The accidental jazzman
ONE OF THE most extraordinary things about saxophonist Joshua Redman’s career is that it happened at all. “I’ve been living the dream, although sometimes it can feel like a nightmare,” he laughs.
“It was never a dream I’ve had – I’ve always loved music, for the first half more as a listener than as a player. I never heard myself in that position, I was on a different track. The past 20 years have been a gift, a glorious accident.”
Those 20 years have seen him become one of the finest and most exciting saxophone players in jazz today. Redman was born in Berkeley, California, in 1969. His father, Dewey Redman, was a famous saxophonist, and while Redman was growing up, his father was living in New York playing with the likes of Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett (later in life, Redman would record two albums with his father).
His mother, Renee Shedroff, studied South Indian dance at the Centre for World Music in Berkeley, and enrolled him in classes there. Redman settled on tenor saxophone as his weapon of choice at the age of 10, and played throughout his teens with the prestigious Berkeley High School jazz band. However, while he never concentrated on jazz, practised infrequently and favoured his academic studies over music, this didn’t stop him, in the summer of 1990, from debuting with his father at New York’s Village Vanguard.
A straight-A student, Redman went on to Harvard University, graduated in 1991, and was accepted to study law at Yale. Before heading to Yale, though, Redman decided to take a year out to move in with friends in Brooklyn. Once there, he fell easily into the New York jazz scene, and in one brief, furious year, he cut his teeth in the boiler room of the New York scene in an arc that can take top players a decade.
Did his earlier non-musical experience influence his approach to jazz, once he committed to being a full-time player? “Certainly, as a human being, there is something about a little education, and how to think critically about the world and the things you see and how to ask the right question that has stood me in fairly good stead over the years.
“I can’t draw an explicit link between that and what I do as musician. Were I to do it all over again, I probably would have made the choice to study music. It would have given me that much more of a foundation and a grounding in the language that I’m now speaking. I feel like maybe there was some advantage to not having gone to music school and keeping a certain naivety but, in general, not having had that base, I certainly had to play catch-up to my peers.”