Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Redman, Dewey (Walter)

Saxophonist Dewey Redman was the most influential and innovative of the "Texas Tenors:" he combined the avant-garde tendencies of John Coltrane's late phase with the spacious bebop of Dexter Gordon and his own approach to the blues to create an instinctual, melody-minded approach to free jazz which has become a defining force in the post-Trane musical world.

A one-time elementary school teacher with a master’s degree in education, Redman enjoyed a series of high-profile musical relationships in the 1970s, as a regular member of groups led by Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden. Redman was self-taught, and developed a trial-and-error aesthetic early in his career. He later supplemented this experiential approach with study of music theory, which allowed him to play both in and out of chord changes with equal ease.

Walter Dewey Redman was born on May 19, 1931 in Fort Worth, Texas. An only child growing up in the segregated south, Redman immersed himself in a musical world, first picking up the clarinet at age 13. He played in all of the bands his schools offered through high school, often right beside his classmate and friend Ornette Coleman.

After high school, Redman briefly enrolled in the electrical engineering program at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, but became disillusioned with the program and returned home to Texas. He soon enrolled in the Prairie View A&M University, from which he received a bachelor’s degree in industrial arts.

It was at Prairie View that Redman switched from clarinet to the saxophone – first moving to alto and then to the tenor. Even though Redman had already been playing music for years by this point, he was largely self-taught, relying on his ear to produce an individual sound on whatever instrument he was playing. As Redman once declared in an interview later in life:

“In my world, that's the first thing I reach for is the sound. Technique is OK, but if you got the technique and I got a good sound, I'll beat you every time. You can play a thousand notes and I can play one note and wipe you out. That's what I reach for is a sound.”

A two-year stint in the army followed his undergraduate degree. Upon his discharge, Redman first decided to pursue a master’s degree in education, which he received at the prestigious North Texas State University in 1959. While he was earning this degree, he also taught music to fifth graders in Bastrop, Texas, and worked as a freelance saxophonist on nights and weekends around Austin, Texas.

Redman’s teaching career was short lived, however, as it soon took a backseat to his study of the saxophone. He intensely listened the recordings of other saxophonists, absorbing the styles of those he admired, such as Gordon, Coltrane, Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Gene Ammons, and Texas musician Red Carter.

Slowly, he developed a style of his own, Redman was eager to explore performance opportunities outside of Texas. While he set his sights on New York, his first opportunity to play professionally outside of Texas was on the West coast towards the end of 1959..

Redman spent six years in and around San Francisco, where he performed with Pharaoh Sanders and Donald Rafael Garrett, among others, at Jimbo’s Bop City. During this period, he learned to temper his own instinctual approach to improvisation with a theoretical understanding of harmony. This combination of newly-learned theory with years of intuitive ear-training resulted in an innate, raw, personal sound that Redman later said was the catalyst for his success as a performer.

In 1966, Redman recorded and released his first date as a leader, the free-jazz albumLook for the Black Star, with Jim Young on piano, Donald Garrett on bass and clarinet, and Eddie Moore on drums. In 1967, he made his move to New York City, where he quickly found himself playing with some of the era's most prominent free jazz musicians.

Upon his arrival in New York, Redman joined Ornette Coleman's band, and his tenor complemented Coleman’s alto on numerous sessions in the late 1960s and 1970s. These include the albumNew York Is Now!, which contains "The Garden of Souls," Love Call, which featured “Airborne,"and Science Fiction, which included “What Reason Could I Give.” On all of these records, Redman provided a forceful, earthy, blues-based melodic foundation that perfectly suited Coleman’s feverish free material of the period.

Redman’s consistent work with Coleman from 1967 to 1974 did not stop the hungry tenor player from pursuing other major performance opportunities. In 1969, he appeared on the debut recording of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and released his second date as a leader, Tarik, which featured bassist Malachi Favors and Coleman drummer Ed Blackwell. He made two more records as a leader in the early to mid 1970s: The Ear of the Behearer in 1973 and Coincide in 1974.

In 1971, Redman joined another critically-acclaimed group – Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet. Comprised of Jarrett, Redman, Haden and drummer Paul Motian, the group’s eclectic, inventive, boundary-less brand of jazz produced some of the finest albums of the 1970s, which include Birth in 1971, Fort Yawuh in 1973 and Byablue in 1977.

