01.02. – Happy Birthday !!! Joshua Redman is one of the most acclaimed and charismatic jazz artists to have emerged in the decade of the 1990s. Born in Berkeley, California, he is the son of legendary saxophonist Dewey Redman and dancer Renee Shedroff. He was exposed at an early age to a variety of musics (jazz, classical, rock, soul, Indian, Indonesian, Middle-Eastern, African) and instruments (recorder, piano, guitar, gatham, gamelan), and began playing clarinet at age nine before switching to what became his primary instrument, the tenor saxophone, one year later.
The early influences of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Cannonball Adderley and his father, Dewey Redman, as well as The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, Earth, Wind and Fire, Prince, The Police and Led Zeppelin drew Joshua more deeply into music. But although Joshua loved playing the saxophone and was a dedicated member of the award-winning Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble and Combo from 1983-86, academics were always his first priority, and he never seriously considered becoming a professional musician.
In 1991 Redman graduated from Harvard College summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in Social Studies. He had already been accepted by Yale Law School, but deferred entrance for what he believed was only going to be one year. Some of his friends (former students at the Berklee College of Music whom Joshua had met while in Boston) had recently relocated to Brooklyn, and they were looking for another housemate to help with the rent. Redman accepted their invitation to move in, and almost immediately he found himself immersed in the New York jazz scene. He began jamming and gigging regularly with some of the leading jazz musicians of his generation: Peter Bernstein, Larry Goldings, Kevin Hays, Roy Hargrove, Geoff Keezer, Leon Parker, Jorge Rossy and Mark Turner (to name just a few). In November of that year, five months after moving to New York, Redman was named the winner of the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition. This was only one of the more visible highlights from a year that saw Redman beginning to tour and record with jazz masters such as his father, Jack DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, Elvin Jones, Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny, Paul Motian, and Clark Terry. For Joshua, this was a period of tremendous growth, invaluable experience and endless inspiration.
Now fully committed to a life in music, Redman was quickly signed by Warner Bros. Records and issued his first, self-titled album in the spring of 1993, which subsequently earned Redman his first Grammy nomination. That fall saw the release of Wish, where Joshua was joined by the all-star cast of Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins. He toured extensively with Metheny throughout the latter half of that year. His next recording, MoodSwing, was released in 1994, and it introduced his first permanent band, which included three other young musicians who have gone on to become some of the most important and influential artists in modern jazz: pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. A later edition of this ensemble included guitarist Peter Bernstein, pianist Peter Martin, bassist Chris Thomas and Blade. Over a series of celebrated recordings including Spirit of the Moment/Live at the Village Vanguard, Freedom in the Groove and Timeless Tales (for Changing Times), Redman established himself as one of the music’s most consistent and successful bandleaders, and added soprano and alto saxophones to his instrumental arsenal. Joshua’s second acclaimed quartet, featuring pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, was formed in 1998 and made its recorded debut on the 2000 album Beyond. The dynamic interplay and uncommon rapport of this group inspired Redman to write and record his first long-form composition, Passage of Time, which was released in 2001.
A year later, Redman began to channel his jazz sensibilities through new instrumentation and formed The Elastic Band, a flexible, electrified, groove-based trio built on an ongoing collaboration with keyboardist Sam Yahel and drummer Brian Blade. The band debuted on the 2002 releases yaya3 and Elastic. Drummer Jeff Ballard began to play regularly with the Elastic Band later that year, and he (along with Blade and Yahel) played a central role in their next recording, the Grammy-nominated Momentum, which was released in 2005 to inaugurate Redman’s affiliation with Nonesuch Records, and featured a diverse and exciting lineup of special guests.
In 2000, Redman was named Artistic Director for the Spring Season of the non-profit jazz-presenting organization SFJAZZ. Redman and SFJAZZ Executive Director Randall Kline had an idea that The New York Times called a “eureka moment”; the creation of the SFJAZZ Collective, an ensemble distinguished both by the creativity of its members and a unique primary emphasis on composition. Inaugurated in 2004, the eight-piece band consists of a multi-generational cast of accomplished musicians. The Collective’s repertoire features both commissioned works and new arrangements of the work of great modern jazz composers. In March 2007, Redman announced that he was taking a hiatus from both the SFJAZZ Artistic Directorship and the SFJAZZ Collective in order to focus on new projects.
