Joshua Redman swore, “I’m not the intellectual,” in a recent phone conversation with the Houston Press, after seeming rather professorial while discussing his latest project. Like good students, we scribbled down notes and marveled at our luck to be able to attend a masterclass given by one of jazz’s geniuses.
The project is called Joshua Redman 3×3 and is presented as part of the second annual DACAMERA Houston SUMMER JAZZ weekend of August 19 to 21. The Theater District event also includes showcase performances by Jazzmeia Horn and the band Pedrito Martinez. 3×3 features Redman on saxophone, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Marcus Gilmore performing the music of three iconic jazz composers, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter.
We pulled our hands up to ask Redman what connects these artists.
“Believe it or not, I haven’t really thought about what they all share or how to put that into words. It’s always difficult to capture any kind of musical feeling in words. I would say my words would be doing a disservice. By trying to sum it up in words, you lose some of that essence of what music is,” he said. “I guess they are three of the greatest composers in the history of this music, of jazz, and I would say three of the greatest composers of the 20th century.
“I don’t think what sets them apart, but certainly what they all share in common is that their compositions are so memorable and also simultaneously so personal, in the sense that for each of them I have the feel like if you hear one of their songs you almost know it’s them, they put their own very, very unique personal identity, and a unique musical perspective and voice into all of their compositions. But there’s also a universality that they all have. The way they write their music is deeply personal, it can only be written by them, but somehow their personal point of view crosses the ages, the generations, even the different stylistic approaches.
“I also think they were all composers working in the jazz idiom writing incredibly innovative and sophisticated music and yet at the same time their songs are kind of imminently playable,” he said. for follow-up. “I think there are composers and you listen to their works and they are impressive and impressive compositional statements, but they can’t necessarily be played in different ways in many different interpretations.
“I think the thing with Duke’s music, Monk’s music and Wayne’s music is these songs – as identifiable as they are, as personal as they are, as idiosyncratic as they sometimes are – they’re incredibly flexible,” he explained. “So different musicians working in different eras, in different stylistic contexts, we all seem drawn to their music. It’s like there’s so much room for the performer to find themselves in the music and find ways to play their music that both serve the song and the original design, but are also unique to the interpreter.
Lest the whole thing sound too reminiscent of a college lecture hall, Redman said the songs “are a lot of fun to play, too.” He also has a fun observation about exactly who is featuring the music in this project.
“One of the interesting things, you might say slightly ironic, about this project is that two of the composers are pianists and we’re obviously playing in a non-piano setting. So the idea of playing piano music or music that was written by a pianist without a piano, at first glance, could be somewhat dangerous. This might raise a red flag – where’s the piano? he said laughing. “I’ve never done a repertoire project like this, but I’ve worked a lot in the context of a piano-less trio, just bass and drums, and one thing I found , is that there are a lot of songs that work very well in a trio, but there are also songs that really don’t work well in a trio, where you really need that harmonic content, that information from the piano.
“If a song has a really, really strong melody and a really strong sense of bass movement, a lot of the central information is either there or implied by those two voices, the melody and the bass,” he said. he declares. “Speaking of Duke’s music and Monk’s music, although, yeah, the harmonic content is super important and they each had a very unique harmonic voice, the melodies are so strong and they and the movement of the bass contain so much essential information that many of these tunes really work wonderfully without piano.
“I guess for consistency we should try playing Wayne Shorter’s music without a saxophone, but that’s the only instrument I play, so it might get a little weird,” he joked.
Another ongoing project is the Joshua Redman Quartet. It’s Redman 101 for enthusiasts, but members of this iconic quartet include Brad Mehldau on piano, Christian McBride on bass and Brian Blade on drums. The group first formed in the 1990s and reformed for the 2020 album RoundAgain. His follow-up, Long goneis set to be released on September 9 and the quartet will be on a musical tour this fall after being sidelined by the pandemic.
“Obviously, these are three of the musicians I’ve learned the most from and inspired me the most and I’ve continued to have very strong musical collaborations and relationships with these artists throughout my life in music. We’ve been trying to get this band together for 30 years,” he said. “It’s not easy. Obviously, these are three of the most important musicians working in and outside of jazz today, so it was very difficult for us to find the time to get together, to make this record, and then we planned to tour and these plans came to fruition. upset a bit.
“This tour has now been going on for almost three years – well, you could say 33 years,” he noted.
Talking about jazz with Redman, you can’t help but learn something. He was raised around music, the son of jazz great Dewey Redman. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard and headed to Yale Law School before music set him on a different path. His self-titled debut album in 1993 practically made him the next “big thing” in jazz, the mention of which still earns him an “Oh geez” to this day, even as he delivered on that promise with complex, award-winning music and prolific. working in his own projects and numerous collaborations, all designed to keep the genre fresh for future generations.
Because it all seems so heady, we ask Redman if there’s a guilty pleasure he enjoys, an interest he would admit that brings him back to us mere mortals. Perhaps a favorite trash TV show we suggest?
“First of all, I am far from being the intellectual. To be honest, there’s a part of me that I have to fight — what I think is my essential nature is to sit on the couch and eat Cheetos and watch SportsCenter all day,” he said. he laughed. “Now I never do that, but that’s what I want do. So my home life has been kind of like fighting against this incredibly strong gravitational pull.
He said he hasn’t been that dedicated to the sport lately, but he loves the NBA. He considers himself a “coffee nerd”, always looking for a good espresso, one that mixes all the right notes, like a good song.
“I guess I like to run,” he said, with a little less verve than he allows when the subject is coffee. Running, he says, is a new fascination. “I had never run a race before. I did a half marathon in February, so now I’m hoping to run a marathon in a few weeks, so we’ll see what happens.
Long-distance runners often hit the road with playlists filled with uplifting songs. Maybe these songs from Rocky soundtracks or pop hits or maybe even Duke, Monk or Wayne. What songs are on his current playlist, we ask?
“I usually listen to podcasts, believe it or not. I don’t listen to much music,” he admitted. “I find that when you listen to music, you’d be surprised how little I do. I mean, I love music but somehow I feel like if I’m tired, music is the last thing I’ll reach for. I would rather read a book or read the news or watch a movie or listen to podcasts.
“When I’m listening to music, I’m an active listener, so I want to be kind of engaged and immersed in it. Just because I’m surrounded by it so much – I definitely need to study it more and learn more about it. ‘listen more – but I just need to disconnect. I can’t get away from the music.
Joshua Redman 3×3 performs at Houston’s 2022 SUMMERJAZZ presented by DACAMERA at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 20 at Cullen Auditorium at Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. Tickets start at $37.50 and passes to the event’s three shows start at $90, with half-price tickets available for students and seniors. For more information, call DACAMERA at 713-524-5050 or visit dacamera.com.