Joshua Redman

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Born in Berkeley, California on February 1, 1969, Joshua Redman took an unorthodox route on his way to becoming a jazz musician. First, he matriculated at Harvard University where he graduated summa cum laude in 1991 with a Phi Beta Kappa key. He put off plans to attend Yale Law School when, that same year, he won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz saxophone Competition, which led to his landing a recording contract with Warner Brothers. Dubbed “The Crown Prince of the Tenor Saxophone,� Joshua blossomed into one of the best in the business, enjoying a meteoric rise in the wake of universal commercial and critical acclaim. He’s released 11 albums over the past dozen years, the latest being momentum, recorded on the Nonesuch label.
Now 36, I caught up with the brilliant overachiever at the Newport Jazz Festival where he appeared both with his Elastic Band and in the weekend’s grand finale, an all-star jam session led by Roy Haynes, which included Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Pat Metheny, and Gary Burton.

BSN:  What made you decide to music, given your great academic pedigree?
JR: For me, it was the opportunity to play with so many great jazz musicians after I moved to New York. When I originally moved there, I thought I was only going to be there for a year. I had graduated from Harvard and had already applied and been accepted to Yale Law School. I moved to New York City for what I thought was going to be a year of relaxing, partying, and maybe playing a little music.

BSN: What happened that changed everything?
JR: Within six months of being there, I was fortunate enough to have a chance to play with people like Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins and Roy Haynes.

BSN: And your dad [saxophonist Dewey Redman]?
JR: Yeah, I played with my dad, and McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea. When I was offered an opportunity to play with these great musicians, I would have been a fool to have gone on to law school, because music offers me a kind of inspiration and fulfillment that very little else, if anything, in life could.

BSN: Had you considered attending a music school instead of Harvard?
JR: No, I never considered being a professional musician, and I still haven’t considered it. For me, that’s a by-product, that’s an accident of my pursuit and love of music that I happen to be able to make a living at it. When I was in high school, I had no visions of being a professional musician, and I really didn’t think I had the discipline or the talent to be a good musician. I mean I loved to play, but for me it was always fun time, never work time. It was kind of an antidote, a relief from the rigors of academia. I was a serious student, even in high school. So, no, I never considered going to music school.

BSN: Do you ever wish you had, since it’s become your chosen profession?
JR: If I had to do it all over again, maybe I would give it more consideration. While I had a great education coming out of Harvard, it wasn’t a music-based education. Though it’s helped me in plenty of other facets of my life, I definitely have felt behind many of my peers who chose to pursue music early on.

BSN: How so?
JR: They learned a lot of musical fundamentals in school that I’m still picking up.

BSN: Do you think Harvard prepared you for the business side of jazz?
JR: Not really. Not specifically. The thing that a good liberal arts education really teaches you is how to think critically about your world, your surroundings, and the things that you observe. In that sense, you could say it’s helped me a little bit in business, because it’s helped me ask the right questions and analyze certain things.

BSN: It sounds like you’re more focused on your music as art.
JR: The music has to be a sacred space that nothing intrudes on except the music. I try to make my musical decisions and choices, and to chart my creative course completely independent of the business. And once I make those decisions and those creative directions are determined, then I can step outside and look at the business side and see what obstacles and advantages exist. But these days, I’m fortunate enough to have a great team of people that I work with which means that I can spend less and less time thinking about the business, which is just fine with me.

BSN: How do you like playing at Newport?
JR: It’s a beautiful setting with wonderful atmosphere and a great, relaxed enthusiastic listening audience.

BSN: What was it like growing up with a jazz giant?
JR:  I didn’t grow up with my father. I gotta go. Thanks a lot.

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