Joshua Redman

Sax Appeal

Jazzman Joshua Redman hits his stride

By Greg Cahill

Joshua Redman is holed up on a cold, rainy afternoon at the Holiday Inn in Iowa City, wending his way through a packed slate of press phone interviews and watching the Iowa Caucus returns on CNN. “I’m not a particularly partisan person,” he notes, “though I’m open to anyone’s ideas.”

He pauses for a second and then adds with a contagious laugh, “But with all the mudslinging, it becomes almost like a sporting event.”

These days, the comical antics of the Republican presidential primary candidates are among the few diversions this 27-year-old jazz star can squeeze in. He is, in the parlance of the entertainment industry, a hot commodity. In the past four 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. His fourth and most recent album, the two-CD live set Spirit of the Moment (Warner Bros.), has won rave reviews. He recently completed a small film role in Robert Altman’s upcoming Kansas City, portraying jazz sax legend Lester Young. And his boyish good looks have earned Redman a lucrative sponsorship from the trendy DKNY clothing line, making him the first jazz musician to fuse with a fashion firm.

“I realize how fortunate I am to be in a position where I have too many gigs, because I know there are so many musicians out there who deserve more,” says Redman, who plays more than 250 dates a year and is scheduled to appear Feb. 27 at Sonoma State Univer-sity. “I’m always appreciative, but right now the struggle isn’t to get gigs, but to find time away from my career.”

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.

His latest band is starting to explore a broad range of musical styles: R&B, soul, funk, rock, Latin, African. Redman hopes to incorporate those into a cohesive sound. “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.”

Clearly, Redman is in his element onstage–far from the media hype, product endorsements, and casting calls–where he spends most of his time. “For me, music is an emotional and spiritual experience,” he says. “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.”

The Joshua Redman Quintet performs Tuesday, Feb. 27, at 8 p.m. at the Evert B. Person Theater at Sonoma State University, 1801 East Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. Tickets are $12 general; $10 seniors; $6 non-SSU students; and $5 SSU students. Redman will host a free, informal music workshop at 4 p.m. at the theater on the day of the show.

From the Feb. 15-21, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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