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15 Oct

Joshua Redman Interview

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Joshua Redman is one of the most acclaimed and charismatic jazz artists to have emerged in the decade of the 1990s. He gave an interview to George Voudiklaris few days before his arrival in Athens. "For me, jazz music, more than anything, it’s about the spirit of improvisation" Joshua Redman

GV -It is an honor and a pleasure to be talking to you. Welcome to Europe!
JR-Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
- GV- From the area code, I believe you’re somewhere in the south of France?
- JR- We just arrived in a town called Nimes. I don’t think I‘ve ever been here before, but it must be somewhere between Marseille and Montpellier.
- GV-That is correct. I believe it has a lovely roman arena.
- JR-Yes. I see a little corner of it from my hotel room. So I’m gonna go out walking and take a look at it!
- GV-That’s great. And In a few days you will be with us in Athens performing. I think it has been a while since your last visit.
- JR-Yes. I think last time I was in Athens was in 2007.
- GV-And you have a new album out called “Walking Shadows”, which is kind of an all-star thing…
- JR-Yeah, I guess! I’m playing with some musicians, friends and colleagues that I’ve known for a long time. I’ve played with these guys a lot over the years, and they are three of the finest musicians playing today, so we had a good time making the record. I love playing with those guys, just as I love playing with the guys who will be coming with me to Athens, Aaron Goldberg, Reuben Rogers and Gregory Hutchinson. Also three of the greatest musicians playing today, and we have a lot of history of playing with one another.
- GV-Yes, it is quite a wonderful band you are bringing to Athens… “Walking Shadows” has been received very warmly by press and public.
- JR-I hope so! I don’t pay so much attention to that. I am proud of the record and people seem to enjoy the music. It was an opportunity for me to do something a little bit different. In every record I want to be a little bit different, but this one in a certain way was a long time coming. I always wanted to do a record of ballads. I love the attention to melody and lyricism and the focus on a softer and gentler, romantic perspective. But I didn’t feel ready to do that, to do a whole album of ballads, until right about now! (Laughs). And it was nice to explore that side of my musical personality.
- GV-It is very true that you don’t usually repeat yourself, and you do things that are rather innovative. It’s been very interesting to hear you play with a trio without a piano. Because usually when we’re talking about a jazz trio, a piano is always present.
- JR-Well, I love playing with piano. I love piano players and I’ve had great relations with piano players over the years, but for about almost ten years, from 2004 till just recently, most of the stuff I did with my own bands was pianoless. With some kind of  trio, and Compass was with a double trio with two bassists and two drummers. I love piano and I love harmony, and I think in many ways the sound of modern jazz is defined by harmony. So I love playing with pianos, I love interacting with them, I love writing music for piano, because you have so many harmonic options with a piano. But I also love the experience of playing without a piano because there is a certain freedom that you have in this trio context. There is a certain melodic and rhythmic freedom that you have, and it’s a very challenging and stark context, sometimes an abstract context, but when everything is really clicking, it can be some of the most free and intense improvising in the trio.
- GV-Let’s take thing from more or less the start. I think that coming from the family you come, from the parents you had, it was written that you would probably become an artist. What was it like, growing up with all that music and all that art around you?
- JR-Well, I didn’t grow up with my father. You know my father was a great musician, but my father and mother weren’t married and they weren’t together, so I was raised by only my mom, and I don’t feel that it was written that I was going to be a musician. I certainly was exposed to music, and my mom was a dancer, and so she exposed me to all the forms of the performing arts, music, arts, drama, but for most of my childhood and early life I didn’t think I was going to be a professional musician. It wasn’t really where my energies were focused. I was disciplined with academics in school. Music was something I loved, but it wasn’t something that I took that seriously. So in a way my ending up as a professional musician kind of felt like an accident. People might say it’s fate, it’s destiny, but to me it wasn’t part of a plan I had for my life. But if it’s an accident, it’s certainly the greatest accident that I’ve ever had, because I can’t imagine now doing anything different. I feel so fortunate, so lucky to be able to play with great musicians night after night and to learn from them and to grow with them and try to make music with them.
- GV-It’s part of the story that has been going round, and I’m pretty sure that is the case, that you had been accepted to  Yale Law School, and it is said that you said you’d go one year later, which of course you never did. Is that true?
- JR-Yeah, I was on a year de ferment, but it’s been the longest year of my life… (Laughs). That year has lasted… well, let’s see... twenty-two years now! You know, I thought I was just going to take a year to hang out in New York and play some music, and then things kind of exploded for me and I haven’t looked back since, I’ve just been loving playing music.
- GV-Did you ever wonder what your life would be like if you had followed the other path?
