Part Three

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. In the final installment of this series, Redman discusses winning the Thelonious Monk Competition, the advantages of taking on the role of a side man and dealing with the divisions within the jazz community. Following are excerpts from Mr. Redman's interview with SESAC's Linda Lorence along with selected audio files.

Lorence: What's the next six months like for you?

Redman: Well, I'm off for the next two months until the middle of February. Then weíre going to continue our tour behind our most recent record which is called "Freedom in the Groove." Weíve been touring behind that since it came out in September. Then April, May and June are going to be... well...I'm not going to work during those months. I'm getting married in June.

Lorence: Congratulations.

Redman: Thank you.

Lorence: Who's playing your wedding? (laugh)

Redman: I can't settle on a band. I can't afford the band. I think I'm going to have a jam session so I can get them all to play for free! In July I'll probably go to Europe for the summer festivals. After that, I donít know what I'm doing and that's the best feeling in the world. This is the first time that I don't know what I'm doing a year in advance. I've always known my schedule. Almost down to the day for a year in advance. So it's great, because there's an openness now.

Lorence: So you seem like the kind of guy that sets goals for himself.

Redman: Yeah, but my goals are always vague. Like my goal to practice or to write. But it's not like I can say, "Okay, the next record I want to do is going to be this. I'm going to be playing these songs and they are going to be arranged in these ways and I'm going to have these musicians." I always have vague concepts and they start to crystallize as I get closer to the final result.

My conception of how something is going to be is never realized completely. In the process of creating, the conception changes. I don't have concrete, specific goals but I do have vision and motivation.

Lorence: What about five years from now?

Redman: I hope I'm still playing and I hope I'm better than I am now. For me, part of the joy of music and the joy of life is the adventure and not knowing what comes next. If I had a clear plan and knew where I was going to be five years from now, I wouldn't enjoy getting there as much. I think that it would restrict me. I don't want to have tunnel vision when it comes to my future. The greatest things that have happened to me as a musician have been accidents. In fact, this is an accident, being a musician. I didn't plan to do it. I said I wasn't going to do it. If I had tunnel vision in '91 and said I'm going to be a lawyer, I wouldn't be here today. So I take the same attitude with music -- within music and within life. I try to have vision but I try to remain as open as I can to the different opportunities that present themselves.

Lorence: What was that first year like when you were out of Harvard and you knew you weren't going back to school. What did your mother think?

"Freedom in the Groove" Redman's fifth release as a leader. Warner Brothers 1996.
Redman: My mom was in to it. My mom has never been into the traditional idea of success. Sheís always supported me in everything I've done. Her thing has always been to do what makes you happy and what fulfills you. In some ways, she's even happier that I chose to be a musician because she's always made creative choices in her life which have gone against the grain of traditional concepts of success.

Lorence: Interesting. So do we have any questions out there? Anybody?

Attendee: What importance did winning the Thelonious Monk competition have for you? What role did that play in your life and career?

Redman: It was probably the single most important move in my career. Before that I didn't have a career. After winning the competition, people started calling. The most important thing to me at that time was that the musicians I'd always wanted to play with, that I idolized, were calling and I was given the opportunity to play with them.

But later on, the fact that people in the industry were taking an interest, was very important to me also. After winning the competition, I didn't all of a sudden think, "Oh wow, I can play." Or, "I'm good." I didn't think I was any better or any worse. I didn't have any more or less confidence. I think, on a certain level, music competitions are bogus. I say that with all respect to the Monk competition which I think is one of the most important events. The Monk Institute is one of the most important institutes in the jazz community. They are doing incredible things.

(audio) But there is something inherently flawed about the idea of a jazz competition because jazz is art and art is subjective. Jazz is about improvisation. Itís about playing the way you feel at the moment and trying to communicate your feelings honestly and directly. The presumption that you can take 10, 13, 25 jazz musicians, take moments in their lives, or ten minute moments, listen to them and then put them in hierarchy is a ridiculous assumption.

But if you look at it as a bunch of musicians, who are all great, they all deserve to be there, they all deserve to win and we have a panel of judges and subjectively, based on the way those judges feel at that moment, they are going to try and evaluate the musicians. Then it's fine. Thatís how I've always looked at it. And that's how I think we should look at it.

Lorence: When did you get your record deal?

Redman: I signed my record deal in August of '92, which was about a year after I won the competition. But I didn't put a record out until March of '93. It was fast. Everything has been fast in my career. A lot happened between November of '91 and August of '92. I got a chance to play with all those people that I mentioned before and all the people that I've forgotten. That's a lot to happen in that amount of time.

Lorence: You learned so much from that experience.

Redman: Even during the first couple years as a leader and a recording artist, the primary focus of what I was doing was side man work. It wasn't until the beginning of '94 that I started to focus primarily on leading a band.

Lorence: But youíre still interested in doing side man work?

Redman: I still do side man work. I spent this whole summer touring as a side man with Chick Corea and hopefully will be doing a lot of that next year. Not necessarily with him, but I want to take a break from leading a band. I'd like to be part of a collective group. That would be fun.

