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An AAJ Interview with Rob Reddy

By Published: February 26, 2007

AAJ: Why, what, or who led you to choose the saxophone?

RR: There was (and still is) an upright piano in the house. My mom played well. Well, we actually had to beg her to play. She would bribe me by saying if I helped her with the dishes, she would play for me. She would always play "Für Elise, and something called "The Spinning Song." I asked if I could take piano lessons around the age of seven. My father knew of a teacher, Ranny Reeve, who would travel from one end of the Island to the other to teach. He was a great teacher—all the basics and whatnot—but what was amazing was that he encouraged me to compose at age eight or nine.

I think my first composition was for my first cat that had passed away. And in the meantime he had me playing the Bartok piano music, Khatchaturian, Bach two-part inventions, and some boogie-woogie and ragtime. He eventually invited me to his home, where he would have sessions every other Friday night. He had children (I think I was around 11 or 12), high school kids, and adults, all there to learn to play Jazz. We would play "Satin Doll," "Green Dolphin St.," "Four," "A-Train," "Little Darlin'," etc., and he would try to get us to use our ears and eventually start improvising on these songs. I think I first went to these sessions as a pianist, but soon brought my alto, which I had chosen to take up in the school music program.

I honestly cannot remember the impetus for choosing the saxophone. I think I just really dug the sound of it when I heard it (mostly in pop music, Brecker and Sanborn on a bunch of stuff, King Curtis on that John Lennon record, and Fathead on Ray Charles's records.

AAJ: What led you to a career in music? (this can either be influences or inspirations, critical and catalytic life moments, or all of the above...answer it however you see fit)

RR: I really don't know exactly what led me to a career in music. I think I just wanted to remain as immersed in it in college as I was in high school. My parents insisted that I go to college, so it had to be to study music. Though I do remember seeing Miles on his "comeback" tour, and I remember saying that I wanted to do that—lead a band? Be that focused? I can't say exactly what it was.

AAJ: Although you can't pinpoint what inspired you towards a career in music, can you explain why it was important to consciously make the decision to become a composer and bandleader?

RR: I think the idea of being self sufficient is very important-also realizing what it was that I appreciated most in the people that I look up to---Ornette, Ellington, Shannon Jackson, Bird, Mingus, Threadgill, Workman, Max Roach—all these people have created what I see as their own musical universe—regardless of whether we know them as jazz musicians, or whether they come from this thing or that thing, they have all created something so very much their own---through composing their own music.

AAJ: Although you've been composing music and leading bands for more than 12 years, you've only released two recordings as a composer/bandleader. Why?

RR: I tend to write for larger ensembles—Honor System, Quttah-6; the Octet; the Horn Choir-11; the Quintet and Sleeping Dogs-5; Small Town will be an 18 or 20 piece ensemble. Also I've always had a policy of trying to pay musicians as well as I can. Never ask them to "play for the door" or that sort of thing. The same thing goes for recording. Right off the bat these make for a costly budget and most of the labels that might record my music may not have the resources ($$$). I do a lot of grant and commission writing to try and cover some of the artist fees for recordings as well as live performances. My projects are starting to get a bit backed up now. Quttah, the Quintet, and the Octet all have more than a CDs worth of material and are definitely ready to be recorded.

AAJ: How many recordings have you appeared on as a sideman?

RR: No sideman credits—I was with Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society for about 2 1/2 years, but we never produced a recording from this period. The same from my work in Reggie Workman's ensembles. Just strange timing I guess.

AAJ: What specifically have you learned from working with Reggie Workman and Ronald Shannon Jackson that has been of the most significant or lasting value?

RR: Working with both Reggie and Shannon has always reconfirmed my desire to be a bandleader and composer. Although their music is quite different, there are some similarities in their approach to band leading. Most significant to me is their ability to draw what they need out of a musician and still allow them plenty of room to be themselves. I think they both (like myself) seek to hire strong personalities that will bring something unique to their music. I may hear something in my head for as long as a year before it gets to a musician, and by that point I've usually arrived at a very specific thing that I want to achieve. It's very important to me that I get close to that sound, and it's very important to me that my musicians feel comfortable, fulfilled, and confident that they're there because they have something valuable to contribute to my music. I think that through witnessing Reggie and Shannon as bandleaders and about 12 years of my own band leading experience, I've found that it's possible to achieve this sort of balance.

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