Word from the Wise: Joshua Redman, A True Jazz Musician

photo courtesy of Michael Wilson

Trying to strive to become a better true musician has always been my goal as a jazz artist. I am continuously searching to how I can approach jazz and improvisation whether it be through looking at it from a different perspective or trying to view it from a more abstract understanding. The question that seems to question many musicians is how do we develop our own perspective and own style. As a musician who does not focus solely on the technical aspect of my playing, I find developing my own style and approach to jazz has been influenced by studying how other people perceive music. Two months ago, Joshua Redman, the 2011 artist-in-residence for the Monterey Jazz Festival, gave a clinic at the annual Next Generation Jazz Festival—a jazz festival that gathers the top junior high school, high school, and college big band, combos, and vocal ensembles from around the world to play and compete. Since 2004, this festival has brought musicians like Dianna Reeves, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra, Christian Mcbride, Terence Blanchard, Kurt Elling, Branford Marsalis, and Regina Carter. As an artist-in-residence, Redman will act as a clinician, mentor, and featured performer at the 54th Monterey Jazz Festival. He will also perform with the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra—an auditioned ensemble consisting of the top high school musicians—in September.

Now Joshua Redman, in his clinic at the Next Generation Jazz Festival, highlighted and addressed some key issues that many jazz musicians face. He also answered many of my questions both as a jazz musician, improviser, and specifically as a saxophonist. Listen to his response.

At the beginning, Redman starts off talking about how he came to music and his connection to the Monterey Jazz Festival. He expanded upon how he was not the typical musician and how music was not the focus of his life at that time.  Playing in the Berkeley High School Jazz Band and attending the Next Generation Jazz Festival as a young high schooler, Joshua Redman said he only remembered the social aspect of the festival rather than the musical experience. He then continued to add how he feels jazz is based on this social connection with other musicians rather than the individual musical connection. He expressed how jazz is not about an individual but about a group of musicians sharing this unique personal connection to the music. Now, I relate to Joshua Redman in many ways. I was fortunate, at a very young age, to have the opportunity to participate in the Next Generation Jazz Festival my 8th grade year. Just new to jazz, I did not have that deep understanding of what music meant to me. I did not have that same emotional connection to jazz as did many of the other more experienced players at the festival. It was only through listening and immersing myself among better musicians that really helped me to develop and find my own voice. I do agree with Redman in that jazz is not about one musician’s musical talents. Jazz is about communication and finding a deep social connection between other musicians.

I have noticed that jazz education has shifted their focus. Teaching more the technical aspects of music, jazz education has almost lost touch with teaching the younger generation how to develop that social connection to the music. Technique, to me, is like the icing on top of the cake. We do not need the icing to know that it is a cake. Like how Joshua Redman described technique as beneficial, it  is not necessary in becoming a true musician. Now, I am not saying that technique is an inconsequential thing for musicians. I am saying that musicians have been too focused on mastering technique instead of mastering what really identifies jazz as jazz.

Joshua Redman is one of my favorite musicians because he exemplifies that true musician identity. His passion for jazz and maturity identifies him not only as a musician who can play jazz but knows what jazz truly is. Although he says in this workshop that he is not much of an educator, through his playing and his testament, Joshua Redman is a true teacher. It is always nice to hear someone who challenges you to see things in a new perspective and pushes you to go against your beliefs in order to understand the bigger picture.

Feel free to share your thoughts on Joshua Redman’s workshop by commenting on this post. I would love to hear your opinion on what Redman said and if you think he is giving an accurate assessment of jazz and jazz education in today’s society.

4 thoughts on “Word from the Wise: Joshua Redman, A True Jazz Musician

  1. This is really one of the best clinics I’ve heard in a long time! I agree with you that while he kept saying he wasn’t much of a teacher, I must wholeheartedly disagree! I found his insights and musing not only helpful, but inspirational, challenging, easy to understand, and beautiful. I think of all the masterclasses I’ve been to in the past 13 years of playing, this has been the most honest and the most helpful of them all. I think it might have literally changed the way I listen to music and practice! Thanks for a gem of and I hope to hear some more from him in the future.

    • I agree! He was one of the first saxophonist that I listened to when I was learning the saxophone and jazz. His style of playing is unique,creative, and innovative, which is something that many artists fail to accomplish.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this insightful interview. I love what he says about melody…and singing. I also admire the way he acknowledged “holes” in his playing and confronted them head-on!

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