Umphrey’s McGee with special guest Joshua Redman
JOSHUA REDMAN FAQS
- When did Joshua first start playing sax?
Joshua started playing the saxophone when he ten years old in the fifth grade. However, he did not get serious about playing until after graduating from college and moving to New York in 1991, at the age of twenty-two.
- Does Joshua play any other instruments?
Tenor and soprano saxophones are Joshua's primary instruments. He also plays alto sax from time to time. Josh plays a little bit of piano, but mainly for composition and arranging purposes.
- What saxophones does Joshua play?
For Tenor, Joshua plays a Selmer Super Balanced Action. For soprano, Joshua uses a Yamaha YS-62R.
- What kind of reeds does Joshua use?
Joshua uses Alexander reeds (usually somewhere around strength #3 ½ ) for tenor, soprano and alto. He used the "NY" cut for tenor and the "DC" cut for soprano and alto.
- What mouthpieces does Joshua use?
On both tenor and soprano saxophones Joshua uses vintage Otto Link hard rubber mouthpieces, both approximately sizes 7 or 7*. On alto he just started playing a vintage (white) Brillhart. His current primary mouthpieces on all horns came from Eric Drake of Saxology.
- Does Joshua have sheet music available?
There is currently one published book of Joshua's sheet music titled The Music of Joshua Redman: Solo Transcriptions. Management cannot fulfill requests for any other sheet music.
- Can I send Joshua my music to listen to?
Management cannot accept any unsolicited material on behalf of Joshua. Any materials sent to Joshua will be returned.
- Does Joshua perform at private events?
Management does review requests asking Joshua to perform at private events. Please provide detailed information including the date, location, and type of event in an email and send to email@example.com. All offers must include travel and accommodation.
FAN SUBMITTED QUESTIONS
- How do you continue to grow? What types of things do you practice or do every day to constantly improve yourself musically?
I continue to grow by continuing to listen (primarily for pleasure, to the music of others that I love; but also sometimes critically, to my own music, which most of the time I can't stand...) and by continually seeking out the most challenging and inspiring musical situations, where I have the opportunity to collaborate with the most creative and committed musicians.
- Who are your influences? What did you do to develop a rhythmic side to your music?
Wow. I have SO many influences, on so many instruments, from so many different genres, that even a summary list would take up far more space than this website would probably permit (and far more time than your patience could possibly stand). To be a bit more specific, with regard to influences that have directly impacted the rhythmic side of my music: well, obviously jazz drummers like Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Jack DeJohnette, Paul Motion, Philly Joe Jones, Billy Higgins, Brian Blade, Gregory Hutchinson, to name just a few. Bassists such as Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Christian McBride. Pianists like Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau. And horn-players who have a great bounce and swing in their lines and an innate groove and pulse in their phrasing – like Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Lester Young, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker, Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, etc.... Also, without a doubt, musics like funk, soul, and hip-hop have had a huge influence on my sense of time and the way I feel and approach the beat.
- What microphones do you use in live settings?
I have a Neumann TLM-103, which I often take with me on the road and use for live performances. Naturally, if the venue that I am playing has a really great mic, I will use that instead. Ultimately, however, the mic is only as good as the person behind the mixing board. A great front of house engineer can usually get an acceptable saxophone sound out of any equipment. But if the engineer isn't hearing it right, chances are the saxophone sound will suffer, no matter how fancy or high-end the mic. I'm very fortunate to have been able to work with one of the best live engineers in the world – Paul Boothe. I'd trust Paul with a $20 clip-on mic from Radio Shack!
- Materials: Are the materials (saxophone, reed, mouthpiece, ligature) very important in your playing? Do you play in a different way when you play with different materials?
