Award-Winning Jazz Saxophonist Joshua Redman Still Feels Like a Complete Beginner

Since winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition in 1991, saxophonist Joshua Redman has toured the globe, released more than a dozen albums under his own name and collaborated with a number of jazz luminaries, but Redman says he still feels like a complete beginner.

“Every time I learn something, that one thing that I learn shows me ten more things that I don’t know,” Redman says. “For me, it’s just a never-ending journey, and I just want to have as much fun and learn as much as I can and have as much inspiration as I can along the way.”

Redman, son of renowned free-jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman, says that certain things came naturally to him when he started playing, like getting around the instrument, but other things, like developing a really warm, full sound, he had to work at.

“There are a lot of things in music that I’ve struggled with and continue to struggle with,” he says. “But if I have one strength as a musician, it’s knowing what my weaknesses are. Knowing what they are and addressing them are two different things. The first step is knowing. I definitely know what my weaknesses are. And I think on a certain level, that sort of critical attitude can be debilitating at times if I can't temper it. If I can keep it under control and use it as a motivational force, it can be a positive force for change and for getting better.”

Redman has played with many different musicians in various musical contexts, including his recent album and tour with the Bad Plus. And sometimes one project rubs off on another: As Redman notes, “Everything that I experience and everything that I do as a musician, I learn from, I grow, and I bring that to the other situations that I’m in.”

When Redman comes to Dazzle for his three-night stand this week, he’ll be performing with his longtime quartet, which includes pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. This quartet has been together off and on for fifteen years, with some of the musical connections going back 25 years.

“They’re some of my favorite musicians in the world, and we always have a great time playing together,” Redman says. “We’ve played together so much over the years and have been together on the road so much, on and off the bandstand, there’s just that sort of trust and camaraderie and just genuine love of each other and friendship that, for me, [is] the ideal situation for making music. When you have that level of trust and empathy, both musically and personally, it allows you to be truly relaxed and free musically; they’re really good pre-conditions for magic to happen.”

Magic also happened last January at Dazzle, when Redman debuted his Still Dreaming project, which included drummer Brian Blade, bassist Scott Colley and local trumpeter Ron Miles. The group took its inspirational starting point from Old and New Dreams, a group of musicians including Redman’s father, Dewey, drummer Ed Blackwell, bassist Charlie Haden and cornetist Don Cherry, who played in some of Ornette Coleman’s most important bands of the ’60s and ’70s.

“That was a band that was a huge influence on me,” Redman says of Old and New Dreams. “I didn’t grow up with my father, but I grew up listening to his music, and I would go to see him play when he was in town in the Bay Area. I saw him play at least a couple of times, maybe more, with Old and New Dreams, and I had all of their records. Some of my favorite work of my dad’s was with that band.”

“The feeling of that group and their musical approach was something that I think affected me and affected all of us very profoundly. Their ability to play really challenging, really cutting-edge music, at times very abstract, thorny music — music that was incredibly open and free, and to be able to play that… But they played it with such a depth of soul and a kind of inherent lyricism and a really poignant and tender approach. It’s like they took a folk-music approach to playing avant-garde jazz. And something about that combination — really, for me, it’s a winning combination.”

Redman says that he grew up listening to the music of Old and New Dreams but that he didn’t necessarily have a lot of chances to play music in that style or with that approach for a long time.

“For me,” he says, “this was an opportunity to kind of get with some like-minded musicians, all of whom had really been influenced by this band as well, and explore some of that music.” 

Joshua Redman Quartet performs at Dazzle Restaurant & Lounge from Tuesday, June 21, through Thursday, June 23. 
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon