Clip: Joshua Redman & SF JAZZ Collective
Joshua Redman talks about the SF JAZZ Spring Season and SF JAZZ Collective
Derk Richardson, special to SF Gate
Thursday, April 6, 2006
In 1991, Joshua Redman decided to put off his entrance into Yale Law
School (after graduating summa cum laude from Harvard) to test the
waters of a career in jazz. Fifteen years later, it's clear that the
young saxophonist's calculated (some would say crazy) risk paid off.
At 37, Redman still doesn't have a law degree, but he is one of the
best-known figures in 21st century jazz.
His resume includes winning the Thelonious Monk International
Saxophone Competition at age 22, signing a contract with Warner Bros.
Records at 24 and recording with such leading jazz figures as Pat
Metheny, Charlie Haden, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Chick Corea, Brad
Mehldau and Brian Blade.
Since 2001, the Berkeley, Calif., native and New York City resident
has served as artistic director of the SF JAZZ Spring Season, and in
2004 he assumed the same role with the SF Jazz Collective, an all-star
octet that performs commissioned original works and new arrangements
of compositions by a different jazz giant each year.
The Collective, which returns next week from its first-ever European
tour to perform three nights, April 14 (for SF JAZZ members only)
through April 16, has released two albums from previous seasons -- the
first featuring works by Ornette Coleman and a new one featuring
pieces by John Coltrane.
Under Redman's leadership, the current lineup -- which includes Bobby
Hutcherson (vibes/marimba), Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Miguel Zenón
(alto sax, flute), Renee Rosnes (piano), Matt Penman (bass), Eric
Harland (drums) and Andre Hayward (trombone) -- has worked up a new
repertoire of Herbie Hancock compositions, with arrangements by Gil
Speaking by cell phone on his way to the airport for a flight to
Switzerland last Saturday, Redman (who now records for Nonesuch)
discussed his role with SF JAZZ, the mission of the collective, the
challenge of building and sustaining an audience for jazz and what it
has meant to be the son of a jazz legend -- tenor saxophonist Dewey
Redman, the avatar of avant-garde experimentation in the 1960s who
will celebrate his 75th birthday with his own SF JAZZ Spring Season
concert on Sunday, April 30.
How much does your personal vision shape the Spring Season series?
The degree to which I'm directly involved in the programming of each
concert is different. This is something (SF JAZZ founder) Randall
Kline and I do together, and as the SF JAZZ Collective has taken off,
that's become more and more of my focus of what I do in the spring
season. SF JAZZ has a very broad, eclectic vision of presenting jazz,
and as someone who grew up in the Bay Area, I share that kind of
porous notion of jazz.
What's the biggest challenge in building a jazz audience?
Of course you have to take into consideration the business aspect of
things and the importance of getting people in the door. It doesn't do
much for jazz if you've got a great artist performing for no one. I
really believe that first and foremost you have to present the art on
the right terms and in a way that is respectful to the artist and
really allows their music to be heard and their vision to be
expressed. At that point, you just have to have faith that the
audience will come.
This is an interesting time in the jazz world and the jazz business.
You could definitely make an argument that there was more public
consciousness of jazz music in general maybe eight, 10 years ago. It
does seem to be more of a struggle to reach audiences today. So,
obviously, we have to present musicians that are well known and have
the potential of having a large audience come and see them, but we
also want to present musicians that are lesser known and, hopefully,
expose audiences to new artists. The economic and practical aspects go
in cycles, and I think if we focus on presenting good music the rest
will take care of itself.
The Wikipedia entry for "Joshua Redman" refers to the SF JAZZ
Collective as "an emerging geographic and philosophic rival to the
stylistically neo-classicist Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra under the
direction of Wynton Marsalis." How does that sit with you?
I've never conceived of it like that, and no one at SF JAZZ has ever
conceived of it like that. I have a tremendous amount of admiration
and respect for what Jazz at Lincoln Center has done, and Wynton is
one of my favorite artists. I only hope that we can do what we do in
our own way well. The framework that we operate other is different --
it's a different-sized band and it's a different project, in many
The wonderful thing about the jazz world is that it can sustain so
many different visions of and approaches to the music. We're not
trying to make a statement that this is a better way to do it. We just
see ourselves as another band out there presenting good music and a
fresh approach to playing jazz music. On a fundamental level, the
mission is the same -- to play great music.
How do you determine the focus of SF JAZZ Collective's projects?
Conceptually, the basis for the collective has remained the same,
which is that everyone in the band composes an original piece for the
band, and each year we select a great modern jazz composer whose work
we will interpret. There's no shortage of brilliant composers to
choose from. In a certain sense, it's kind of arbitrary. There are so
many great composers. We're not in any way trying to establish some
sort of hierarchy, like "since we did Ornette in the first year, he's
the most important." It's not like we're working our way down some
sort of list.
One of the reasons we were very attracted to doing Herbie Hancock's
music was that we felt that it would really offer us a lot of options
and allow us to explore directions that maybe we didn't get with
Ornette and Coltrane. If you take it from simply a harmonic
standpoint, Ornette was dealing with the absence of predetermined
harmony and Coltrane, in a lot of his great compositions, was dealing
with focused modal harmonies -- getting deep into just a few chords.
