Courtesy of Joshua Redman

Warner Bros.


It must be difficult being Joshua Redman. The son of Dewey Redman, winner of the Thelonious Monk Competition, and a publicist's wet dream, the Bay Area native has faced the pressure admirably and in the process become a media darling. The young Redman, with a Harvard degree in hand, well on his way to Yale Law, opted for the often difficult life of a jazz musician. I was always curious as to why, and so I asked. This is a candid conversation with the only young jazz musician with an almost rock star status, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.

JOSHUA REDMAN: I have been playing music my whole life. I'm a saxophone player, but I played a long line of instruments before I ever touched the saxophone. Some of my earliest musical experiences was when I was four, my mom took me to a place called Center for World Music, which specialized in introduction in non-Western music. The first musical experiences I had were playing south Indian drums. When I was six, I started taking a few recorder lessons. That was my first Western instrument. Took some piano lessons. Taught myself some power chords on the guitar. Started clarinet in the fourth grade when I was nine and saxophone in fifth grade when I was ten and from that point on, it was saxophone. So I have been around and involved with music my whole life. I can honestly say that I haven't been serious about music most of my life. In fact, I didn't get serious about music until I left college, when I was twenty-two, until I graduated and moved to New York. I loved music, but I never thought I wanted to be a professional musician. I never thought I was good enough and I also realized how difficult it was to play things that you want to play and still make a living. I had other interests and I think most of my focus and discipline went into academics. After I graduated high school, I decided I wanted to go to college and I thought I wanted to be a doctor. I enrolled into Harvard as a pre-med. Then I kind of shifted focus and wanted to study the social sciences. By the time I graduated, I thought I wanted to go to law school. I applied and was accepted into Yale Law School. Was on my way, when I moved to New York for what I thought was going to be a year off. During that year, I had the opportunity to play with some of the greatest jazz musicians around, both young and old. It was really through playing with them, through the inspiration and support that they gave me that I decided to pursue a life in music. That is the point that I got serious about it.

FJ: Your educational background has been widely written about and makes for a nice copy.

JOSHUA REDMAN: Doing well in school and being intelligent are not the same thing. Now, obviously, Fred, they are not unrelated. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I am stupid (laughing). But, I think academic excellence and true intelligence are two different things. There are some incredibly intelligent, absolutely brilliant people that I have known that didn't necessarily excel in academics. Some of the most brilliant people I know are musicians. Some of whom were great students and some of whom weren't great students. I think to do well in school, it not only takes intelligence, but it takes a certain type of discipline and focus with regard to your schoolwork and academic workload. I think it is possible to be incredibly intelligent and not necessarily have that discipline or not have the desire to exercise that discipline with academics.

FJ: You could have made more money being a lawyer, any regrets?

JOSHUA REDMAN: I would like to think that I wouldn't have because I wasn't going to law school to make a lot of money. I was going to law school to change the world! Me and ninety-nine percent of the other law students. And then eighty-five percent of them go and make a shitload of money. Yes, there is no question, Fred, that I could have had probably a more lucrative and definitely a much more stable career as a lawyer or as a doctor or just about anything, just about anything other than a musician. But the reason I went into music wasn't because of money and wasn't because of the career. My career instinct is completely secondary to my love of the art and my passion for the music. I've been fortunate in that I have been able to develop a strong career in the music. The reason I am playing music is because there is a part of me that feels that I can't do anything else or there is a part of me that feels I have to play music. It give me an inspiration and a fulfillment and a joy that nothing else does. That is why I chose to play it. So it wasn't a career decision. It wasn't a rational decision in that sense. It was a decision of the heart and soul.

FJ: Right out of the blocks, you won the Thelonious Monk Institute's jazz saxophone competition in 1991, and writers were calling you "the prince of the tenor saxophone" and almost a second coming of sorts. That is a heavy burden to carry for any man, let alone someone in their early twenties, how did you manage to cope with all the pressure?

