TO Jazz Festival: Interview with Joshua Redman – blogUT

What: James Farm Band (including Joshua Redman)
When: June 30th @ 7PM
Where: Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront, $40 at the door or order online at Ticketmaster
More Information: Check out the James Farm myspace page to hear some great music samples.

Joshua Redman is one of the best jazz saxophonists and composers in the jazz scene today, so it was a great honour to interview him for BlogUT last week; he’ll be coming to Toronto on June 30th with his new collaborative project, James Farm. With clear influences ranging from his father, Dewey Redman, to saxophonist Sonny Rollins, Joshua Redman has developed his own unique style. It is a style that is very inventive and innovative, which so often makes you want to tap your feet, dance, and listen very closely. His albums have only gotten better and better. He is a very cerebral musician, articulate both in his performance and in his discussion of music, with a great sense of humour. Luckily for the music world, after completing his undergraduate degree at Harvard University in Social Studies, he turned down his offer at Yale Law School to pursue music, instead, in the early 1990s.

Joshua Redman is an amazing musician but also sincerely humble, thoughtful, and self-deprecating (“I have this book of études that are really kicking my ass, actually.”), which was clear throughout the interview and through the wonderful material he has compiled on his website talking about music. “To me, jazz has a built in modernity and relevance through improvisation”, he said, which is perhaps why even his recent rendition of “Surrey with a Fringe on Top”, on his 2007 album Back East, is my favourite rendition of the piece. On a personal note, I’ve been a fan and audience member since age 5.

Of his music, he says, “My goal as a jazz musician has been always to just try to play as honestly and expressively and creatively as I can: that’s what jazz is about to me. I’ve always believed that if you do that then your music will reach people, on an intellectual, and more importantly, an emotional level.” Read on to hear Mr Redman’s many other interesting insights.

Alex: How did you decide to play the saxophone?
Joshua Redman: It was just always the instrument that spoke to me. I was always intrigued by and loved the sound of it. I saw a connection to it, I guess, hearing great saxophonists like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, my father Dewey Redman, and Dexter Gordon. All these saxophonists had incredible sound. It was the depth of feeling the instrument can produce, the emotional range, the power of the instrument, and the poignancy of the sound. Of course, you don’t think in those terms when you’re 10 years old. Maybe I just thought it was cool. I played the clarinet for a couple of years before I started playing the saxophone and was interested in the clarinet but I always wanted to play the saxophone. Besides, the clarinet is too hard.

Alex: What projects are you working on at the moment?
Joshua Redman: I’ve been largely doing trio work and double-trio stuff. I’ve been touring with my main band for the past 5 or 6 years, which is a trio with sax, bass, and drums. We made “Compass” last year, which is a double-trio concept, where there are two trios: a sax, two drums, and two basses. This summer, I’m going to be doing my first major tour with the double-trio. I’ve also been doing a lot of stuff with Brad Mehldau, the pianist: we’ve been doing some duo gigs and I’m going to be playing with his group – an orchestral project – at the end of the year. And finally, there’s this new band that I’m a part of called James Farm.

Alex: How is James Farm different from your other bands?
Joshua Redman: One of the main ways in which it’s different is that it’s not my band. It’s truly a collaborative band; each of us has an equal voice in the musical shape of the band, the direction, and the material that we play. Each of us is a composer and each one of us writes songs for this band. All musical decisions are made collaboratively, like a true band. Each of us is a very distinct musician, with a unique perspective on music, and a really strong musical personality. So it’s four very strong, unique personalities that have come together, and we share a lot of values in common and through those shared values we are finding ways to really produce some interesting and hopefully inspiring music.

Alex: Where does the name James Farm come from?
Joshua Redman: Everyone always wants to know that. It’s just a name. It has some significance. There’s a story behind its derivation but that we prefer not be told, so for all intents and purposes, it’s just the name of the group.

Alex: What is on your active playlist right now? What music are you listening to?
Joshua Redman: Not so much right now because I have a newborn. My daughter was born a week and a half ago; I also have a son who is four. So there’s diapers on my playlist right now. A lot of them.

There’s this band called Pomplamoose that I’ve been listening to that you can check out on youtube. They are a duo: there’s a singer who also plays bass and the other guy plays every other instrument under the sun. They’re really really cool.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of classical recently, in particular a lot of string quartets, especially Shostakovitch’s string quartets. I’m also listening to Brahms and Beethoven. I never listened to much classical for a lot of my life. Classical music is something I’ve always appreciated but always been a little intimidated by. Maybe I didn’t have the patience and concentration to listen to it the way that it needed to be listened to until recently.

I’m also listening to Ornette Coleman, and Flying Lotus, an electronic hip hop DJ out of LA. I’m also listening to a lot of Radiohead’s “Hail to The Thief” album.