The material certainly plays a role. I do pay attention to the reeds, mouthpiece, and saxophone (ligature doesn't seem to make much of a difference); and I am occasionally making equipment changes, trying out different things, etc. But, at the end of the day, I really don't think the equipment matters much at all. Your sound is in you, not the equipment. I think, with practice and familiarity, anyone can eventually figure out a unique sound on any setup. There's nothing wrong with taking the time to fine tune all of your equipment and get it dialed in the way that is most comfortable to you. But please, try not to obsess too much. Too much fixation with paraphernalia can distract you from the far more essential, if less tangible, aspects of music making.
- Practice: How often did you practice to become so proficient in the altissimo range of the sax?
I never really practiced the altissimo. Just went for it. Trial by fire. Many years of going for it, and missing it, again and again and again. Eventually it began to fall in place, although I still feel like I lack real consistency and control. Kind of like trying to dive off the high board without ever taking any lessons – begins as a gruesome belly flop fest, but eventually, if you stick with it, you learn to enter the water with less and less splash... not that I recommend this approach. I think the best way to develop proficiency in the altissimo is probably by approaching it methodically through the overtone series.... (BTW, I can't dive worth a minnow!)
- Profession: Why music over law?
- Tone: What is the key to your tone quality?
Here are three very basic, but potentially very effective, suggestions:
1) Listen, a lot, to great saxophonists with great sounds.
2) Practice long tones.
3) Pay attention to your tone. (Sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how easy it is, especially when confronting the complexities and demands of modern jazz, to get caught up in other things and lose awareness of your own sound...)
- When was it that you discovered your sound?
"Discovering your sound" isn't a singular event. It's an ongoing, ever-unfolding process. In a sense, I believe that your sound is already there. You don't need to go on some epic quest to "find" it. From the moment you start playing, you have your sound. Believe it or not (like it or not!), you play like you. But, naturally, as you listen, work, experience, evolve (in music and in life), your sound gets deeper, richer, more varied, more personal, more "yours." Kind of like an eternal onion, or artichoke – whichever sounds more appealing. There's always another layer. And that's a good thing.
- Elastic Equipment: What kind of pedals did you use on Elastic? Specifically, what did you use to get that harmonizer effect?
I have used a variety of devices to get the harmonizer affect. Back when we recorded Elastic, I was using a multieffects processor called the DP4 (I think). It had a pitch shifter algorithm that I could program to produce a pitch an octave below the one I was playing, or two pitches – an octave and a fifth below, etc. It worked okay in the beginning, but I soon realized that the sound quality and tracking were pretty poor, so I switched to using a vintage Eventide H3000. The Eventide sounded better, but it was pretty fragile and got banged up on the road. After going through two of those units, and realizing that I really needed to travel lighter (overweight charges were killing us!), I started using a Digitech Whammy Pedal. It sounded good, the only disadvantage being that I could only produce one pitch shifted voice at a time (so no more octave and fifths.) I've discovered that, like most things in music, saxophone effects will always be a work in progress. I have to say that right now I'm really enjoying my break from the world of buttons, knobs, cables, pedals, LEDs, MIDI, instruction manuals and the like. With acoustic performances, I can just focus on playing the saxophone again. That's hard enough in itself!
- Stance: While watching some old and new videos of you, I noticed that your posture has changed a lot. In the past, you tended to arch your back while playing (a little bit like Joe Henderson). Today your posture is more upright. Did you come by that change unconsciously or consciously, for example as a result of an aching neck? Do you think that a good coenesthesia has an impact on sound and playing?
