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Interviews

Joshua Redman: Music is Paramount

By Published: November 2, 2004
"For me music is not a vocation, its an avocation," he adds. "It's a passion. That's one thing I would always try to stress to anybody getting into music. I don't believe you should go into music if your motivations are purely professional, or primarily professional. That doesn't mean you can't make a living playing music. You certainly can. But I think, paradoxically, if you really want to be successful playing music, you have to be doing music, not for the sake of success, but for the love of it. I think I'm one of the lucky few who has been able to be quite successful as a professional jazz musician. I've always made sure that my musical choices are always based on musical criteria and artistic needs.

"Everything that I do is based on what is going to inspire me as a musician. What's going to allow me to be the most creative, how am I going to best develop as a musician? Once I've made those determinations, then I can turn around and say: now how can I structure these goals in such a way that I'll also be able to make a living?"

Redman has been listening to jazz all his life, but was also hip to other sounds of the day. R&B like Earth Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin. Even the Beatles, which were before his time, but in his mother's record collection. Also in the collection was Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Miles Davis. Even his father, venerable saxophonist Dewey Redman, whom he did not grow up with. "Jazz was always on an equal footing with all the other musics. I listened to it as much as other musics. I didn't grow up with a sense of jazz as being marginal, as being something other, or something mysterious or esoteric. I grew up with a sense of jazz as being one of the great, inspiring exciting musics. Jazz has always been a part of my listening experience."

An outstanding high school musician, Redman still didn't apply himself fully to the instrument. He had other outside interests and intellectual pursuits. His interesting twist back into music is as natural to Redman as breathing. Life as a Harvard-graduated lawyer (Senator Redman? ... A real sax-playing president in the Whitehouse??) doesn't seem to cross his mind. His focus is squarely on his development as an artist and a person and the music that comes from his horn, and his pen, exemplifies that.

"First of all, I don't believe in regrets. Whatever choices you make in your life, whatever cards life deals you, you play that hand. You don't think about the cards you could have been dealt. You can't change the past. So I think regret is a very dangerous emotion," he says. "Even if I were to believe in regret, I certainly wouldn't regret the choice that I made. I was very, very fortunate, given a great opportunity to learn and grow as a musician and play with some of the best musicians around. Music gives me an emotional and spiritual fulfillment that no other profession could."

Redman said he wouldn't trade in the superb college education he received, but sometimes wishes he had more formal musical training. "I would have been, I think, a lot further ahead musically and a lot better prepared — just in terms of the basic fundamentals and knowledge — I would have been a lot more prepared for the challenges that I confronted musically early on, and that I continue to confront. I seem to have made it through somehow."

Redman "made it through" a fine acoustic trio set at the college with colleagues Reuben Rogers on bass and Ali Johnson on drums. A funky arrangement of "Mack the Knife" kicked things off. Sweetly arranged by the saxophonist, it had almost as many twists and turns as Monk's "Trinkle, Tinkle" which showed excellent communication among three stellar artists, and also brought out the joie de vivre in the music of Thelonious. Redman's own "Oneness of Two" and "Two Track Mind" held interest and intrigue. Each time the sax was expressive and exploring, at times traveling all kinds of paths, and eliciting a broad range of sounds, within the same number. Rogers' bass was right in step, and Jackson's steady — sometimes quirky — rhythmic additions were always apropos. Worthy of note was Redman's willingness to present some relatively new works to the audience. One had never been played in public before, and others sparingly played.

Titles? Well, they were all untitled, "that seems to be a theme," Redman said with a wide grin, but each was attractive, and one — which constantly changed time signatures — brought out all kinds of bombast, caution thrown to the wind and music made in the moment.


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