Saxophonist Joshua Redman celebrates SFJazz legacy
By Yoshi Kato
September 24, 2014
Like the conference rooms found in many Bay Area office buildings, the names of the dressing rooms in the SFJazz Center are thematically unified. Arriving at the second-floor space, one is reminded of the Bay Area’s living jazz legacy when passing “Bobby Hutcherson” and “John Handy,” before reaching “Joshua Redman” just before the green room.
Though he’s played at the center several times, that main dressing room’s namesake hasn’t been assigned there. “I have yet to do a gig at SFJazz that’s formally one of my groups,” Redman says by phone from his home in Berkeley.
That will change on Thursday, when Redman brings his trio with double bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutcherson to the center for a four-show run. (They head south Oct. 6 for two sets at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz.)
“I was honored that they named a dressing room after me, but I’m not sure how deserving of that honor I am,” Redman says with his trademark modesty. “There’s something a little strange about it, too. I’d much rather be in the John Handy or the Bobby Hutcherson dressing room.”
The christening is also a testament to Redman’s extensive history with the institution. Whether as a creative adviser to the organization or a participant in specially curated shows, the 45-year-old saxophonist has deep SFJazz roots.
Berkeley High grad
The Berkeley High School and Harvard University alumnus was the first and only artistic director for the spring season, which began in 2000. He and SFJazz Executive/Artistic Director Randall Kline co-founded the highly successful SFJazz Collective four years later. Redman served as the sole artistic director for the octet with a frequently changing roster while he was a member from 2004 through mid-2007.
In terms of shows he’s played, Redman has performed solo at Grace Cathedral; in duo settings with bassist Christian McBride and pianist Brad Mehldau; as part of a trio with McBride and drummer Brian Blade; and with Mehldau, McBride and Blade in a reunion of their short-lived but influential mid-’90s quartet. For the inaugural spring season, he also participated in a tribute to saxophone great Wayne Shorter that included fellow tenor titans Joe Lovano and Branford Marsalis on the front line.
Redman first performed at the SFJazz Center as a participant in its opening-week festivities in January 2013. He says he’d play a number or two and then go out in the audience to take in the new Robert M. Miner Auditorium, which he says “sounds very good” and offers an “engaging audience experience.” Aside from a duo concert with tabla master Zakir Hussain in March 2013 and a date in an all-star ensemble for President Obama’s SFJazz Center fundraising visit eight months later, Redman had kept a low profile at the newish center.
With SFJazz’s Season 3, which kicked off Sept. 11, he’s featured on the cover of the 2013-14 program and can be seen around town on SFJazz street banners.
“I’ve gotten some random reconnaissance reports from family and friends,” he says, with a chuckle. “’Yeah, I saw you up there’ and that sort of thing. But I don’t spend that much time in the city, unfortunately, so I haven’t seen it myself.”
Moved to Brooklyn
After winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition in 1991, he moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., and rapidly became a highly recognized tenor and soprano player. Headlining at venues around the world, he’d return home, first to New York City and, later, upstate New York.
“I moved back here in 2002. It doesn’t feel like it so much, one, because 12 years go by a lot faster in your 30s and 40s, right?” he says. “Also because the first four or five years I was living here, I was back and forth between New York a lot. In fact, for a couple of years I still had a crash pad there.
“When my son Jadon was born in 2006, that really grounded my wife and me here,” he says.
Their daughter, Avrah, was born four years later.
“This is obviously a wonderful area and a great place to raise a family,” he says. “Not a cheap place to raise a family, of course, but definitely a wonderful one.”
After playing in a quartet with Rogers, Hutcherson and pianist Aaron Goldberg for the past year and a half, Redman is returning to the challenging yet rewarding saxophone trio instrumentation. The format, which he began exploring in 2004, boasts an impressive cast of past and present practitioners, from trio pioneer Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman and the late Joe Henderson to Branford Marsalis, Melissa Aldana and Lena Bloch.
With no chordal instrument such as a piano or guitar, musical roles are redistributed.
“With the trio, there’s less to fall back on,” he says. “For each of us, there’s that much more responsibility in the music. As a saxophone player, I have all these harmonic responsibilities to spell out when necessary.”
“Trios Live,” Redman’s latest album, was released in June on Nonesuch. It features concert recordings in 2009 and 2013 with him, Hutchinson and either Rogers or current SFJazz bassist Matt Penman.
“It’s an intellectual challenge and a physical challenge, just in terms of stamina,” Redman says when asked about playing in a sax-bass-drums trio. “And it’s kind of a creative and emotional challenge as well. But when everything’s working, it’s one of the most liberating formats there is, I think, for a saxophone player.”
Yoshi Kato is a freelance writer. E-mail: sadolphson@ sfchronicle.com
Joshua Redman Trio: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 3 p.m. next Sunday. $25-$65. SFJazz Center, 201 Franklin St., S.F. (866) 920-5299. www.sfjazz.org.