For Joshua Redman, jazz sounds better than law school

December 03, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

Even though music was always a part of his life, Joshua Redman never expected that it would be his living. "I knew I would always play music, and more importantly, I knew at least I would always listen to music, that would be an incredibly important part of my life," he says." But I never expected to be a professional musician --- or even to play music on a serious level."

What he planned on was to study law. After graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard in 1991, he was ready to study law and had been accepted into the Yale Law School. But before starting classes, he decided to take some time off to play -- jazz, that is.

It was meant as a momentary diversion. But after entering and winning the Thelonious Monk Jazz competition in the fall of '91, the young tenor saxophonist -- all of 22 -- unexpectedly found himself a hot property.

"After I won the Thelonious Monk competition, I started getting a lot of calls from really great musicians," he says, speaking over the phone from his agent's office in New York. "People like Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette and Elvin Jones and Paul Motian. I had the chance to work with these musicians, and that was truly inspiring for me.

"Really, after having gotten a taste of what that was like, it made me want to pursue it even more. I never in my wildest dreams expected to ever have a chance to play with one of those musicians, let alone all of them."

It's worth noting that most of the musicians Redman mentions are drummers. "For some reason, I've just had a connection with drummers," he says. "That's great, because drummers have been a huge influence on me. I'd say next to saxophone players, drummers and piano players have probably been the biggest influences on me.

"I think that's because rhythm has always been really important to me. In fact, the first instruments that I ever played were drums. Not Western drums, but I studied -- this was at a very young age, and on a very rudimentary level -- two types of Indian drums. One was called the ghatam and another was called the mrdanga."

Even the saxophonists Redman admires have a strong rhythmic component to their playing. "If I had to name a top influence on the saxophone, it would be Sonny Rollins," he says. "And although there are many reasons, one of them is that his rhythm is so deep, so present. He's always hard-swinging, always very syncopated. His note choices are beautiful, but there's always a really, really definitive rhythm going on there.

"It's a very commanding thing to have as a soloist on a non-rhythm instrument."

Redman's father, Dewey, is also a tenor saxophonist of note, one who has had a long and celebrated association with Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Yet the younger Redman wasn't much influenced by his father -- in large part because he rarely saw the man.

"I never grew up with my father," he says. "He wasn't really a father to me. I don't say that with any trace of resentment, but he was never around to take care of me, or take responsibility for me, or have any authority over me. The contact I had with him up until very recently was very minimal. I would see him when he'd come to town, which would be once a year or so. Really, my parental influence was my mother, in that she was my sole parent."

As such, Joshua doesn't know how much of his own style was inherited, and how much comes from listening to other great jazz musicians. But like the elder Redman, he does believe that music's emotional content is far more important than any music theory.

"That's how I always heard music," he says. "The thing that gome into [John Coltrane] wasn't the tremendous complexity of what he was doing -- it was the spiritual quality of his music. Later I could begin to appreciate how just truly stunning it was, from a purely analytical standpoint, that he could put all this harmony into these songs. But it was always in service of the feeling."

That's why his new album, "Wish," finds him pulling as much from Eric Clapton's "Tears In Heaven" as from Charlie Parker's "Moose the Mooch." As he puts it, "Freedom isn't always about playing the most advanced harmonies; I think some of the deepest, most intense and most challenging musical statements can be made just trying to be expressive with a melody.

"I don't just write off a pop song because it doesn't have a flat-nine chord in it. Good music is good music."

Joshua Redman

When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: The New Haven Lounge, 1552 Havenwood Road

Tickets: $15

Call: (410) 366-4716

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