Attendee: This is actually an observation... as you were talking about playing with some of your idols, it struck me that jazz is one of the few arts that actually perpetuates the apprenticeship system. Is that something that you were cognizant of early on?

Redman: Yes, it was something that has always been very, very important to me. One of the main reasons that I started to lead a band and concentrate on a solo career as a leader as early as I did was because I did not have enough opportunities as a side man. I did not see an opportunity for myself to become part of a regular working band as a side man. There are very few side man opportunities in jazz today for a horn players --especially few side men opportunities with master musicians.

If youíre a drummer, a pianist or a member of the rhythm section there's a lot more openings, but as a horn player, it's tough. I think there are fewer openings every year. I would have liked to have spent more time working exclusively as a side man. I would have loved to have played with Art Blakey for three years. Or to have played with Miles Davis, you know for twenty years.

Art Blakey and Miles Davis were two of the last master musicians to have those kinds of groups. And you know, they passed away at almost exactly the time that I hit the scene. So, it's very, very important to the tradition of jazz but itís also one of the biggest dangers. There are fewer opportunities for people to learn at the side of master.

People in the industry, or some critics make a big deal of how some guys have record contracts and haven't paid their dues -- and how they could benefit from the experience of working with a master. But the bottom line is that most of these guys would love to do exactly what the critics are saying they should be doing, but the opportunities simply aren't out there. Sometimes the only way to have a regular band to work and grow with is to form you own band.

Attendee: In the last decade or so, there seems to be a lot of disagreement and division in the jazz community -- something thatís been really obvious with all the controversy thatís gone on about Lincoln Center. What are your thoughts on this?

Redman: Well, I think a certain amount of controversy is always healthy for an artistic community. With regard to the Lincoln Center controversy, some of the stuff has been over the top. On a personal level, the things that people have said are kind of ridiculous. It doesn't need to get that heated.

The way I see it, Lincoln Center is one organization. It has a philosophy and maybe even an ideology about jazz and music. Thatís how I think we should look at it: One organization which is directed by a certain group of people and primarily one individual who has a very strong conviction about this music, a great passion for this music and a great belief in what this music is about and how this music should sound.

Cover photo from "Mood Swing," Redman's 1994 Warner Brothers release.
I don't necessarily agree with all of those convictions. In fact, I don't agree with a lot of paths Lincoln Center is taking. Itís one organization, albeit a very important and influential organization, but I think it's a mistake to expect an organization like that to be all things to all people -- to represent all music and all the opinions there are about jazz. Ultimately, I think for an organization and program to be strong and to communicate something, there has to be a vision behind that program and that organization. I think that any strong vision is going to include some things and exclude others.

Personally, I'd love to see Lincoln Center become a little bit more inclusive. I think it is becoming more inclusive just from the kinds of shows they have put on recently. But I think to expect the Lincoln Center to be all things to all people and to represent everything in jazz is a mistake. Even if I don't agree with all the programming choices, even if I don't agree with the philosophy at the time, I do respect the conviction of Lincoln Center and I think they are presenting their vision and it's great to have that vision within the jazz community. They are fulfilling a function.

Lorence: What are you listening to these days? Bought any CD's lately?

Redman: I've gotten some for free! (laugh)

Lorence: Anything you like?

Redman: Yeah, all kinds of stuff. More than jazz. I mean, there's pop, meaning everything but jazz. I like A Tribe Called Quest. I like a lot of the new R & B artists, Tony Rich and DíAngelo. I like Brandy a lot. I like some of the alternative bands. I really like Soundgarden a lot. They remind me a lot of Led Zeppelin, one of my favorite bands. I like the stuff I've heard from Beck. I dig his music. I really like the Fugees. I like De La Soul. I really like MeíShell Ndegeocello. I think she's one of the best artists to come around in a long time.

(audio) I'm know Iím leaving out some great people. I see stuff on TV every day and a lot of it is crap. But every once in a while there's something that's really cool. I think that pop music is entering a more creative phase than it was maybe two, three or five years ago. Especially, R&B. I'm a huge fan of R&B and soul. But there's a point where I had almost given up on it. Because it was so, it just lost all of it's raw power and it was more pop than pop. There was no soul to it anymore.

Attendee: Do you have any special techniques for preparing for a performance?

Redman: You know, I don't. A lot of times I get nervous before I go out on stage. When you are leading a band there are always issues -- always these hassles to deal with. Itís a problem for me because it distracts me. I need to find a way to have at least ten or fifteen minutes of quiet time before I go out on stage.

Attendee: With all this road work, how did you manage to snag a significant other? You must have found a way to have some balance in your life.

Redman: I can't claim to have balanced my relationship very well. It's been pretty unbalanced up until now. That's probably the reason why I'm taking considerable time off. We spent more time apart then we have together. She used to work in the record industry and she retired in August and came out on the road with me for the past few months.

It was nice to spend more time together although the fact that I was working meant it wasnít necessarily quality time. It was good for us to do that but I don't think itís the answer. I just want to find time to work and be out there and play music, which I love to do, and also spend time at home.

Related sites: Jazz Central Station/Joshua Redman
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