- JR-Yes… I mean, I’ve wondered but I can’t imagine…You know I just can’t imagine it,  it seems so foreign, it’s the life that I almost had, yet it seems now an impossible life, like a life that I couldn’t have had, so … I’ve wondered, but my imagination isn’t creative enough to picture myself as something other than what I am now! I haven’t thought too deeply about it, to be honest…
- GV-As you said, your carrier as a musician exploded, and you did something that, to my eyes, is rather difficult. Having a father that was a very important and famous musician, you still came out as a musician, but you were always your own man. How did you do this?
- JR-Well, I don’t think I thought about it! Often, jazz musicians  talk about this effort of having your own sound, finding your own sound, is this sort of epic quest, you know, some day, you search the corners of the earth and you have all this experience, and you look at your life and someday, somewhere deep down or on the top of a mountain or in a valley or something, you discover your sound! I think... I don’t mean to be flippant about it, but I think our sound is who we are. It’s something... We’re always discovering more about who we are, so our voice, our sound, is always deepening and always broadening, it’s always enriching itself, but for me, I’ve never could play like anybody but myself, and I’ve never felt like I could be any man other than my own man. In that sense, that has always been natural to me. Sometimes I wish that I could sound like somebody else, but I can’t! For better or for worse, I’m stuck with my own sound.
- GV-A great difference between your generation of jazz musicians and the generation of your father, is that in your generation most people have studied music, they have had very serious and concrete music studies. How different does this make the sound of your generation from the previous ones?
- JR- In general you’re right in the sense that the music education system has taken off over the past forty years, especially over the past twenty years, in jazz, the jazz education system, but I think it’s a fallacy to suggest that every musician that was playing before 1970 is completely self-taught. Because, you know, my father studied music, he majored in music. There are a lot of famous musicians in the jazz past that passed through some sort of conservatory. And then, for example, I didn’t go to music school, I never took real music classes or music lessons. There are exceptions, obviously, to the rules. But for sure the jazz education system has exploded over the last forty years. I think in a certain level it’s great. Young jazz musicians now have resources that they didn’t have before. They have access to information that they didn’t have before, a lot of musical problems have been solved for them , and they can maybe acquire their method, they can learn, their routines that they can follow, their ways  that they can rapidly acquire a certain musical vocabulary and develop a proficiency and a fluency maybe more quickly because of the methods and constructions. That’s good, and I think that jazz today shows the marks of a certain educational emphasis, there are complexities in jazz today , in mainstream jazz you hear very complex harmonies and  complex meters and rhythms. That comes out of a focus on study. I think that can be a good thing, but we have to remember that, ultimately, the goal of jazz is not to educate… Maybe it is better to say that the goal of learning about jazz is not to show what you’ve learned. Just like the goal of education is not to prove that you’re educated.
- GV-Exactly!
- JR-The goal of education is to learn something and then to use that education to say something, to do something. So I think maybe the danger of jazz education is the danger of any sort of institutionalized academic education, that you can lose sight of the fact that the ultimate end of your education isn’t  to show yourself off, but to try to use it in service and hopefully to something that’s deeper and that’s greater.
- GV-I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s true that the sound of jazz music has expanded that much, that now it contains world music, sounds from all over the world, contemporary music etc.  So maybe this is a good point to ask you what jazz music is to you.
- JR-For me, jazz music, more than anything, it’s about the spirit of improvisation. About being in the moment and playing what you feel and what you think in the moment. Improvising in a way that connects with the musicians that you’re playing with, having a dialogue with them, having a conversation with them and improvising in a way that connects with the audience that you’re playing for. That’s what jazz is.
- GV-Since you mentioned the other musicians one is improvising with: you’ve been playing with wonderful musicians and wonderful people through the years. I’d like to ask you about someone – or more than one – that you haven’t played with yet, and you believe that it would be interesting for you, or that it would be a dream for you, to play with.
- JR-Oh! Well, I’d love to play with Keith Jarrett – I’m sure I never will… (Laughs)
- GV-Why not?
- JR-Because he doesn’t ever.. I mean, he’s been playing with basically the same musicians, the same two or three people, for the last twenty years!
- GV-Well, that’s true, I know…
- JR-But I would certainly love to play with him. I’d love to play with Prince,  (Laughs) I’m sure I won’t ever play with him… You know, there are a lot of musicians. I’ve been fortunate, like you said, that I’ve played with a lot of great musicians, but for every great musician I’ve been able to play with there are probably five that I haven’t! I think the more experiences I can have, playing with more great different musicians, the better…
- GV- You happened to mention two of my favorite musicians in the world!
- JR-Yeah, I think they’re favored from other musicians! There’s good reason… 
- GV-It is very true… Thanks for your time and see you in Athens!
- JR -I would love to meet you. Goodbye!


More about Joshua Redman :

- Interview by George Voudiklaris – October 2013


Last modified on Friday, 06 June 2014 12:21