On Tuesday, December 17th, the New York Chapter of NARAS hosted a Bag It! luncheon with saxman Joshua Redman. Considered by many to be the most brilliant saxophonist to emerge on the jazz scene in the past decade, he has recorded five albums on Warner Brothers and leads his own quintet. A Harvard graduate with intentions of going to law school before "accidentally" becoming a professional musician, Redman enthralled the luncheon's attendees with insights acquired in what appears to be a star destined career.
In part one, Redman explains how he "accidentally" became a professional musician, the importance of developing an original repertoire and the songwriting process. In part two he talks about media attention, his relationship with his audience and his goals as a musician. Following are excerpts from Mr. Redman's interview with SESAC's Linda Lorence along with selected audio files.
Lorence: Your last five years have been incredible. How are you dealing with all of this media attention?
Redman: That's a big question. I deal with it by treating it with both the respect and disrespect it deserves.
Lorence: What do you mean by that?
Redman: Well, I'm not going to sit here and say the attention doesn't matter. I mean that's false humility -- or at best itís false humility.
Lorence: But does it influence your playing or your attitude?
Redman: No. It means something to me that people have taken an interest in me. That means a lot to me. I'm very, very honored by that. I respect the fact that there are positive opinions about what Iíve done. I am also very grateful. The media attention has been a big part of my success. There's an incredible number of great jazz musicians out there and very few of them get this kind of attention despite the fact theyíre just as deserving as I am.
Lorence: Why do you think that is?
Redman: I don't know, I can't answer that. I would like to think that ultimately it's based on my music. There are a lot of things that can contribute to overnight success and immediate fame. A break has a lot to do with other things than music. But I think that in terms of your long term success, and being able to sustain interest and sustain an audience, ultimately your music has to speak to people.
I think there is a lot of other things that have contributed to the kind of opportunities that Iíve had. I was in the right place at the right time. I had an interesting story that made for good press. My image was interesting to people... It's hard for me to talk about myself in those terms.
Lorence: You're doing fine. What about the jazz police, you know those critics that put expectations on your work?
Ultimately it's my own values and my own desires and my own vision which have to inform my musical choices and my musical directions. I think the minute your music starts to be based on other things, whether it be people's reviews or commercial concerns, the minute you start to do that, is the minute you start to compromise your music.
Lorence: Who would you say your audience is?
Redman: I don't think my audience is confined to a specific identifiable demographic. One thing I've noticed in terms of my concerts is that it seems to be a diverse audience. Thereís definitely the core jazz audience, which demographically speaking, would be middle class to upper middle class -- predominately white, 35 and older, jazz enthusiasts.
But, there's also a really substantial and growing younger audience, especially college students. That really excites me because it makes me feel like I'm communicating with my peers. It's very positive to play to people who are in my same generation. Every once in a while, there's a few young kids. Their parents will bring them to the shows. Ethnically and culturally itís a very diverse audience.
Lorence: Do you think about your audiences when you are writing or performing? Do you think about who you'd like to attract?
Redman: No. That would be a compromise because that would be calculation. I would be thinking, okay, how do I reach this demographic, or how do I reach this type of person? What do they want to hear? The minute I start to think in those terms I lose sight of what I have to say. That doesn't mean that I'm disregarding my audience. Whenever I'm creating music and especially when I'm playing music, I'm always conscious of trying to communicate to an audience. Music is about expression and expression is communication. You have to be aware that there is an audience out there. You have to give of yourself. Music is very selfless in that sense.
So Iím always aware of an audience and I'm always trying to play to an audience, but Iím never thinking about an audience's expectations. That would distract me. There's a difference between playing to an audience and playing down to an audience, or playing up to an audience.
Lorence: Can you explain?
Redman: To me, when you play down to an audience, you are thinking about what an audience wants to hear. You are making an assumption about that audience's sophistication or lack of sophistication. That's playing down to an audience. Playing up to an audience would be if I think an audience is so sophisticated that I need to overwhelm them with technique or intellectualism.
Either one of those things is not being true to my own soul. My goal as a musician is to try to play honestly -- to take what I've experienced and what I felt in my life and to communicate that in musical terms to an audience. I'm always mindful of the fact that I'm trying to communicate, that I'm trying to tell people something. But I'm not mindful of what it is they want to hear.
Lorence: An instrumentalist canít use words to express themselves. How do you use music to make your statement?
