An Interview with Legendary Jazz Saxophonist Joshua Redman

By Alex Doug Johnson

 

Prior to this interview, I was fortunate enough to see Joshua Redman performing the pre-concert sound-check ritual from backstage. There was a dark blue light shining down on a golden saxophone producing sounds that lull you immediately into an attentive trance. There was no other place for your eyes to be but staring side-on at the face of a man completely immersed in the music he played.

The first thing to really strike you when you interview Joshua Redman is just how bright and thoughtful a man he is. I sat down opposite him in a small dressing room in the Theater aan het Vrijthof and he gave me a beaming smile and a handshake before asking “what is a Brit doing in the Netherlands”, thus flipping the interview onto me before we had even started. There isn’t much I can write now that Joshua didn’t say himself so let’s dive straight into the interview!

“I was super lucky but this was an opportunity that was too good to turn down.

I see you attended Harvard as a Social Science major and were accepted to Law School at Yale. You chose to pursue Jazz instead. What was the thinking behind that?

Joshua: I think it was the opportunities I had. I moved to New York after graduating from college, I was expecting to take a year out and thought I would attend law school the next year but I moved into a house with a bunch of musicians and I was playing all the time and became immersed in the Jazz scene. I was going out to clubs and listening to lots of music and I was getting the chance to play sessions during the day. People started calling me for gigs and within 6 months I was getting the opportunity to play with some of the greatest musicians around. Both with musicians of my generation but also with masters of the older generation. I was super lucky but this was an opportunity that was too good to turn down. I didn’t realize it was a life decision though! I guess it worked out alright.

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“But there’s nothing like curling up with some Max Weber in the middle of the night before bed!”

Was there any part of Social Sciences in particular that you had a real focus on at Harvard?

Joshua: My major was called Social Studies, in the States, people often view this as people colouring in maps or what not! But it was more of an interdisciplinary social science major. So this combined sociology, economics, political science and anthropology. It was a pretty broad major but the unifying principles were that you studied empirical context but with a heavy dose of social theory. Everyone took the same Sophomore material, there was quite a lot of reading of dead white guys but it was a fantastic course! Afterwards, I was able to move on with urban studies. I have however forgotten most of it I fear. But there’s nothing like curling up with some Max Weber in the middle of the night before bed!

So you were involved with The Bad Plus, with Rock and Jazz music combined into a new type of movement. Would you say that this inspired more combinations to be included into jazz such as the contemporary mix of Jazz and Hip-hop that is seen quite frequently these days?

“In the modern era of jazz, there is no parallel as far as a band that has committed as a band and developed a group sound together and stuck with it for so long.”

Joshua: They made a very powerful statement from the beginning choosing to do covers of rock tunes. They presented themselves very much as a Jazz group that really was open to and embracing of other genres too. They are so unique, they did their rock covers but they also played their own brand of free music, they were heavily influenced by Keith Jarrett and the like. But they had the singer/songwriter vibe to them too, when I played with them it was all their original material there were no covers at that time. We were all established at that time, but as far as bringing young people into the audience there’s only so much that a bunch of 40-year-olds with jazz instruments can do to persuade the new teenage or 20-something audience in. But I just loved playing with them because they’re really committed to group music and they really are a band. In the modern era of jazz, there is no parallel as far as a band that has committed as a band and developed a group sound together and stuck with it for so long. Some of my best musical moments were certainly playing with them.

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Is there any other musical genre that you find yourself particularly interested in?

Joshua: : Well I’ve always been fairly open to all kinds of music. I grew up listening to a lot of funk and soul and of course rock and roll and I still listen to a lot of that now. These days I find myself not listening to as much music as I would like to. It’s maybe because I spend most of my time now trying to learn and play the music that I’m performing with the band I am currently with. I spend so much time with musicians now. I have my family back home and kids too but when I’m alone at the gym I like to listen to “fairly ignorant hip-hop” which I probably wouldn’t play to my kids (laughing)! But that’s obviously great for burning calories! But there’s no one genre that I could pinpoint as being a particular interest given the broadness of the interest I have in music.

I like to live in the moment and embrace the opportunities that I have and I’m so appreciative of most opportunities I’m given and I would like to just continue on that path.”

Last questions, have you got any big plans for the future coming up?

Joshua: I’ve been fortunate that I’ve played with so many great musicians, maybe there are some that I would really like to play with if given the opportunity but I’m not sure it’ll ever happen. I like to live in the moment and embrace the opportunities that I have and I’m so appreciative of most opportunities I’m given and I would like to just continue on that path.

Any of those opportunities that really stand out for you?

Joshua: Well my memory is fading now but every gig is special. I got to play with some musicians that I grew up idolizing. McCoy Tyner, Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, my father Dewey Redman, Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette and got to play with the Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder so I’ve been extremely lucky in my career.
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   This was as insightful as anything one could hope for. Following the interview, I took a seat in the audience and spent the following hour or so being further absorbed into the soothing sounds produced by Joshua Redman and the Reis-Demuth-Wiltgen trio. As the musicians took to the stage there was an enthusiastic cheer from the crowd. The Reis-Demuth-Wiltgen trio provided a superb platform for Joshua Redman to really captivate his audience with well-timed Jazz saxophone. The audience rippled into applause immediately as Joshua’s Saxophone first produced the toots so revered by this crowd. The first two numbers being catchy jazz beats with soft piano and a bass line glue all holding together beautiful injections of saxophone from the master himself. The third performance was a soft ballad which left this writer in something of a daze, to the extent that I had completely forgotten where I was by the end. As he continued playing you could see more and more immersion in the music with hip wiggles and legs kicking up and down to the beat of the music. It was a truly remarkable experience and one well worth a look if you’re ever presented with the opportunity. One walks out of a Joshua Redman concert with a sense of having been educated and relaxed, not a common feeling in such a hectic world.

 

Photos by Tristan Murff

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