Written by Nate Chinen from WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center
When Joshua Redman blew onto the scene in the early 1990s — a saxophonist brimming with intellect and energy, but refreshingly unhurried with his cadence — one salient thing to know about him was that he came from a line of musical descent. His father, Dewey Redman, also played the saxophone (mainly tenor), and had come to prominence in the 1960s avant-garde, notably through an affiliation with Ornette Coleman.
The younger Redman had been raised by his mother out in Berkeley, Calif., and didn’t know his father all that well. But they connected musically during his undergraduate years at Harvard, while he was pursuing jazz on the side. (In 1989, the summer before his senior year, he accepted his father’s invitation to sit in for a week at the Village Vanguard.) After Joshua won the 1991 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, setting off a major-label bidding war, patrilineage became a part of his narrative, one way of explaining his bounding talent.
Dewey Redman died in 2006, at 75. His son played a stark and plaintive solo rumination at his memorial. He had no intention of organizing a larger tribute to his father at the time — but when bassist Charlie Haden also died, not quite a decade later, something began to stir.
“Charlie brought out the love in my father’s playing: a warmth, tenderness and honesty that few others brought out to the same degree,” Joshua Redman said at Haden’s memorial, his voice wobbling slightly. “In a strange way,” he added, “Charlie helped me to love my father.” It wasn’t long after this moment that Redman began to think about a lot about Old and New Dreams.
From the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s, the members of Old and New Dreams — Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden, plus Don Cherry on trumpet and Ed Blackwell on drums — paid homage of a sort to Ornette Coleman, in whose band they had previously played. Coleman had convened a new collection of misfits: the ecstatic, electric band Prime Time. There was no outlet for the soulful acoustic sound he’d refined in the ’60s, so Old and New Dreams picked up the torch and carried it on.
Joshua Redman decided that he would do something similar, a generation down the line. Still Dreaming is his nod to Old and New Dreams, a collective with several worthy partners: drummer Brian Blade, who like Blackwell hails from Louisiana; cornetist Ron Miles, a great admirer of Cherry; and bassist Scott Colley, who studied closely with Haden. This new group has come together over the last few years to refurbish a repertory: songs like “Mopti,” by Cherry, and “Rushour,” by Dewey Redman.
In this episode of Jazz Night In America, you’ll hear Still Dreaming play those pieces and a couple of heartfelt originals in a recent concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room. You’ll also hear Redman open up about his father’s legacy and the unconscious bequest of his sound. And the other members of Still Dreaming will speak to why a music birthed in tribute, some 40 years ago, still conveys so much beauty and immediacy today.