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John H. Armwood Jazz History Lecture Nashville's Cheekwood Arts Center 1989

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Joshua Redman's language: printer friendly version

Joshua Redman's language: printer friendly versionJoshua Redman's language
By Mike Zwerin Bloomberg News

PARIS You would think that anybody smart enough to graduate summa cum laude from Harvard would know better than to choose to be a jazz musician.

Although Joshua Redman was a hot tenor saxophone player in high school in Berkeley, California (his father, Dewey Redman, was also a hot tenor man), he did not grow up dreaming about being a musician. The valedictorian of his high school graduating class, he won a scholarship to Harvard, graduated summa cum laude in 1991 and was accepted to Yale Law School.

To pass the summer between college and graduate school, he entered the Thelonious Monk Foundation's saxophone contest, and, lo and behold, he won. It was beyond him. He had been chosen.

Redman's Elastic Band has just released a recording called "Momentum" on the Nonesuch record label. Using an organ trio format (plus guests including Flea, the bassist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) with flowing, deceptively simple blue-noted melodies on top, this is a 21st-century version of the electric, funky, backbeat jazz that Miles Davis began to scout out in 1970.

"In the army, there's always one guy 20 or 30 yards up ahead who makes sure the coast is clear," Davis's ex-drummer, Tony Williams, once said. "Then he waves to the other guys that it's safe to move up. Miles was the point man who took all the heat. There are no more point men."

The 36-year-old Redman is a word man. "Language is an exciting thing to me," Redman said in an interview. "I am always running up against the limits of my own language. I am always searching for the right way to express things.

"Sometimes I qualify everything so much that I end up not saying anything," Redman said. "I'm not a writer, but I feel like I have to choose my words carefully. When I started with e-mails, I felt like I had to write essays - complete sentences, caps, proper punctuation."

The sort of musician who writes his own album notes, Redman quickly became a straight-ahead star who defended the acoustic Broadway song-form tradition. His 1998 album "Timeless Tales (For Changing Times)" included the standards "Summertime" and "How Deep Is the Ocean." In the notes, he wrote that the album was about "infinite possibility" and "ageless beauty."

"The conception of timelessness is very different from the concept of nostalgia," he explains. "And classic does not necessarily mean conservative. Basically, what I'm saying is that timelessness is modern.


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