Herbie's music is perhaps more intricate and complex from a harmonic
standpoint. That's not a value judgment -- it's certainly no better
because of that. But we thought it would offer us other possibilities
as a group, especially in terms of the instrumentation and texture.
The sheer scope of Herbie's work as a composer -- he wrote and played
in so many different styles and was at the vanguard of so many
different stylistic movements in jazz -- lends itself so naturally to
this sort of ensemble. Just having that range of material to draw from
was something that excited us.
The primary venues for jazz used to be nightclubs -- that's where jazz
fans and jazz musicians came together, often several nights in a row.
How much do you think the orientation toward special events -- annual
jazz festivals, seasons with one-night-only concerts -- changes the
way audiences relate to jazz?
It's been a change that's been in the works for some time. I'm not the
most qualified person to answer that question, because I wasn't around
when jazz was really in its heyday in the clubs. When I was a kid, I
did go to quite a few shows at Keystone Korner, and later on I went to
Kimball's, but I think I caught the tail end of the thriving club
scene in the Bay Area, and that was nothing compared to the stories my
dad told me about what the scene was like when he was in San
Going to a jazz club and going to a concert are very different
experiences. Each has its advantages. There's an acoustic intimacy and
directness in a club, and also an emotional, psychological intimacy
and directness that's very special, and an air of relaxation. Jazz is
very natural in a club environment. By the same token, in a concert
everything can be focused on the music and the performance -- there
aren't drinks and food being served- -- so it can be a very intense
experience. And sometimes the power of having a lot of people in the
audience can create a certain kind of vibe.
The great thing about the Bay Area is that you have Yoshi's and a lot
of local clubs. In a lot of communities, the only option to see jazz
artists is in a performing arts series.
You mentioned your father's time in San Francisco. How has your
understanding of his place in jazz history changed over the years?
I don't think it has, all that much. He's always been one of the
greatest influences on me, and I've always recognized him as one of
the great living tenor saxophonists. And I've also understood the
struggles that he has had to go through in order to remain true to his
musical purpose and maintain his musical integrity -- to play only the
music that he believes in.
I've always recognized that he hasn't had the attention and acclaim
that many think he deserves -- I've been conscious of that from a
pretty early age. That's just been reinforced as I've gotten older and
more aware of the scene. Something I always had a sense of, but got
confirmed when I got to New York, was the tremendous influence he has
had over musicians in the jazz community and the tremendous respect
that jazz musicians have for him -- an influence and regard that
definitely goes beyond his recognition by the general jazz public.
Well, there's some justice, then, in having a 75th birthday
celebration [the Dewey Redman Quartet, Sunday, April 30] in this
Spring Season series.
It was really important to make sure that it is his night. When we
brought him before, we did a concert with Charlie Haden and myself,
but I wanted to make sure that this time it was his thing.
What has surprised you most about the way your career has developed?
Just the mere fact that I've had the opportunity to make music with
some of the greatest musicians of my generation and some of the
greatest master musicians out there that I've idolized for so long.
I'm humbled by the opportunities that I've had to learn from them and
grow as a musician.
I never expected any of this. I never thought I was good enough for
any of this. I still doubt it. I realize how incredibly fortunate I
am. Artistically I have had tremendous struggles and continue to
struggle, and that's part of the challenge and part of the fun of it.
But I've avoided a lot of the struggles and dues paying from a
business and economic standpoint that a lot of great jazz musicians
and a lot of my peers have had to go through. Six months after I moved
to New York, I was in place where I was able to make a decent living
playing only music that I wanted to play, and that's a tremendous
luxury. I never forget how damned lucky I am.
The SF Jazz Collective performs Friday, April 14 (for SF JAZZ members
only), Saturday, April 15 and Sunday, April 16 at Herbst Theatre, 401
Van Ness Ave., SF; showtime 8 pm (Fri. & Sat.), 7 pm (Sun.); tickets
$25-$65. For more information, call (415) 788-7353. The Dewey Redman
Quartet performs Sunday, April 30 at Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness
Ave., SF; showtime 7 pm; tickets $25-$53. For more information, call
- On 4/7/06, Carl Z. <zimm28@...> clipped:
> I never expected any of this. I never thought I was good enough forThis is remarkable to read, and indicates a real perfectionist streak.
> any of this. I still doubt it. I realize how incredibly fortunate I
> am. Artistically I have had tremendous struggles and continue to
> struggle, and that's part of the challenge and part of the fun of it.
> But I've avoided a lot of the struggles and dues paying from a
> business and economic standpoint that a lot of great jazz musicians
> and a lot of my peers have had to go through. Six months after I moved
> to New York, I was in place where I was able to make a decent living
> playing only music that I wanted to play, and that's a tremendous
> luxury. I never forget how damned lucky I am.
Josh was impressing as a teen in Berkeley High School's jazz program,
which was (and is) a breeding ground for some of America's best
improvisers. I wouldn't have been surprised had he landed a recording
contract straight out of high school, and the path of his career
doesn't surprise me at all.