JOSHUA REDMAN: It's funny, Fred. People always ask this question and there was a tremendous amount of attention and there was the potential for a tremendous amount of pressure, but I never felt pressure. I always recognized that attention as being something which wasn't wholey connected to or even representative of the music. I'm not saying it doesn't have anything to do with the music. Obviously, there was something I was doing musically that captured people's attention. But that whole world of media and publicity and promotion and industry hype and sales, that whole world is only tangentially related to musical substance and creativity. I've always recognized that and so I have always been able to see that all that hype out there and all that attention doesn't really say anything truely about the music that I'm playing or where I am as a musician. I always knew that, yes, there is something that has attracted people's attention, but I'm also a complete beginner on this music. I'm a novice. I have to learn how to play. I'm still learning how to play ten years later. I've always had that perspective and I've always had a very, very healthy, some people say unhealthy dose of self-criticism. So whatever potential danger of pressure or distraction was there, it has never effected me, even at the height of media buzz, even in it most maniacal form, or even at the height of the mania, it has never been a source of pressure because I always recognized it for what it is and what it is not.

FJ: Your quartet of Brian Blade, Brad Mehldau, and Christian McBride is almost contemporary jazz folklore. All four of you have gone onto highly successful solo careers and matured into genuine leaders.

JOSHUA REDMAN: We were together for about almost two years, which is a fairly long time in the life of a jazz band these days because bands don't stay together forever. I feel fortunate in that I have been able to have really solid, regular working bands, which have each stayed together for about two years, which is good. This band that I have now has been together for about two years and hopefully will be together longer. It was just three of the greatest musicians on the planet and then me (laughing). I knew from the moment that band came together, I knew how special it was. At a time when every few other people did realize that because at the time, those guys hadn't had the level of public attention that they have since had. They're three of the greatest individual musicians on their instrument and at least greatest young musicians on their instrument and in my humble opinion, they are three of the greatest musicians of all time. I can honestly say that, that those guys are some of the greatest living jazz musicians. Obviously, we are all still very young and developing, but I just recognized in all of them, incredible raw musical talent and incredible skills, but also this great musical sensitivity. That is the most important thing. Really what I felt that band had, beyond the individual strength of each of its members was this real ability to communicate with one another as a group and there are things that started to develop in that ensemble and in that group that still inspire me to this day with the band that I have now. There are things in terms of the way we approached playing together as a band and this notion of collective improvisation at all times, through all structures and all forms, which has really become the bedrock of my group conception. It has really become the heart and soul of what I strive for in developing a group sound. And the group that I have now with Gregory Hutchinson, Reuben Rogers, and Aaron Goldberg, I feel that we've really been able to almost pick up where that other band with Brian, Christian, and Brad left off and develop in our own ways with very, very different sounds and different personalities, develop much further that real feeling of group spontaneity.

FJ: Let's touch on your last few albums for Warner Bros., first Freedom in the Groove.

JOSHUA REDMAN: I love that record. I love all the records that I have done. Each record represents where I'm at, at a particular point, as a musician and as a person. That record represented where I was at and the things that I wanted to convey. I was really interested in trying to develop what I sensed were some of the links between the jazz that I loved and the other forms of music that I loved and in particular, maybe some of the more oriented forms of music that I love. So there is definitely a funk element. There is also a rock element. There is also a connection with a tradition of pop songwriting, the better pop songwriting that I loved. One of the things about that record that a lot of people don't realize is that that is the first record that I really started to get into exploring not only other grooves, but other sorts of time signatures. That has been the basis of a lot of the things I have done since, both with Timeless Tales, the record that came after that and the new record, Beyond.

FJ: Let's touch on Timeless Tales.

JOSHUA REDMAN: I've always felt that as a jazz musician, I don't need to be limited. I don't need to be limited by anyone's conception of a proper canon. I've always felt that as a jazz musician, I don't need to be limited by jazz in terms of what influences me and what inspires me. In choosing to play those songs, really what I was trying to do was, I wasn't trying to make a statement about jazz standards or the jazz canon. I was trying to play songs that I loved and that I wanted to play and that I felt I could interpret in a very creative and personal way in a jazz setting. In looking for material, I didn't feel as though I needed to be limited to the classical pop standards. There are five classic American standards on that recording. There are also more modern, contemporary pop songs, which may or may not be considered standards, but the whole idea is that each one of those songs is played and hopefully interpreted in a very, very personal, modern, and completely jazz way.

FJ: And your latest, Beyond.