The following month, Nonesuch released Redman’s first ever piano-less trio record, Back East, featuring Joshua alongside three stellar bass and drum rhythm sections (Larry Grenadier & Ali Jackson, Christian McBride & Brian Blade, Reuben Rogers & Eric Harland) and three very special guest saxophonists (Chris Cheek, Joe Lovano and Dewey Redman). On Compass, released in January 2009 (Nonesuch), Joshua continues to explore the expansive trio format, and with a group of collaborators as intrepid as he is – bassists Larry Grenadier and Rueben Rogers, and drummers Brian Blade and Gregory Hutchinson – Redman literally and figuratively stretches the shape of the trio approach; on the most audacious of these tunes, he performs with the entire lineup in a double-trio setting.
Starting in late 2009, Joshua will be performing with a new collaborative band called James Farm featuring pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman, and drummer Eric Harland. The band infuses traditional acoustic jazz quartet instrumentation with a progressive attitude and modern sound, creating music that is rhythmically and technically complex and at the same time harmonically rich, melodically satisfying, and emotionally compelling.
In addition to his own projects, Redman has recorded and performed with musicians such as Brian Blade, Ray Brown, Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, The Dave Matthews Band, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Frisell, Aaron Goldberg, Larry Goldings, Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove, Roy Haynes, Billie Higgins, Milt Jackson, Elvin Jones, Quincy Jones, Big Daddy Kane, Geoff Keezer, B.B. King, The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, DJ Logic, Joe Lovano, Yo Yo Ma, Branford Marsalis, Christian McBride, John Medeski, Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny, Marcus Miller, Paul Motian, MeShell Ndegeocello, Leon Parker, Nicholas Payton, John Psathas, Simon Rattle, Dewey Redman, Dianne Reeves, Melvin Rhyne, The Rolling Stones, The Roots, Kurt Rosenwinkel, John Scofield, Soulive, String Cheese Incident, Clark Terry, Toots Thielemans, The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Mark Turner, McCoy Tyner, Umphrey’s McGee, US3, Bugge Wesseltoft, Cedar Walton, Stevie Wonder and Sam Yahel. Joshua Redman has been nominated for 2 Grammys and has garnered top honors in critics and readers polls of DownBeat, Jazz Times, The Village Voice and Rolling Stone. He wrote and performed the music for Louis Malle’s final film Vanya on 42nd Street, and is both seen and heard in the Robert Altman film Kansas City.
From a legendary Dexter Gordon session to saccharine Frank Sinatra standards, the Chicago Jazz Orchestra will offer new context to a few of the jazz genre’s pivotal recordings with the help of a new home base in the heart of Second City.
The orchestra will round out much of its 2017-2018 season in the friendly confines of the Studebaker Theatre—a departure from the variety of small performing arts venues it’s used in the past. Jeff Lindberg, CJO artistic director, said the remainder of the season was shaped with the new venue in mind; a mid-sized historic building with intimate seating, Vaudevillian ambience and stunning natural sound. The space also will provide a unique launchpad for additional one-off shows at smaller halls.
“Over the years, our programming has fluctuated,” said Travis Rosenthal, CJO executive director. “By creating our own series at the Studebaker, we can plan a higher volume of programming year to year, while being more creative and selective.”
The Studebaker will be put to the test during what likely is the benchmark of the season’s remaining programming, a March 25 celebration of Gordon’s 1979 Sophisticated Giant. Showcasing guest tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, the performance will showcase original transcriptions and include a 12-piece ensemble alongside the material’s original arranger, trombonist Slide Hampton.
While learning the material is an immense undertaking, Redman said, “listening to Dexter Gordon is never homework.”
“Studying for this test is going to be fun,” said Redman, who figures Sophisticated Giantas an ambitious project beyond the many Gordon recordings he already has transcribed. “I have learned so much, not just about saxophone playing, but the basic building blocks and idioms of jazz improvisation from studying Dexter Gordon’s music. Manhattan Symphony, the Blue Note recordings from the ‘60s, Doin’ Alright … I have a lot of great influences, but not a lot that I transcribed like him.”
This iteration of Sophisticated Giant, Rosenthal said, takes a heavy hitting player like Redman to shine a light on Gordon’s classic and truly do the original justice.
“I did a lot of listening to Joshua prior,” said Rosenthal, who commissioned the saxophonist to perform the piece. “That’s a heavy work, and we’re looking for someone with a creative approach who can pay homage in the historic way necessary. Joshua is a creative traditionalist, with a bread and butter tenor sound. He’s not afraid to expand upon that.”
According to Redman, unique interpretation happens in the moment—it’s not learned. That organic momentum, along with the room itself, is something that will create a whole new sensory experience outside of the recording.
“I find that I’m at my best musically when I’m not conceptual or strategizing,” he said. “I can live organically in the moment. You can’t replicate what you have in the studio. There’s an attention to detail that you’re not going to get live. But when people can palpably feel and experience the spontaneity of the performance, when space has a character and when there’s feeling in the audience, that will condition the music in a special way.”
Revisiting and revitalizing legendary ventures is CJO’s bread and butter as well. Lindberg, who transcribes almost all of CJO’s material exclusively, referred to previous Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie tributes as evidence of that reputation.
“[The Redman performance] is consistent with what we did with Clark Terry, when we did Porgy and Bess,” he said. “All of the transcriptions were the original arrangements from Gil Evans that he did for Miles. We are good at that and we plan on continuing that tradition.”
Hampton too will provide a cohesive thread throughout much of the CJO’s early 2018 programming. The 85-year-old NEA Jazz Master brings his experience and wisdom from the stage to the classroom during the Evanston Township High School Jazz Festival on Feb. 10. An extension of and prelude to Sophisticated Giant, Hampton will conduct a series of clinics and concerts alongside his nephew, trumpeter Pharez Whitted, all of which will be recorded for archival use by the CJO and Chicago-area public schools.
“The main focus, of course, is the big band,” Whitted said of the clinic, but said the repertory could venture out from Hampton’s standards. “He has plenty of music for the occasion—tributes to Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, even Venus and Serena Williams. He’ll cover the gamut. He’s truly an encyclopedia of the music. Once he starts talking about Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, people listen. So few can still talk about those experiences.”
The ensemble also will back singer Sarah Marie Young on Jan. 30 at City Winery as a testament to its ongoing showcase and support of vocalists. Young, a singer-songwriter who boasts folk, indie and jazz credentials, as well as regularly conducting workshops with CJO at the Merit School of Music, said she always jumps at the chance to perform with the ensemble.
“Most of the time, we’ll do Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald—that type of thing. I’m really excited, as I don’t always perform big band material,” she said. “It’s a really great, warm-sounding room.”
When it comes to tribute-centric programming, Young and Redman are just the tip of the iceberg. CJO will close out its season on May 12 at the Studebaker with a performance of 1969’s Sinatra At The Sands. The concert, featuring the ensemble alongside vocalist Paul Marinaro, is a testament to the orchestra’s growing audience, and Lindberg said the location of the venue—the center of Chicago’s Loop—is a plus.
Rosenthal hopes the diverse programming will entice jazz fans back next year for the orchestra’s 40th anniversary season, which he said will expand on the mission of celebrating emerging musicians and historic moments of the genre with the poise, polish and, of course, CJO’s unique approach.
“For us, the approach is being able to revisit guest artists or themes from the past,” Rosenthal said. “We’ve performed with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Arturo Sandoval. Being able to revisit our history in new settings is the lens we like to look through. We’re going to bring in a lot of new people, and they’re going to continue to love what we do.”