Redman: The bottom line is that I want my audience to feel. My music is expressive of everything I have ever felt. I haven't narrowed in on a specific range of feelings -- things I want to communicate through my music. I think the entire range of my emotional experience is communicated through my music. Because of that, I think it's possible and probable that my audience is going to feel all kinds of different things.
Every song I write, every performance I give and every note I play can mean a different thing to every person in the audience. I think that's one of the strengths of instrumental music. The fact that you don't have lyrics makes the music more interpretable. The listener doesn't have a set of lyrics they have to think about -- you know, what is the artist trying to tell me, what do these words mean? They can just respond to the pure sound -- the raw energy of the sound and find their own meaning.
After a recent performance, five different people came up to me and gave five radically different interpretations of the same piece of music. They were all right. In that sense, the audience is as much a part of the music and the interpretation of the music as I am. That's how I like it. Ultimately I want to communicate joy from my music. But, there's definitely sadness and anger. There are negative emotions that are expressed in my music as well as positive, but I think through the expression and the sharing of those emotions, that in the end everything is positive.
Lorence: You've been on the road now for a long time. How many weeks out of the year are you on the road?
Redman: Well, up to this point a good 45 weeks. Probably more. I don't count... if I'm home in New York for three days I can't count that because all I'm doing is running to the dry cleaner, the laundromat, paying my bills and getting ready to leave. We probably play over 200 concerts a year. When I'm not performing, I'm always doing some other sort of work, whether it's doing a record date, or an interview, or something like this. It's been very busy.
Lorence: Are you enjoying it?
Redman: Yes, I'm enjoying it and I'm very grateful for it. As much as I realize I need time off, I'm very fortunate to have these opportunities. I love to do this. I love to play music. There's no question about that. I love to communicate with people outside of playing music. I like to talk about what I do because that gives me insight. When I try to explain my music to people, it forces me to think about what I'm doing.
Lorence: Sometimes we are our own best teachers.
Redman: I definitely learn as much from interviews, probably more from interviews, than the people who are actually ending up reading this.
Lorence: Do you listen to other peopleís music?
Redman: Yes, as much as I can. That's very important to me. That's one of the motivations for being on the road so much and getting to play every night with a regular band. I get to listen to the musicians I'm playing with and also get to see other shows, especially during the summer. In Europe, when Iím on the festival circuit, I get to see maybe another ten bands every night -- that's very inspiring.
Lorence: When do you find the time to write?
Redman: I find pockets of time either during the few days Iím off the road. Or if I can get to a piano when I'm on the road -- if I'm in the right frame of mind.
Lorence: What is required to get in the right frame of mind?
Then come September and October of that year, I've got material and a concept for a record. It's been like that every year up until now. This is the first year where I have a lot of ideas, but I don't have a set of new compositions. I don't have a clear sense of what I want to do next.
Lorence: Do you keep them in your head, or do you have a book full of your ideas? Some writers work with a book that they keep their notes in...
Redman: I am anal, but not when it comes to music. I don't have a systematic approach to music and I don't organize my musical thoughts particularly well. Usually writing, annotating music is the last thing I do. In fact, my earlier compositions are not even annotated. I've been fortunate enough to work with a regular group of musicians, so I can teach everyone the music. I don't need to have charts. If an idea comes to me I try to record it. I used to carry around a tape recorder, but I don't have a systematic approach.
Lorence: Do you practice?
Redman: No. I mean I need to, no question about it. My experience in music has been so unconventional -- my career path and the way I ended up as a professional musician. There are some serious gaps in my experience. Some serious holes. And one of them is practicing. Until I moved to New York, I had no intention of being a professional musician and because of that, I never really had the desire to practice. My life, my career, my living didnít depend on playing music so I could...
Lorence: Just show up to the gig and go?
Redman: Yeah. I would take gigs not because they were gigs, but because they were opportunities to play -- not because of the professional aspect. It was just fun. I wanted to get better, but I always hated practicing and so there was nothing to motivate me to practice for the first 22 years of my life.
Lorence: But surely you studied?
Redman: Not music.
Redman: No. I mean I've studied in the sense that I've listened to records and I've gone to clubs...
Lorence: But you never took a lesson?
Redman: Not on the saxophone. No. But with jazz, all the information is there. Your teachers are there on records. Theyíre at the Vanguard every night. Like a private instructor, they exist as motivators. All the information is out there. You can teach it to yourself. You just have to have the motivation and the discipline.
Related sites: Jazz Central Station/Joshua Redman
In Part Three, Joshua Redman discusses winning the Thelonious Monk Competition, the advantages of taking on the role of a side man and dealing with the divisions in the jazz community.
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