JOSHUA REDMAN: My conception was to try and capture the sound of this band at a moment in time, playing this music in a soulful, passionate, inspired and creative way. That was the concept. That is really the concept for all jazz music for me. This music, I think, represents some very new territory for me. There was a sense that I had in writing this music and playing it and when we stepped into the studio to record, there was a sense that this music was perhaps deeper, more probing, and even more depth and a passion and a soulfulness that was greater than some of the things that I had done before. I think that is a consequence of a number of things. That is a consequence of becoming a better musician and developing as a musician and becoming a wiser, more reflective and more patient musician and it also represents the strides that we as a band had made, in terms of really finding a sound that was really original. It also represents a newfound awareness that I have in my life. Over the past two years, I have started to ask myself, I think, more substantive questions about life. I've started to ask myself questions about what does it mean to lead a good life? How can I lead a meaningful life? How can I find a way to feel connected to the world and to have a sense of purpose with regard to the world? How can I feel connected to other people? How can I feel connected to my own soul? How can I lead a fulfilling life and an inspiring life? Those sorts of questions, which are both philosophical and more importantly spiritual. Those sorts of questions and that type of spiritual search has defined a lot of the music that I have written in the past few years.

FJ: You spoke of trying to find a sense of purpose, which is something a good many of us in our youth tend to struggle with, have you found any answers?

JOSHUA REDMAN: I don't feel like I have found it in the sense that I found it with any resolution or that I found it and now I can say that I have achieved it. I think it is more about asking the question than getting the answer. I think that I'm more concerned with leading a more meaningful, more purposeful life and because I'm more concerned with it, because I am asking that question, my life has become more fulfilled and more meaningful. Do I say that I have found a purpose in life? I don't think that I have found anything absolutely. I don't think that I ever will. I think your meaning in life and your purpose in life changes with time. I think all you can try to do is ask yourself the question and try to find the right answer for the right moment. The answers are always changing. Yes, I feel like my life is more fulfilling and more purposeful and more meaningful now than it was five years ago, but I don't feel as though I have come to a point of rest. I don't feel that I have achieved the goal or that the search is over. I feel that I'm focused on the right issues and the right concerns, but it will be a constant search and a constant discovery. The answers that I have found today are not going to be the answers for me five years from now and not even tomorrow.

FJ: There is a track on Beyond that stems from the LA Riots, which as a native of Los Angeles, strikes a very personal chord with me, "Twilight...And Beyond." I was at USC at the time and could see the city burning around me.

JOSHUA REDMAN: Right. Right. I think it is important to clarify what the relationship is between that music and that song and the LA Riots is and what the relationship is not. The song was written as a theme piece or the theme for a production that Anna Deveare Smith did of a play that she wrote and she directed and acted in called Twilight, which was about the Los Angeles Riots.

FJ: Give me a synopsis of the play.

JOSHUA REDMAN: Basically, what it is, is she went, immediately following the riots and interviewed a bunch of people who were in the community. She interviewed a bunch of people who were in LA at the time. She interviewed people in the Korean community, in the African-American community, in the white community, and she interviewed people from all different backgrounds and from all different ethnicities and all different relationships to the riots themselves and what she did was she made this montage from these interviews. What she does is, she works as a journalist and interviews people and transcribes those interviews and kind of teaches herself how to be those people that she interviewed and to speak their words with their inflections and in their spirit and what she did was she created a montage of those, which told a certain story about the LA Riots, but it is completely a one woman play, where she just moves from one real life character to another. Obviously, the violence and the rage and the destruction of the LA Riots are very much a part of the play, but when she told me kind of what she wanted as far as theme music, really the important conception really wasn't that violence and rage and destruction. It was this sense of being in a state of twilight. Being in a state between light and dark, and I don't mean racially, but being in a state of where things are unclear and things are unsure, a time of change, a time that can be very, very frightening and a time of great anxiousness, but also a time of great potential. The music has a certain sadness and even a certain anxiety and there is a certain tumult in the music, but there is also a sense of beauty and potentiality. There is both light and dark. I think it is bitter and sweet. I think it is important to understand that the way she saw the LA Riots and the way she conceived it as a play was very multi-dimensional and I tried to capture some of that in the music and still write a very, very simple, pretty theme. The finally thing that you have to understand, Fred, is that what the actual theme for the play is only a very, very small part of the whole performance of what has become "Twilight...And Beyond." In other words, there are a lot of things that are happening with us as a band in that track that were not part of the original writing for the play.

