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There's a story about a saxophonist being approached by an excited fan after a concert to get his autograph. The fan asks him to sign a CD he says he had just bought of his. Happy to oblige he takes the CD, looks, and with mixed emotions sees that it's a CD recorded by his son, Joshua Redman. Of course this is a story about the brilliant and often under-appreciated saxophonist Dewey Redman. This is a telling tale of the commercial world of jazz today that the heavy promotion of a musician especially if they are young has become the number one factor in determining fame and along with that, fortune. Talent has taken a major back seat in affecting a musician's career today. If talent were the deciding factor today (Walter) Dewey Redman would be one of the most famous musicians around.
A couple of years ago I was fortunate to get a chance to play with this heavy musical talent when bassist Mario Pavone asked me to play a gig at the Litchfield Jazz Festival with our normal group and Dewey as a special guest. I was thrilled with the idea, as I had wanted to play with him for many years. I still remember my feeling during the gig of total amazement as Dewey glided with intensity and beauty through the pieces. With his unique improvisational ideas and rich sound he weaved his magic through some very difficult compositions and made each piece sound very personal and full. For me this was music at the deepest and highest level.
Though Dewey may not be as well known to the average jazz listener as his son Joshua, Dewey's career is full of important musical adventures. He grew up in Fort Worth, Texas in the 1930's where he studied music along with classmates Charles Moffett, Prince Lasha and Ornette Coleman. He went on to earn himself a masters degree in education and became a teacher for a number of years. In 1959 he moved to Los Angeles for a short time and then went on to San Francisco where he began to lead his own groups and also worked in the bands of Pharoah Sanders and Wes Montgomery. It was 1967 when he made the big move to New York and hooked up with his old Texas schoolmate Ornette Coleman. Dewey joined Ornette's band and stayed for seven years traveling around the world and making some fantastic recordings. It was also during this time that Dewey began working with Charlie Haden's politically oriented Liberation Orchestra as well with Keith Jarrett's far-reaching group of the 70's with Paul Motian on drums. In 1976 he formed a band with Ornette's old bandmates Don Cherry, Haden and Ed Blackwell which was soon to be known as 'Old and New Dreams' (from the title of an album they recorded). Throughout all the recordings Dewey made with these different groups his improvisations have a quality of depth and fullness, tradition and newness. It sounds like he has combined head and heart, intelligence and emotion, soul and spirit to create a very personal means of expression. Dewey's musical presence in all of these bands is very powerful and important in their overall sound and character. His is a strong musical personality and this to me is the goal of all improvising musicians, to develop a voice that is uniquely yours and to have something interesting to say with the people you are working with. This is Dewey Redman.
There are so many great recordings to recommend of Dewey. Check out one of his own like African Venus on Evidence or Live in London on Palmetto. Some of my of favorites of Dewey on recordings by other artists are Crisis by Ornette Coleman or Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra both on Impulse, The Survivors Suite with Keith Jarrett, 80/81 a cool recording with Pat Metheny, and Old and New Dreams all on ECM. Or check out Dewey on Matt Wilson's recent As Wave Follows Wave on Palmetto or Dark Metals by Anthony Cox on Minor Music.
I feel lucky to have gotten a chance to play with Dewey Redman and I hope those of you who only know his son Joshua (who has become a fine musician over the years) will go and check out Dewey who is the truly great innovative artist. Until next time keep in touch and happy holidays.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.