Sax appeal comes to Eilat

Famed American horn man Joshua Redman is looking forward to the Red Sea Jazz Festival.

Joshua Redman (photo credit: JAY BLAKESBERG)
Joshua Redman
(photo credit: JAY BLAKESBERG)
Joshua Redman is really looking forward to being in Eilat later this month. That should be a given, considering the 49-year-old American saxophonist is one of the star turns at this year’s Red Sea Jazz Festival down south (August 26-28), but the reedman clearly wasn’t just being polite with his complimentary remarks about previous editions of the event he has graced.
“I remember the atmosphere there. I just remember having a great time – the energy of the festival, the feeling of the people there,” he recalls. “There was a sense of community. I was young then – I think it was in ’95 or ’96 – but I remember staying up all night for a couple of nights and being at the jam sessions. That’s not something that I generally do, but I remember there being a really good spirit there. People were excited and responsive but also very supportive of the music.
It’s kind of everything you want from an audience,” he laughs.
That certainly bodes well for an enjoyable Red Sea reprise for Redman and the fans down at this year’s port-side jazz bash.
Redman is not the only big gun on the Red Sea Jazz roster, with legendary 78-year-old pianist Herbie Hancock, trumpeter Tom Harrell, irrepressible Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and French accordionist Richard Galliano also in the mix.
The local side of the program is also packed with attractive entertainment fare, ranging from a onetime reunion for early ’70s leftfield rock act Ketzat Aheret – with Shlomo Gronich, Shlomo Ydov and Shem Tov Levy – Andalusianjazz style piano wizard Omri Mor, longtime New York resident bassist Omer Avital and his Qantar quintet, fellow New Yorker Latinleaning flutist Itai Kriss and groove collective Lucille Crew.
Redman certainly came into this world with the requisite genetic baggage. His dad was pioneering avant-garde saxophonist Dewey Redman. That said, he didn’t have much of an impact on his son’s early artistic evolution.
“I didn’t grow up with my father,” Redman explains. “What I knew of my father, for the first 18 years of my life, was mostly listening to his records and seeing him perform every once in a while, when he came to town.
What I knew of my father was not much more than I know of, say, Sonny Rollins or John Coltrane or Stan Getz, or my other idols on tenor saxophone.”
Redman grew up in Berkeley, California, thousands of miles away from the epicenter of the jazz scene, where Redman Sr. was based. The young reedman relocated to the Big Apple when he was 18, and quickly got in on the jazz gig act there, and even shared the stage with his dad and quite a few of the other titans of the global jazz scene, the likes of bassist Charlie Haden and drummers Elvin Jones and Paul Motian.
Even so, it took a while for Redman to make up his mind on his career choice. “I never really thought I’d be a professional musician. It wasn’t something I was really serious about at the time.” Still the seeds were definitely there. “I was interested in music. I loved to play. I hated practicing,” he laughs. “I just saw it as something I enjoyed doing, that gave me joy, and a lot of frustration, too. Subconsciously maybe it has something to do with being my father’s son. I don’t know. Maybe a psychoanalyst can figure that out,” he chuckles. “I never felt I was doing what my dad did, or trying to be as good as him.”
Music was basically a hobby, albeit a much-loved one, for Ivy Leaguer Redman until he finished college. He took a degree in social studies at Harvard University, and had already been accepted for a law degree at Yale but decided to take what he thought would be a gap year, and joined some musicplaying pals in Brooklyn.
The legal profession’s loss was quickly to become the jazz world’s gain, as Redman immersed himself in the busy New York scene. That was in 1991, and he has become one of the highest-profile members of the global jazz community, putting out 16 albums under his own name and contributing to many more, either as a sideman or as a band member.
Redman’s oeuvre to date also dips into numerous other areas of musical exploration, including material underscored by pop- and rock-inflected intent. The latter includes the James Farm quartet with which Redman has released a couple of albums to date, and he has enjoyed quite a few stints with the wide-ranging Umphrey’s McGee rock outfit. Add to that a long berth with West Coast experimental improvisational ensemble SFJAZZ Collective.
Indeed, he was one of the founders.
Redman says casting his artistic net far and wide comes naturally to him. Part of that may be down to some maternal input.
“As a kid, my mom exposed me to all different sorts of art and music,” he notes, adding that his chosen craft naturally leads him every which way. “As a jazz musician I have never felt that it has to be any kind of exclusive choice. Jazz is music that I play. If I had to pick my favorite music, it would probably be jazz, but I don’t feel that being a dedicated jazz musician has to mean choosing jazz in opposition to any other form of music, or choosing jazz over any form of music. I think it’s kind of the nature of the jazz process, to be open to bring in other things in. Jazz is improvised music, so you’re trying to tell a story in the moment.
You’re trying to use all your experiences, musically and otherwise, to try to craft something that represents how you feel in that moment, and what you are thinking, and relating that to the other musicians you are playing with.”
Of course, to go off in tangents at the drop of a hat, you have to be well rooted, both in yourself and in the discipline. Part of that comes from being familiar with the history of jazz. In that respect, Redman has an advantage over some of his contemporaries, and certainly over the younger crowd, in having mixed it with his father and the earlier generation of jazz artists, who provided a link to the earliest days of the art form.
Earlier this year Redman doffed his derby at his predecessors and, specifically, his feted dad, when he joined forces with cornet player Ron Miles, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade, when they released the Still Dreaming album.
The record fed off Redman Sr.’s envelope-pushing Old and New Dreams foursome, which featured Haden, cornet player Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell, and did sterling work from 1976 to 1987. All four had worked with free jazz pioneer reedman Ornette Coleman, and Coleman’s works provided the substratum for the band. Still Dreaming maintains that spirit, with one number, each, by Haden and Coleman, four by Redman Jr. and two by Colley.
The Still Dreaming quartet is something of a jazz supergroup and, although they don’t manage to get it together too frequently, Redman says he and his cohorts are a good fit. “The chemistry was immediate. From the first note we played together, there was something there that I think we all felt.”
Familiarity with the members of the source band notwithstanding, Still Dreaming was something of a departure for Redman. “This is the only half-concept-driven project I’ve ever helped organize,” he says. “There is a concept behind it – Old and New Dreams which my father was a part of. With most bands it’s kind of find musicians you want to play with, write music for that band, and that’s the concept. I tend to be pretty much concept averse. I don’t want the concept to drive the music.”
Redman is not coming to Eilat with the Still Dreaming foursome.
Instead, he will come over with his trio of bassist Ruben Rogers and drummer Greg Hutchinson.
Redman says he loves to spend time with the same musicians, developing a rapport and what he calls “a band identity.” That should be evident at the Port of Eilat on August 26, as the trio members enjoy a lengthy track record together, both on and off the stage.
“When you play together for a long time, you get a sense of purpose and a sense of being rounded in something. There is a common language and a common love, and also a sense that anything is possible, that it’s really wide open, that at any moment anything can happen – can, should and will happen,” he says.
For tickets and more information about the Red Sea Jazz Festival: