The jazz world was already buzzing about the 24-year-old Joshua Redman when he released his self-titled debut album in 1993. Two years earlier, he had won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, and in 1992, he picked up "Best New Artist" honors in the annual JazzTimes Readers Poll.
The buzz grew into a roar when Joshua's debut recording hit the streets: the explosive young saxophonist captivated fans and critics alike with this set of originals and new takes on standards like "Body & Soul," Thelonious Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle," and Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts." In the wake of this fledgling effort and its brilliant follow-up, Wish, Joshua took the "Hot Jazz Artist of 1993" honors in Rolling Stone and was voted "#1 Tenor Saxophonist (Talent Deserving Wider Recognition)" in the 1993 Downbeat Critics Poll.
They say there is a war raging in the world of jazz.
One on side of the battlefield stand the forces of Tradition, guardians of the past. Dedicated to the preservation of a majestic jazz legacy, the forces of Tradition demand a thorough mastery of, and utter reverence for, that which has gone before. They worship the musics of yesteryear and deify musicians long-dead. They warn that jazz is being corrupted by the superficiality of the modern age and seek to purify it by rediscovering its roots. They preach the gospels of study, imitation, humility, and respect. Wedded to history and enamored with heritage, the forces of Tradition crusade to restore the artistic glory of bygone jazz eras.
On the other side of the battlefield stand the forces of Innovation, warriors for the future. Devoted to an aggressive advancement of the jazz aesthetic, the forces of Innovation accept only that which is novel and unfamiliar. They question artistic authority, scoff at musical repetition, and regard yesterday’s styles as lifeless anachronisms. They insist that all legitimate jazz must be vanguard music, one step ahead of the times. They embrace the ethics of unpredictability, unconventionality, courage, and rebellion. Championing the causes of change and modernity, the forces of Innovation fight to liberate jazz from its bonds of obsolescence and to re-establish it as the music of tomorrow.
They say this is a war of incredible scope, magnitude, and finality. They say it is a bitter contest between irreconcilable enemies, an inherent antagonism between polar opposites. They say it must be one or the other: Tradition or Innovation, past or future, yesterday or tomorrow. They say it is a savage and relentless struggle over the soul of the jazz musician and the fate of jazz.
But They are wrong.
This seemingly awesome conflict – ignited, exploited, and exacerbated by the jazz media, the jazz industry, and (alas) even many jazz musicians themselves – actually amounts to nothing more than a petty squabble. This grandiose war is needless, meaningless, and for the most part illusory. Why? Because neither the forces of Tradition nor those of Innovation manifest, by themselves, the true and essential spirit of jazz.
Jazz is not about hiding forever in the past, paying blind homage to yesterday’s idols; nor is it about plunging headling into the future, abandoning all the artistry which has come before.
The goal of jazz musicians should not be to lose themselves in their heritage, striving only toward mastering and replicating the music of their elders; neither should it be to repudiate the wisdom of the ages, sacrificing what is beautiful and natural for what might be considered novel.
The question is not whether to recapture the old or pursue the new, whether to “bring the music back” or “take the music forward.”
The question is whether to embrace the existing or evade it, whether to unite in celebration of the now or remain paralyzed by a ludicrous and inconsequential controversy.
The goal of all jazz musicians should be to express as honestly as possible their emotions and ideas of the moment; to join together in the creation of collective, extemporaneous, and coherent artistic statements; to lay aside, at the instant of performance, all their preconceived formulas, theories, and agendas, and to just play.
The spirit of jazz is immediacy. It is spontaneity. It is, quite simply, Improvisation.
And when this simple by supreme spirit is apprehended and acted upon – when Improvisation is adopted as the ultimate jazz ethic – the secondary standards of Tradition and Innovation are both satisfied, naturally and without conflict. Uncontrived Improvisation always contains elements of Innovation; since each individual possesses a unique reservoir of thoughts and feelings which will be expressed differently and unpredictably according to the whim of the moment. At the same time, honest Improvisation always makes references to Tradition; since no individual can fully escape the influence of his or her predecessors, and all human personalities must bear, to some degree, the stamp of a universal history.
In this way, the spirit of jazz erases the harsh boundaries of time, unifying the opposing “sides” and dispelling the myth of “war.” Through the power of the present, the past and future are bonded. Through the recognition of today, the remembrance of yesterday and the pursuit of tomorrow are reconciled. Through Improvisation, Tradition and Innovation can act as vital and complementary forces in the world of jazz. Without Improvisation, Tradition and Innovation are reduced to imaginary and impotent adversaries, bickering fruitlessly over territory to which neither can lay rightful claim.
Thus, regardless of what They say, I hope that when you listen to this recording, you do not attempt to place it in a camp to which it does not belong, in the midst of a battlefield which should not exist. I hope you do not judge this music based on how “new” or “different” it sounds (although it definitely presents a singular collection of sentiments and experiences, communicated in original and often unusual ways). By the same token, I hope you do not evaluate me and my fellow musicians according to how much we resemble famous stylists of the past (although all of us have spent considerable time saving and studying the class jazz idioms).
Rather, I hope that when you listen to this recording – and for that matter, when you listen to all jazz, all music—you do just that: Listen. Don’t think. Don’t theorize. Don’t classify. Don’t categorize. Just listen to the collective creations of unique artists, joining together in unique combinations, at unique times, and in unique settings to share their souls with each other and with you.
I hope that while you are listening, you can feel the spirit of the moment that we felt while this recording was being made. I hope that you find in this music moods, sensations, and expressions which resonate with your own unique life-experience. I hope that to you this music will seem evocative, infectious, timeless, and uplifting. I hope it swings for you.
And I hope you enjoy.
—Joshua Redman December 1992