Over the past decade Dewey Redman’s reputation as a tenor saxophonist has grown from a nearly invisible entity to one of the most brightly glowing stars in the jazz firmament. Although he has been heard on many albums by the Keith Jarrett quartet, and has performed with many of the most progressive musicians in improvised music, he went four years without making an album under his own name. Musics, his first album for Galaxy, is a cross-section of Redman’s unusually broad musical palette, and features his working band— pianist Fred Simmons, bassist Mark Helias, and drummer Eddie Moore.
Born May 17, 1931 in Fort Worth, Texas, Redman had little formal training in music. “I started on the clarinet, took four or five months of lessons,” he says. “Then I bought a raggedy old saxophone so I could get into the jam sessions and not have to pay.”
Redman was a high school classmate of Ornette Coleman, but he cites as his major early influence a nearly unknown saxophonist, Red Connor: “He was a fantastic player, had the technical facility, the tone, the phrasing—a great bebop player. He died in 1952 or ’53, and as the years went by I realized I had been listening to a giant.”
Although he played in his high school marching band and had been flirting with jazz, in college Redman majored in industrial arts and only minored in music. “I played 45th alto in the jazz band,” he laughs. He received a masters degree in education from North Texas State in 1959, meanwhile teaching in the public schools.
“I was 27 or 28 before I finally realized that I wanted to forget about teaching and become a full-time musician. I was a late bloomer, but I’ve never regretted it."
“I resigned from my teaching position, packed my things and split to California. I went to Los Angeles first. Then I went to San Francisco, in 1961, and stayed seven years. I had a big band—12 pieces—with Monty Waters, and I played with my own quartet.” The latter band, which included pianist Jym Young, bassist Donald Garrett, and Eddie Moore, was the group which recorded Redman’s first album, Look for the Black Star, in 1966. It was available in Europe for many years before Arista released it domestically in 1975.
Redman’s experience in San Francisco also saw him playing with Pharoah Sanders, Wes Montgomery, and sitting in with John Coltrane. “I used to see Trane and Sonny Rollins whenever I could—that was my education. When Trane came to Bop City and said he liked the way I played, I stayed high off that forever. I would go to his motel room and ask him all these questions, ‘What is that powerful secret book you practice from?"
“Trane told me the only thing to do is practice, to study my own embouchure, not to look for some magic secret from the outside. Now, after all these years, I’m writing a book, my personal view about practicing, fingering, air flow, the selection of mouthpieces....”
Redman moved to New York in 1967, played with Sunny Murray, and later began an intermittent series of gigs with Ornette Coleman, an association that overlapped his several years in the renowned Keith Jarrett band which also included Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. “One of the biggest thrills in my life was a period of a few months when I had gigs one week with Ornette, the next week with Keith, and the following week with my own band. It was a big challenge and one of my most rewarding times.”
Aside from numerous Keith Jarrett sessions, Redman recorded several albums with Ornette, including Science Fiction, Love Call, and New York Is Now. He appeared on many of the most important avant-garde albums of the past ten years, including Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and Carla Bley’s Escalator Over the Hill. He recorded with Don Cherry, Roswell Rudd, and, recently, on Billy Hart’s Enchance. Not least, he made three more Dewey Redman albums: Tarik, named after his son and recorded for the French BYG label in 1969; The Ear of the Behearer (1973) and Coincide (1974), both on Impulse. And now Musics.
As can be amply heard on Musics, Redman’s personal sound is at once exotic and earthy, challenging and humanistic, and always warm. Not only does he play the tenor sax, but also the musette (“it’s an instrument common to the Middle East and North Africa, and I’ve heard that the Tibetans play it during weddings”) and the autoharp.
“Ed Michel, who produced Musics, told me it’s his favorite from all the albums he’s done in the past two years. My band was very well received in Europe, where we did a seven-week tour last summer. We did a television show in Yugoslavia.”
As this is written, Redman is touring the United States with Old and New Dreams, a distinguished quartet of free improvisers (Charlie Haden, Don Cherry, and Ed Blackwell) who plan to record an album during a European tour this summer.
Undoubtedly, the reputation of Dewey Redman will take a well-deserved great leap forward this year.