FJ: You have been busy, taking the artistic director and artist in residence position for the San Francisco Jazz Festival, what are your visions for the festival?

JOSHUA REDMAN: My vision for the festival, of what is technically the spring season, the San Francisco Jazz Festival spring season, my vision is to present great creative music by great inspiring jazz artists and to present it for audiences in a way that will be moving and be edifying and entertaining. The idea is to just help expose more people to more jazz music and to help, hopefully, build audiences in the process. The San Francisco Jazz Festival, which is in the fall, has been going on for almost twenty years. That is what makes this a dream job because what we are doing now is, we are building a spring season, which is what I'm involved in. It is an opportunity to build upon what is already a success. The San Francisco fall festival has been a great success, so it is not like I am starting from scratch. I am taking something, which has worked really well and kind of expanding it and in the process changing some things and bringing my vision and my unique tastes and interests into the mix. One thing that is also really important to me with this series is, it is really important for me to try and present a really broad spectrum of jazz. I don't believe that there is any one definition of what jazz is. It is very important for people to have a sense of history and the tradition of jazz, but also to really have a sense that jazz is always a work in progress and that jazz is a music of the moment and it is incredibly wide ranging of the moment and that there are so many different, exciting jazz musicians doing really, really innovative, creative things and that the music is alive right now and there is so much happening and so many different things happening. It is really important for me to help give people a sense of jazz as a living, breathing, expanding art form. Not to just give people a history and tradition of jazz, but to let people know that it is a constantly evolving music.

FJ: You are actually practicing what you preach. I was in New York last summer and saw you perform with DJ Logic.

JOSHUA REDMAN: Oh yeah. I'm always open to exploring the relationship between jazz and other forms of music because I have always heard those relationships and yeah, one night I will be sitting in with DJ Logic at Wetlands in Tribeca and the next night, I could be up at Symphony Hall in Boston playing alongside a baroque period orchestra. I think that there are connections in both cases. Not everyone is going to hear those connections and some of those projects are going to be successful and some won't, but I really want to my life in jazz to be an open-ended life and I want to be open to anything that might excite me or interest me or challenge me. Yes, there are different forms of music and each one has their own traditions and each one has its own defining of characteristics, but ultimately, music is music. I think all great music and all great musicians aim for the same thing. They try to express something which is real and which is pure and which is passionate. I think that connects all forms of music and there is potential for people to hear those connections and be moved by them.

FJ: Your wardrobe has been a subject of much scrutiny in the past year.

JOSHUA REDMAN: It is funny because people have made something of that and there was this little wave of press type things, publicity things that were connected to fashion. I did them because I like clothes. I like style. But I don't take it seriously at all. It is just something to have fun with. It is a form of expression, but it is a very trivial form of expression. I enjoy wearing things that feel good. I enjoy wearing things that I think look nice, but i don't take it seriously.

FJ: Prada suits you, Josh.

JOSHUA REDMAN: Oh, thank you, Fred. I look good in GAP too (laughing).

FJ: What is the wear of choice, GAP or Prada?

JOSHUA REDMAN: I like them both. My credit card definitely prefers GAP.

FJ: So are you jazz's modern sex symbol?

JOSHUA REDMAN: I don't consider myself as anything other than a musician. I don't like to step outside of myself and see how other people might see me. That makes me feel weird (laughing). If some people find me sexy, than great. I don't even consider myself as a jazz role model and yet some people see me as that. For me, it is dangerous to start seeing myself as anything. I don't want to see myself. I just want to be myself.

FJ: How do all these people that see you as being sexy contact you?

JOSHUA REDMAN: I am getting ready to start a website, but the best way is through an email that I have. It is

FJ: How are you spending your summer vacation?

JOSHUA REDMAN: I am planning to go to Italy, hopefully, and we are going to fly into one of those cities, probably Rome and take a couple of backpacks, rent a car, and explore the entire country for a couple of weeks. It is not going to be a typical vacation, because usually we go someplace warm with a pool and a beach and just sleep all day and never move and just order margaritas. This is going to be a more active vacation. We're going to pack less and walk more and try to make it an adventure.

FJ: You are not a typical musician by any means.

JOSHUA REDMAN: Thank you, Fred. Thank you so much.

Fred Jung is Editor-In-Chief and believes swingers should have rights. Comments? Email him.