Freddie Redd Trio
Pianist-composer Freddie Redd was one of the most in-demand musicians on the New York jazz scene during the Fifties and early Sixties. He worked in the bands of Charles Mingus, Coleman Hawkins, Cootie Williams, Art Blakey, and Sonny Rollins and recorded as a sideman with the likes of Art Farmer, Gene Ammons, and Howard McGhee, as well as making a series of now-classic albums of his own for the Prestige, Riverside, and Blue Note labels. His probing, deeply emotional score for Jack Gelber’s acclaimed off-Broad-way play, The Connection (recorded for Blue Note in 1960 with Jackie McLean), remains a milestone of the post-bop era.
Since that time, however, Redd has been something of a phantom in the jazz world. He’s been largely out of the limelight, a nomad who’s crisscrossed the globe, delighting audiences in Mexico, Morocco, Denmark, and Spain with his unique bebop inventions, recording only five albums over a 27-year span.
“If you’re not working in venues where people know where you are, then you’re underground,” Redd says now. “It wasn’t something that I planned.”
Redd may have been off the scene, but his music wasn’t forgotten. In 1989, Mosaic Records issued a limited edition boxed set titled The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Freddie Redd. “The recordings,” Peter Watrous commented in the New York Times, “show Mr. Redd to be the composer of pungent, often blues-laden melodies and a masterful small-group arranger. As a pianist, he’s both a dutiful soloist and an excitable accompanist who made musicians play up to their best.”
Now, with the release of Everybody Loves a Winner, his Milestone label debut, Freddie Redd is up from the underground, composing and performing the type of sinewy, rhythmically darting small-band modern jazz upon which his legend was initially built. Produced by Eric Miller, the album presents the pianist playing seven of his own compositions (with a bonus track on CD) in the empathetic company of tenor saxophonist Teddy Edwards, alto saxophonist Curtis Peagler, trombonist Phil Ranelin, bassist Bill Langlois, and drummer Larry Hancock.
Redd was born in New York City on May 29, 1928. Growing up in Harlem, he was surrounded by music but didn’t take it up seriously until he was 18 and serving in the army in Korea. A friend played him a copy of “Shaw ’Nuff” by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
“When I first heard that record,” he recalls, “it was more or less a physical reaction. It just hit me like a ton of bricks—more like a lightning bolt, really. After that, I just had to know more about that music. I felt compelled to play it. Up until that time, I’d sort of banged around on the piano a little bit—played a little boogie-woogie—because we always had a piano in the house. When I heard that, I just wanted to start playing that music.”
With pointers from other servicemen, especially a guitarist named Eugene Jones, Redd taught himself bebop piano and was soon performing with a Special Services jazz band throughout Korea. “I was playing the chords; I just didn’t know the names of ’em,” he explains. “I had no idea what they were. Sometimes I’d play something and Gene would say, ‘My goodness, that was a lovely major 7th.’ I was hearing it before I knew what it was.”
Back home in New York, Redd threw himself into the thick of the jazz world, working with Jo Jones, Cootie Williams, Joe Roland, Charles Mingus (in a trio with Oscar Pettiford on cello), Coleman Hawkins, and even a one-nighter with Charlie Parker himself. Redd made his first record in 1951 with guitarist Tiny Grimes. In 1956, he toured Sweden in the company of Ernestine Anderson, Tommy Potter, and Joe Harris. Later that year, he rejoined Mingus in a quintet, which resulted in the first of Redd’s three extended stays in San Francisco.
“I liked Mingus’s music, but he could be a little overbearing at times as a person,” the pianist explains. “He had threatened me one night and I threatened him back. Dannie Richmond told me confidentially, ‘When we get ready to go back [to New York], you better be cool and watch him because, when we get to New Mexico, The Ming is going to ask you to check the right rear tire and leave you out there.’ So I decided to stay out in California. I liked it anyway and I had friends out there.”
Redd became the house pianist at Jimbo’s Bop City, the now-legendary San Francisco after-hours club. His six-month stay inspired San Francisco Suite, which he recorded for Riverside upon his return to New York in 1957. Two years later, he joined the cast of The Connection, Jack Gelber’s controversial play about drug addiction, as the composer of its jazz score, as well as an actor and musician during a 17-month run. The play won three Obie Awards and landed Redd a contract with Blue Note Records.
The following three decades found Redd globetrotting, in San Francisco again during the mid-Sixties, off to Mexico for a year, in New York for a period, then on to Denmark, France, and points south. After an extended engagement at the Studio Grill in Hollywood in 1988 (during which he recorded a live trio album with Al McKibbon and Billy Higgins), the pianist moved to Pacifica, near San Francisco, in 1990, hired a manager, and signed with Milestone Records.
As evidenced by Everybody Loves a Winner, the originality and stark emotional power of Redd’s music remains undiminished. Now preparing for a triumphant return to New York City, he holds fast to a basic philosophy that’s inspired him throughout his 40 years in jazz.
“I want to feel the music—that’s the joy of it to me,” he states. “If you don’t feel it, don’t mess with it. I never know what music is going to come out. I just know that I want it to be there, and that feeling sustains me all the time. I love this music.”