Joshua Redman is coming to Wellington with his quartet, a group comprised of Aaron Goldberg on piano, Gregory Hutchinson on drums, Reuben Rogers on bass and Redman on tenor, alto and soprano saxophones. It’s one of many musical projects that Redman juggles; the group first started playing together “around 15 years ago”.
The “reunited” Joshua Redman Quartet will play Wellington’s Jazz Festival, Thursday, June 5 at The Opera House. The program for the evening will feature “all sorts of things”, according to Redman. “We’ll do our best to offer a wide range – I do a lot, so we’ll try and play a few things from here and there. We’ll go back to the early records, we’ll play some old, old stuff and some new stuff – repertoire is important. I like to cherry-pick but the whole thing with playing live is the dialogue, it’s about creating this space to engage with the audience, to improvise, to show your creativity, so it’s as much about where we take the tunes as it is about the actual tunes we pick. It’s what we do with them”, he breaks off here for a wee chuckle.
Redman worked hard through high school and applied for – and was accepted into – Yale Law School following a Social Studies degree from Harvard University. He never stepped into a law class and laughs now, nearly a quarter of a century ago, “it was what I wanted to do – at the time. But then the pull of music just took me in another direction. I don’t regret it. I made the right choice. I wouldn’t have been a good lawyer, I’m a better saxophone player”. He adds another laugh.
The pull of music was something Redman had in fact felt his whole life. His mother was a dancer and offered up plenty of important music for the young Joshua. “From The Beatles and Stevie Wonder, through all sorts of 1960s funk and rock and a lot of jazz, my mum had great taste. And I learned a lot from her records – the eureka moment though was John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme”.
And though he was raised by his mother the other very important influence was the work of his father, saxophonist Dewey Redman. Where Redman Senior is best known for playing atonal and free music, for working with legends such as Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett, he was also prolific as a leader.
“There’s no question”, Joshua Redman states, “my father’s records were absolutely among the first music to have a big impact on my life, his work with Coleman and Jarrett, his playing in so many areas”.
But for Joshua Redman jazz was something else – it was part of the puzzle, it was one of the styles of music he liked and his early playing shows the interest in and influence of groove-based musics, particularly funk and hip-hop, the drive of rock and pop music too. He was also making music at a time when jazz was something of a hard-sell across the late 1980s and 1990s.
“That’s true – but actually in a lot of ways there was a lot more security then. There was still a label-system in place, you had a lot more opportunities, and business-wise you were safer”.
For Redman the aim with his first records was to embrace jazz – covering standards and offering originals but to also look elsewhere for inspiration. His self-titled debut has a James Brown classic shoehorned in around his own ballads, the swift follow up, Wish, features tunes by Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman and Charlie Parker. There’s also a cover of Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven.
By the time of 1996’s Freedom In The Groove Redman was confidant to step away from covering the work of others, it was, he says, “the first record to explicitly embrace music outside of jazz, the focus was groove and the hip-hop and soul and funk elements were there because it was music we liked playing, it was all part of the sound”.
He’s hesitant to refer to any one album in his catalogue as important – as better than any other (“every record means something, particularly at the time”) but he will concede that Freedom In The Groove was a big part of his crossing over, of making a statement, some impact. To that end, “there are still songs from that record in the show, we’ll do some of those tunes most likely when we come and see you”.
Redman’s most recent album is Walking Shadows, a set of ballads that he says is “less about being a ‘ballad-album’ and more about being ‘an arrangement-album’, the focus was on paying tribute to the strings and arrangement ideas, but we find we can still play some of those songs with the quartet, we rearrange them for the live shows”.
Music has always been “a release” for Redman; he says he never really practiced a lot until he started playing professionally. Now he’s so busy the playing is the practice.
In between current quartet shows and his in-demand schedule as a session player he also leads a trio and is playing shows in support of the recently released William Onyeabor album. This is something very different for Redman and “another chance to show a different side”.
He’s excited about making it down to Wellington – his first time in New Zealand to perform. As yet another example of him showing a different side Redman has visited New Zealand one other time. “But that was to record some pieces with John Psathas; a really great experience, a wonderful record, but that was about recording parts, no chance to play live”. So he’s hoping for a good time in Wellington. “The city sounds like a place we’ll like, and I have good memories of my one time in New Zealand so far. Also, if nothing else, I’m a real espresso fiend. So the chance for a good cup of coffee is something I look forward to”.