I don't recall ever making a specific, conscious attempt to alter my posture while playing the saxophone. I wasn't really experiencing any physical problems related to the way I was holding the instrument: no aches, pains, tendinitis, etc. I think it was more of a musical issue. Sometime around my 30th birthday (1999), I "grew up" (or "woke up"!), and finally mustered the discipline and resolve to begin practicing regularly. I think my posture began to change gradually, almost unconsciously, after that. There were many deficiencies in my playing that I realized I needed to address. Just a few of them were poor intonation, a lack of tonal smoothness and consistency, and sloppy, unreliable execution. I found that I could improve in all these areas by holding the saxophone in a way where the mouthpiece naturally reached my mouth as opposed to bending my head down to meet the mouthpiece. So, little by little, I raised the neckstrap position, bringing the saxophone higher and higher up relative to my head and body. As a result, I think I'm now able to achieve a fuller, rounder, more focused, more consistent tone throughout all the registers as well as more precise intonation and more reliability in executing tricky figures (such as fast big-interval jumps, etc.). Also, around this time I started exercising more regularly. Now I'm pretty much fanatical about it. Perhaps this has had an effect on my overall posture as well, beyond just playing the saxophone. (My aunt Sharon certainly seems to think so!) I don't know much about coenesthesia. But, sure, the better sense you have of yourself physically, the more relaxed and natural you feel holding the saxophone; the easier it's going to be for you to surmount technical obstacles, to focus on music and to just play. . . .
- Transcribing: If you had to pick ten solos to transcribe, each one increasing in difficulty, what would they be?
There are so many amazing solos out there that it's really hard to go wrong. I would recommend learning any solo (or chorus, or phrase, or lick) that you find compelling. If it speaks to you, if it moves you, if you dig it, then by all means transcribe it. And you may find that the actual process of transcription is just as important as what, or who, you choose to transcribe. I would also recommend, wherever possible, trying to learn solos by ear and memory, without actually writing them down (transcribing without the "scribing"), as well as learning them in multiple keys. Now, there are hundreds and hundreds (thousands!) of solos that I love, by musicians of virtually every conceivable instrument, era, and genre. So for every one that I have listed here, there are countless others that I could (and probably should!) have mentioned. You'll notice that for the sake of focus (and sanity!) I have restricted myself to solos by some of the most influential jazz tenor saxophonists and from recordings made within a roughly 40 year period (late 30s to late 60s), often regarded as a classic, or "golden" period for mainstream jazz. But you should by all means seek out as much material as you can from other eras, and I especially encourage you to learn solos played on instruments other than your own. Please note as well that I have NOT listed these solos in order of their difficulty, but instead have arranged them according to a somewhat arbitrary stylistic chronology (based loosely on the different soloists' places in the evolution of the jazz tenor saxophone language, as opposed to actual recording dates). After all, when it comes to learning solos, "difficulty" can be a rather relative and subjective concept. The Dewey Redman solo, for example, might seem fairly straightforward to transcribe from a melodic and harmonic standpoint, since much of it is based on a "simple" G blues scale. But try to master all the nuances of tone, inflection, rhythm, phrasing, feeling . . . well . . . that could take a lifetime! OK, all that being said, here are ten great jazz tenor solos that happen to be personal favorites of mine:
Coleman Hawkins: "Body And Soul" (from pretty much every Coleman Hawkins collection)
Lester Young: "Shoe Shine Boy" (from most collections of Pres' early works)
Ben Webster: "Where Are You" (from Soulville)
Stan Getz: "Pennies From Heaven" (from Stan Getz and the Oscar Peterson Trio. Also check out the one from the Live At Storyville recording)
Dexter Gordon: "2nd Balcony Jump" (from Go)
Sonny Rollins: "St. Thomas" (from Saxophone Colossus. Then be sure to check out the bootleg one from In Sweden, 1959)
John Coltrane: "Crescent" (from Crescent)
Wayne Shorter: "Fee Fie Fo Fum" (from Speak No Evil)
Joe Henderson: "Passion Dance" (from McCoy Tyner's The Real McCoy)
Dewey Redman: "Boody" (from Ear Of The Behearer)
- Classical Music: How much classical playing have you done? Do you feel that classical training is important to building good jazz skills?