While much of this material is consistently first-rate and often features multiple extended Redman improvisations on each record, a few particular highlights include “(If the) Misfits (Wear It),” a live cut from Fort Yawuh, “Death and the Flower,” a 22-minute improvisational tour-de-force from the album of the same name, and a live version of “Everything that Lives Laments” from Mysteries, which was previously recorded on Jarrett's pre-American Quartet recording, The Mourning of a Star.

As Redman's involvement with both Coleman and Jarrett tapered off in the late 1970s, he joined the group Old and New Dreams. Essentially an incarnation of the Ornette Coleman group without Ornette, it consisted of Redman, trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Ed Blackwell, who from 1976 to 1987 performed their own original compositions and reworked classic Coleman material, and recorded four albums.

In the 1980s, Redman performed less, but played with guitarist Pat Metheny on the 80/81 sessions, and his handful of recordings as a leader. He and Ed Blackwell released an extraordinary duet album, In Willisau, in 1980. In 1982, he released a quartet date, The Struggle Continues, which contains “Thren." In 1989, Redman and pianist Geri Allen joined forces to record Living on the Edge, a quartet date with Cameron Brown on bass and Eddie Moore on drums.

Redman performed infrequently but steadily throughout the 1990s. As a sideman, he reunited with Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra to record Dream Keeper in 1990 and performed on sessions with Randy Weston, Ed Blackwell, Ed Schuller and Tom Harrell, among others.

Redman released two records as a leader in 1992, Choices and African Venus, both of which featured his son, Joshua Redman, also on tenor. In 1996, Redman released a live quartet date, In London, which includes his inspired take on “The Very Thought of You,” which he dedicated to one of his tenor idols, Dexter Gordon.

Redman's final recording, Momentum Space, was made in 1999 with pianist Cecil Taylor and drummer Elvin Jones. The track “Spoonin’” is a 7+ minute duet between Redman and Jones, a sympathetic pairing of the two giants, each near the end of their storied careers

Despite his deteriorating health, Redman continued to perform in to the new millennium with his own quartet, which featured pianists Frank Kimbrough and Charlie Eubanks, bassists John Menegon or Cameron Brown, and drummer Matt Wilson. Just days before his death from liver failure on September 2, 2006, Redman was on the bandstand – performing his final gig at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Tompkins Square Park, New York City, on August 27. Redman was survived by his wife, Lidija Pedevska-Redman, and two sons, Joshua and Tarik.

Jazz aesthetics in the twenty-first century, so far at least, owe quite a bit to Dewey Redman. Contemporary jazz musicians are expected to be adept at playing both in and out of typical chord changes, and have also worked to define a clear, undeniable personal style and sound. In many ways, Redman was one of the first of this type of modern player, and he set an example and high standard which many have since followed.

Select Discography:

As a leader:

Look for the Black Star (1966)

Tarik (1969)

The Ear of the Behearer (1973)

Musics (1978)

In Willisau (1980)

The Struggle Continues (1982)

Living on the Edge (1989)

Choices (1992)

African Venus (1992)

In London (1996)

Momentum Space (1999)

With Ornette Coleman:

New York is Now! (1968)

Love Call (1968)

Friends and Neighbors: Live at Prince Street (1970)

Broken Shadows (1971)

Science Fiction (1971)

With Keith Jarrett:

Birth (1971)

Fort Yawuh (1973)

Treasure Island (1974)

Death and the Flower (1975)

Mysteries (1975)

Shades (1975)

El Juicio – The Judgement (1976)

Survivor’s Suite (1976)

Bop-Be (1977)

Byablue (1977)

Additional Recordings:

Liberation Music Orchestra (Charlie Haden, 1969)

Enhance (Billy Hart, 1977)

Old and New Dreams (Old and New Dreams, 1978 and 1979)

80/81 (Pat Metheny, 1980)

Playing (Old and New Dreams, 1980)

Ballad of the Fallen (Charlie Haden and Carla Bley, 1982)

Monk in Motian (Paul Motian, 1988)

Dream Keeper (Charlie Haden, 1990)

Spirit of our Ancestors (Randy Weston, 1991)

Walls-Bridges (Ed Blackwell, 1992)

Art of Rhythm (Tom Harrell, 1997)

Contributor: Eric Novod