great songs resilient enough to change with the times and with the artists who change with them."
THE SON OF BEBOP saxophone great Dewey Redman, Joshua surged onto the jazz scene in 1992 when the Jazz Times Readers Poll named him Best New Artist. A year before, Redman had graduated, not from some toney music conservatory, but summa cum laude from Harvard College with a bachelor's degree in social sciences. The following year, he toured the United States and Europe for several months with his famous father, from whom he was estranged as a youth.
"Yes, my father was an influence on me, but an influence from afar in the same way that other great saxophonists also influenced me," he says, citing John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Cannonball Adderly as among those who helped shape his visceral style. "I had his records, listened to them, they moved me--his music touched me."
Since then, Redman has recorded four albums and played with everyone from jazz pianist Dave Brubeck and the retro Groove Collective to bandleader Quincy Jones and jazz-hop heavyweights Us3. Along the way, he has often strayed from such lionized neo-traditionalists as Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, and Terence Blanchard--a trio of young trumpeters who have captured the bulk of the jazz world spotlight.
He balks at being touted as the leader of the young-lion jazz movement. "I see it as a marketing and media category," he says thoughtfully. "Something that's been latched on to by people in the record industry and writers and critics as a way to describe a very wide-ranging and varied group of young musicians. I don't see it as an artistic reality.
"I am a young man who is trying to express himself through music and who has up to now chosen traditional jazz as the primary style with which to express himself. But it's never been my goal to re-create a past tradition or to relive the past. I mean, I've always listened to all styles of music, all styles of jazz.
True to his word, he has explored a broad range of musical styles: R&B, soul, funk, rock, Latin, African. "It's not like I sit back and think that I want to write a song that is a little bit funky with a dose of Latin--you know, music isn't chemistry to me; I'm not trying to form new musical compounds," he explains. "I'm just trying to experiment with grooves other than swing-based music.
"It's not going to be a smorgasbord," he adds. "It will be far-ranging, but hopefully also an identifiable group conception."
The Joshua Redman Quartet performs Thursday, March 25, at 8 p.m. at the Luther Burbank Center, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Tickets are $22.50/adult, $18/student. For information, call 546-3600.
From the March 11-17, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.