Alex: I understand you were working on a pretty interesting and challenging project to learn the Bach Cello Suites by ear on the saxophone.
Joshua Redman: Well, I only did two of them, but that was a lot. It was a little project a while ago. I chose it because it’s beautiful music, music that is written for a solo instrument and I can only play one note at a time on the saxophone. I wasn’t trying to learn classical repertoire for the sake of playing it with someone else. I just wanted to get into the language a little bit. I knew there was just a wealth of harmonic and melodic information in there, written for a solo instrument. Also the tenor sax and the cello, though the cello has a much broader range, do overlap in some places, so it just seemed appropriate. And I just loved the music and found it beautiful.

Alex: Are you still playing any classical music now?
Joshua Redman: I play études. I have this book of études that are really kicking my ass, actually. I have no classical background, no training in classical music, and I don’t have any plans to be performing as a classical saxophonist. It’s just a way for me to develop my technique, my ears, and my resources as a musician.

Alex: Some people are saying that jazz is becoming music for older people. Some jazz musicians have a younger audience but a lot of them have an older audience. How do you make jazz compelling to a younger audience?
Joshua Redman: I don’t know, and I don’t mean to sound, well, I’m not sure what I don’t mean to sound like, but I guess I don’t really care. The reason I say that is not because I don’t think jazz can appeal to younger audiences or that I don’t care about younger audiences. But but my job and my goal as a jazz musician aren’t specifically to appeal to any audiences, older or younger.

My goal as a jazz musician has been always to just try to play as honestly and expressively and creatively as I can: that’s what jazz is about to me. I’ve always believed that if you do that then your music will reach people, on an intellectual, and more importantly, an emotional level. I think if you really put your heart and soul and creativity into your music, and it comes from an honest and genuine place, it will have the potential to reach many different sorts of people at many different stages in their lives.

I was fortunate when I was in my 20s in the early 1990s, the average age of my audience was in their 30s, but there were people of my generation coming to my shows. I do see a lot of people in my generation and also younger people at the shows. It would be great if a there were a little more balance demographically in jazz and I think the potential exists. But it’s not something that I really focus on. I focus on the music and the rest will take care or not take care, as the case may be, of itself.

Alex: Do you do any teaching?
Joshua Redman: Every once in a while I do master classes. I sometimes teach workshops. I did some teaching at Stanford jazz this year. I don’t consider myself much of a teacher or educator. I don’t have any formal training through music, and I don’t really feel like I’m an expert. I don’t know what I have to offer as a teacher so it’s not a main focus.

Alex: I understand you have used some computer software sometimes when you’re composing, such as Sibelius. Are you still using that?
Joshua Redman: I do use Sibelius as a tool, but with something like that you’ve got to be careful. The computer can’t write music for you. Computers are very powerful now; the software is powerful. At the click of a button you can harmonize and transpose things and rearrange things. But music isn’t going to sound good or truthful or have depth like that. I do use the software but the content comes from my ears and my ideas. The computer is a tool but I can’t use it as a source of creativity. I, generally, a lot of times will start at the piano and move to the computer at some point.

Alex: When can we expect to see a new disk from you? “Compass”, with the double-trio, came out in 2009, so what are you working on now? What are your recording plans?
Joshua Redman: I’ve done a lot of recordings with the trio, and then there was the double-trio on “Compass”. I’ve also recorded with Brad Mehldau on his last record, “Highway Rider”. And with James Farm, we’re going to record at the end of the summer at the end of August, so the James Farm album should be out by next year.

Alex: Where do you see jazz going in the future?
Joshua Redman: Jazz is creative music that is continuing to grow and expand. One of the wonderful things about jazz is that jazz is a music that really allows you to express your ideas and feelings and thoughts of the moment since it’s music based on improvisation. Through improvisation, jazz musicians are able to incorporate everything that they are listening to and that they are experiencing into their music. To me, jazz has a built in modernity and relevance through improvisation. I think jazz is in an interesting time and an exciting time. Jazz musicians now are very fluent in music: they are knowledgeable in the history and vocabulary of music. I think it’s a very open-minded, open-eared period in jazz right now. Jazz musicians are really finding ways to bring all their influences to bear in the music and to not be trapped in any one sort of idiom or style.

In my desperate plea to see Redman and Mehldau together in Toronto (please come!):

Alex: Will you be performing with Brad Mehldau in Toronto anytime soon? We have a lot of great concert halls!
Joshua Redman: Not to Toronto with Brad Mehldau any time soon. The only concert this year in Toronto will be with James Farm. But there’s nothing with Brad planned soon.

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I would also recommend taking a look at the FAQ section and blog on Joshua Redman’s website where he very articulately discusses his creative process, how he perfects his technique, and many other elements of his music.

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