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Dewey Redman, 75; Avant-Garde Saxophonist, Father of Joshua

September 09, 2006|Matt Schudel | Washington Post

Dewey Redman, whose powerful, rough-hewn tenor saxophone style made him an important figure in avant-garde jazz, died of liver disease Sept. 2 at a veterans hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was 75.

Redman was the very image of the struggling, underappreciated jazz musician, refining his art in obscurity for years with little reward. He was admired by critics and fellow musicians, but his difficult, uncompromising music failed to attract large audiences. The poignancy of his situation became more apparent in recent years when his son -- saxophonist Joshua Redman -- became one of the leading attractions in jazz.

Possibly because of his son's renown, or because public taste finally caught up with his music, Dewey Redman found more acclaim in the last 15 years than he had earlier.

Redman had a connection with the vanguard of jazz from an early age, having been a high school classmate in Fort Worth of Ornette Coleman, one of the most innovative jazz composers and musicians of the last 50 years.

Redman didn't find his own musical voice until he was in his 30s and living in San Francisco, and later in New York.

"I think of myself as a country boy from Texas trying to make it in the big city," he said in 2003. "I learned by trial and error and watching other saxophone players do what I do and asking them questions."

Drawing on his early influences of John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins, Redman won respect for his venturesome musical tastes. He made a dozen recordings as a leader and continued to give rousing live performances until the week of his death.

Like many other saxophonists from Texas, he perfected a broad, full-toned sound that became a readily recognizable hallmark.

"Technique is OK," he said three years ago, "but if you got the technique and I got a good sound, I'll beat you every time."

Some of Redman's free-form performances stretched the limits of standard harmony, melody and pitch. But after a blizzard of notes, he could slow the pace for a heartbreaking ballad.

On the 1996 album "Live in London," which he cited as one of his favorites, he mixed fiery, free-jazz tunes with touching readings of the standards "I Should Care" and "The Very Thought of You."

Walter Dewey Redman was born May 17, 1931, in Fort Worth and grew up as the only child of a single mother. He began playing the clarinet at 13 and was in the same high school band as Coleman.

He began playing tenor saxophone in college and graduated from Prairie View A&M University in Texas with a bachelor's degree in industrial arts. He then spent two years in the Army while moonlighting as a nightclub musician.

From 1956 to 1959, Redman taught music in Texas public schools while studying for his master's degree, which he received in 1959 from the University of North Texas.

In 1960, he settled in San Francisco and gradually found his own musical direction, releasing his first recording, "Look for the Black Star," in 1966.

After moving to New York in 1967, he joined Coleman's group and became a leading exponent of the saxophonist-composer's music.

He spent five years in the 1970s with pianist Keith Jarrett's so-called American quartet, which included bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian.

Later, Redman led a group called Old and New Dreams with Haden, trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell -- all proteges of Coleman.

In addition to his son Joshua, Redman is survived by another son, Tariq, and his wife of nine years, Lidija Pedevska-Redman.

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