“As a saxophone player, you can’t think of doing a saxophone trio record without thinking of Sonny Rollins,” he explains over the phone from Berkeley, “because he was the first, and arguably the greatest, to ever play in that format.” And besides, as he tells me, “As a saxophone player, he’s my biggest influence.”
It’s stunning to realize that despite his technical facility, Redman is essentially self-taught. There were a few odd lessons on piano and clarinet as a child, and visits to the Center for World Music in Berkeley with his mother. In Boston there were a couple of lessons with George Garzone of the Fringe. But mostly he learned through playing with his peers on the Boston scene: multi-instrumentalist Jorge Rossy (later the drummer with the Brad Mehldau trio), saxophonists Chris Cheek, Antonio Hart, Mark Turner, and Seamus Blake, pianist Victor Atkins, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.
Until he was ready to turn away from his law career, he says, “music for me was always kind of a release. It was fun, an escape. I was a serious student from a pretty early age, so music was my antidote.” But then all that discipline turned to music. “I consider my teachers to be all the great musicians I listened to — people like my father and Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, many of whom I obviously never met — Dexter Gordon, Lester Young, Stan Getz. And also the great musicians I had a chance to play with once I moved to New York — my father, Charlie Haden, Pat Metheny, Billy Higgins, Roy Haynes, Jack DeJohnette, Paul Motian.” He adds, “A lot of what I’ve learned with jazz has come from listening and doing; it was a trial by fire — I had to learn by trying to keep up with musicians who I thought were way ahead of me.”
The emphasis on Back East may be the saxophone trio, but the guest saxophonists enhance the album’s varied moods. On “Indian Song” (with Lovano on tenor) and “Mantra #5” (Cheek on soprano), there’s plenty of dialogue — multiple exchanges of short solo passages, overlapping solos, unison themes. Cheek in particular, with his spare, delicate style, achieves a wonderful intimacy with Redman’s bold, determined approach.
But the album’s high point comes with the pairing of Redman père and fils on Coltrane’s “India.” Dewey was one of the great players of the “free jazz” movement — someone as comfortable inside the changes as outside. Joshua, on the other hand, likes to find his freedom, as he tells me, within strict parameters. It’s great to hear him cut loose with his father. What did Joshua learn from Dewey?
“About sound, and about feeling. I always considered myself an emotional player as opposed to an intellectual player, but playing next to my dad night after night — and I did that for the first couple of years when I was in New York — all he had to do was play one note and it had so much more depth and feeling and conviction than a thousand of my notes. Sound really is your voice — your sound is the core of your expression as a saxophonist. And, for lack of a better word, how to play the blues. My dad plays the blues no matter what he’s playing — when he’s playing the blues or when he’s playing something completely frenetic and out and free there’s always that depth, that warmth, that bittersweet quality, there’s so much love and joy and celebration but in the context of hardship and adversity. These are intellectual ways of describing what’s a very emotional thing. But that’s what I learned from him: phrasing, how to lay back and relax, the patience and wisdom of his approach.”