Texas-born jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman crossed the United States as a freelance musician during the early-to-mid 1960s before finding success within New York City’s avant-garde jazz community. This success was founded by his membership in the Ornette Coleman Quartet, a group he was a part of from 1967-74. A child of the Depression era, Redman might have stayed the safe and secure course of his early career as an educator in his native Forth Worth, but he chose instead to seek his fortune in the jazz clubs of Manhattan. From Texas, Redman migrated westward to California where he honed his craft before moving to New York. Versatility and innovation are the trademarks of his experimental sound.
Redman was born Walter Dewey Redman on May 17, 1931, in Fort Worth, Texas. An only child, he was raised by his mother in the racially segregated social climate of the southern United States during the Great Depression and subsequent war years. At age 13, he began to play the clarinet and allowed music to monopolize his thoughts from that time forward. He played his horn with the high school band and found pleasure as an adolescent in hearing and observing the goings-on at a music lounge near his childhood home. After high school, Redman enrolled in an electrical engineering curriculum at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, although he often paid greater attention to the music around him than to math and science lectures. Before long, he lost interest in engineering and abandoned his studies at Tuskegee. Upon his return to Fort Worth, Redman enrolled at Prairie View A&M University where he earned a bachelor’s degree with a major in industrial arts in 1953. For his minor curriculum at Prairie View, he studied tenor saxophone and music. After college, Redman served two years in the United States Army. When he returned home to Fort Worth, he took a position as band director with the Ft. Worth public schools. His part-time job, performing at the Victory Grill in Austin, Texas, monopolized his weekends. Redman spent his summers attending classes at North Texas State University, where he received a master’s degree in education in 1959.
When his affinity for music failed to abate by 1960, Redman headed for New York City in search of a career as a professional jazz performer. In his wanderlust after leaving Texas, he took a route to the East Coast which carried him westward first. From Texas, he traveled through California, passing through Los Angeles and northward to San Francisco where he marveled at the great jazz musicians who passed through that city. Although he was alone in California, Redman settled there for a time, rented a piano, and occupied himself to a large extent by experimenting with chord patterns. In time he assembled a band and played after hours at a club called Bop City. During that time, Redman teamed with fellow tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders; the two also performed with Rafael Garrett and Monte Waters. Redman released his debut
Born Walter Dewey Redman on May 17, 1931, in Ft. Worth, TX; three sons. Education: Prairie View A&M University, bachelor of arts degree, 1953; North Texas State University, master’s degree in education, 1959.
Band director, Ft. Worth Public School System, 1956-59; played with Pharoah Sanders, Rafael Garrett, and Monte Waters, 1960-66; debut release, Look for the Black Star, 1966; played with Ornette Coleman Quartet, 1967-74; played with the Liberation Music Orchestra, Jazz Composers Orchestra, Keith Jarrett Quintet, mid 1970s.
album, Look for the Black Star, on the Freedom label in 1966.
Seven years passed after Redman’s arrival in California before he embarked on the final leg of his journey and set out from San Francisco in 1967 to his original destination of New York City. The move was spurred in part by a chance encounter with alto saxophonist Omette Coleman, who was also one of Redman’s former schoolmates. Coleman urged Redman to complete his journey as originally planned and move on to Manhattan, the metaphorical home of American jazz.
Upon his arrival in New York, Redman collaborated frequently with Coleman. The complimentary resonance of their combined tenor and alto instruments delighted critics, and the two appeared regularly together under the guise of Coleman’s ensemble both in the United States and on tour in Europe between 1967-74. Redman joined a quartet with Keith Jarrett, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Paul Motian in the late 1960s and also toured Europe with Jarrett’s band. Redman and Coleman regrouped later in 1976 as a cooperative that included trumpeter Don Cherry, Haden, and drummer Ed Blackwell. The group, called Old and New Dreams, released a self-titled album on ECM in 1978 and remained together for slightly more than a decade, disbanding in the late 1980s. Among his other professional affiliations during the mid 1970s, Redman appeared with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and was associated with the Jazz Composers Orchestra. Redman, with his unique style and free-flowing rhythms, easily earned respect in avant-garde circles.
Inevitable comparisons between Redman and the late saxophonist John Coltrane served to enhance Redman’s stature among jazz devotees. Entertainment Weekly magazine drew such a comparison in a 1991 review of Redman’s Living on the Edge: “[Redman’s] solos have a similarly wily recklessness [to Coltrane’s], but they are made warmer by his more traditional approach to pitch....” Overall, the Redman jazz mode defies categorization. His ingenious bent for improvisation includes a habit of vibrating his voice box even while playing his horn. His unique methods and musical experimentation represent only a limited aspect of the versatility of Redman’s talent. Billboard, in reviewing the live recording of the Redman quartet’s 1996 session, In London, noted the “thoughtful, soulful evocation of ‘I Should Care, ’” along with the “swaggering, swinging take on ‘The Very Thought of You.’”
Redman’s second album, released in 1969 on the Affinity label, was named after the eldest of his three sons, Tarik, who was a newborn at the time. Another of Redman’s offspring, the prominent jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman, lived in Berkeley, California, during the 1970s and 1980s, a time when his father was in New York and abroad. Nonetheless, the commonality of their saxophone playing cemented a bond between the two jazzmen. They performed together often during the 1990s as Joshua Redman emerged to prominence. The elder Redman’s 1992 Enja album, Choices, is a combined effort between father and son. The two were also heard that year on African Venus, an album which features the innovative elder Redman on a North African woodwind instrument called the musette. Redman’s musette interpretations are also heard on a 1997 release by Jarrett called The Impulse Years, 1973-74.
Despite an illness that slowed his pace near the end of the 1990s, Redman continued to perform. He collaborated on Tom Harrell’s Art of Rhythm, released in 1998; the album was listed in Entertainment Weekly as the best jazz album of the year. Redman’s 1999 collaboration with Cecil Taylor and Elvin Jones, called Momentum Space, earned Village Voice reviewer Gary Gid-dins’ respect as “a unique and artful collaboration…. The album is something else.” Also in the 1990s, Redman appeared frequently with his own quartet, which included pianist Charlie Eubanks, bassist Cameron Brown, and drummer Matt Wilson.
Look for the Black Star, Freedom, 1966.
Tarik, Affinity, 1969.
The Ear of the Behearer, Impulse! 1973.
Coincide, Impulse! 1974.
Musics, Galaxy, 1978.
Soundsigns, Galaxy, 1978.
In Willisau, Black Saint, 1980.
The Struggle Continues, ECM, 1982.
Living on the Edge, Black Saint, 1989.
Choices, Enja, 1992.
African Venus, Evidence, 1992.
Music, Original Jazz, 1995.
Dewey Redman in London (live), Palmetto, 1996.
Mostly Live, Tiptoe, 1996.
(With Keith Jarrett) The Impulse Years, 1973-74, Impulse, 1997.
Billboard, December 6, 1997; February 14, 1998.
Entertainment Weekly, January 18, 1991; December 25, 1998.
Essence, November 1, 1994.
People, May 10, 1993.
Rolling Stone, May 13, 1993.
Texas Monthly May 2000.
Village Voice, October 12, 1999.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.eom/cg/x.dll (January 25,2001).
“Dewey Redman,” Europe Jazz Network, http://www.ejn.it/musicians/d_redman.htm (January 25,2001).
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