It can be a burden, an unfair one at that, when jazz musicians are anointed as being among those to "carry the torch" into the future, to sustain and revitalize the music. Jazz music evolves, as it always has, like the ocean moves. The innovators and creators come and go, blessing the planet and leaving things better than before, and the art form rolls on. Through rain and snow and dark of night and persistent reports of its demise.
Yet if one insists on standard bearers, there are few out there as reliable and productive as Joshua Redman. Intelligent and affable, Redman isn't caught up in "who will carry on?" He's caught up in creating art. And he isn't caught up in the woes of a music industry (not just jazz) that has been taken over by bean counters in business suits, many of whom wouldn't know innovation, good music or art if it walked up to them and bit them in a place... well, where one would remember being bitten.
He's not only one of the most consistent and creative of his generation, he appears to be always open. Open to ideas and open to sharing them. He's aware of everything, yet relaxed. He's not unconcerned, but he's not anxious about his future, or that of the music. Recently at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, Redman spent a week sharing his experiences with young music students, teaching master classes, lending a hand with ensembles, and capping it off with a concert. In both his relating to students, and his public concert much of which was interesting original music Redman displayed why the music is still in good hands. It's still going to roll on.
"Every year there's a great crop of jazz musicians who come to town and they're still musicians making records and touring. I actually believe that, artistically, the music is in great shape," Redman says. "It's a very exciting time in jazz. If anything, I think jazz is fresher and more creative and more open and more original than when I first came to town in the early 90s."
It's hard to be unaware of the way in which Redman burst on the scene at that time, giving up Harvard Law School for music, winning the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition and plunging into New York City's jazz scene with the greats of the music scene. Successful CDs. Always something worthwhile to say on his horn. Redman has been a bit quieter this year, with no CD released (but expect a new Elastic Band recording early next year) and more sideman work than headlining. But he's been very active. Sitting still seems impossible.
"The business side of the music goes up and down. But as long as the music itself stays strong and creative and vital, things will work themselves out," he adds. "Even though there aren't necessarily the same kinds of opportunities for musicians today, the really dedicated, really talented musicians with something to offer will always find a way to make a living playing the music that they love to play."
Part of Redman's role at the college was to relate to the students and impart some of his experience. In that role, he also appeared laid back. And realistic.
"I certainly don't consider myself by any means a professional educator. I'm a student as well. I'm continually trying to learn more about music and develop as a musician. I don't come to these things with any real detailed plan. I don't have a lesson plan or a reading syllabus. I really try to approach these situations with an open mind. My approach is to try to offer whatever I can in the way of whatever knowledge and experience I've acquired over the years. Try to help the students out in whatever way if the most effective and the most natural."
He says that talking to aspiring musicians about the music side of the business is something he doesn't dwell on. If someone loves music, they'll find a way to make it part of their professional lives. At worst, an important part of their personal lives.
"Even though I am deeply immersed in the music business it's my profession. I'm a professional musician I've never thought of myself primarily as a professional musician. The business is secondary to the art, always. It always has been and always will be. I didn't get into the music business in order to make a living. I studied other things in college. I was going to go to law school. I thought that was going to be my profession. The reason why I didn't wasn't because I thought I could make a better living in music. Far from it. It was because I had the opportunity to play incredible music with some of the most brilliant musicians alive. Some of my heroes and idols. I couldn't turn down those opportunities."