I have virtually no classical training at all. I suppose I might have dabbled with an etude or two over the several years I was playing clarinet and during my few months of piano lessons, I learned maybe 16 bars of a Mozart sonata. I never played classical music on the saxophone until a couple years ago, when I started trying to learn (by ear) some of the Bach cello suites (an arduous, but ultimately very fulfilling, process). Basically, my experience in classical music has been severely limited, borderline pitiful, and I am attempting (slowly but surely) to address this deficiency now. I don't necessarily believe that classical training is essential to building good jazz skills, but it certainly doesn't hurt. I have no doubt that a better background in classical music would have paid serious dividends for me in terms of tone, technique, and reading, not to mention harmonic fluency and melodic development. Most of the jazz players I know have only benefited from their experience and training with classical music. I recommend listening to, learning, and studying as much quality music as possible, irrespective of style or category. The wider range of musical languages you are familiar with and the greater comfort and control you have with your instrument, the more resources you will be able to draw upon as a jazz improviser
- Composing: How do you approach composing and how important is the piano in the process?
First, I should stress that a composition doesn't have much meaning for me until I actually start playing it with other musicians. Before that, the song is just a proposition, a suggestion, a possibility. Sometimes I write with a specific band or specific cats in mind. Sometimes I start working on a tune without necessarily having a clear sense of how it will be played or who will play it. But in either case, I'm always counting on the unique talents and perspectives of other musicians to imbue the composition with personality, originality, and significance. A song doesn't truly come to life until it's embraced, explored, and given a distinctive expression by a particular group. In a sense, all the "writing" I've done up until that point is just glorified prep-work. The real compositional journey begins when the band starts playing. That being said, I generally start writing at the piano, or at least some sort of instrument which is capable of playing multiple notes (and parts) simultaneously. As I'm working, it is important for me to hear the different melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic components of the song, which of course isn't possible on the saxophone where I can only play one note at a time (on a good day!). And my ears aren't strong enough to be able to hear everything "in my head," without the aid of an instrument or some sort of playback device. In some cases, I haven't even tried to play a new tune on the saxophone until I'm rehearsing it for the first time with a band. I have admittedly gotten into a bit of trouble this way, ending up with figures that don't sound right or are difficult to execute on the saxophone, then having to tweak the composition slightly to meet the demands and limitations of the instrument (or, rather, the instrumentalist!)
In the past, I occasionally used computer-based sequencers (Logic, etc.) in order to hear interlocking parts which were too difficult for me to execute on the piano. When I started writing for the SFJAZZ Collective, with its larger instrumentation (4 horns, vibes, piano, bass, drums), I began using the Sibelius notation program. I have found this to be a valuable compositional tool, and I've used it more and more over the years. At first, I would always work ideas out on the piano first, and then enter them into Sibelius afterwards. But as my ears became stronger, and as I became more comfortable navigating the application, I often found myself "writing" directly into the computer. In fact, I've used this method for most of my trio compositions and arrangements and I think, all in all, it has worked out fairly well. Perhaps this is because with a lot of the trio material, I am striving to create two distinct and compelling single-note lines (bass and sax), which work together to establish and define the melodic and harmonic content of the song. I suppose in this context, since the song doesn't call specifically for a chordal instrument, I feel less of a need to rely on one while I'm writing.
In terms of an overall approach to composition, I'm not sure that I really have one. I can say, however, that for me there has always been a very strong link between composition and improvisation. In fact, many of my earlier compositions were more "functional," in the sense that I conceived of and created them primarily as vehicles for improvisation. For example, if I was interested in playing over a certain type of tune – with a certain mood, feel, harmonic or rhythmic structure – then that improvisational "need" would serve as the basis and impetus for a new song. And even as I began to think more "compositionally" – treating the composition more as an end in itself instead of just as a means to an improvisational end – I still relied very much on that same "spark" of inspiration that ignites me as an improvisor. In other words, I used to feel that in order to start composing, I had to feel wholly inspired. Every tune had to start with some initial, imaginative "seed" – it could be a melody, a harmonic sequence, a vamp, a groove, a texture, a mood, or any combination of the above. Once the seed was "planted," it could grow organically from there. I'd work with the germinal idea, expand it, refine it, analyze it, edit it, etc. … until at some point it became a full-fledged song. But the point is that I never really understood or could control exactly how that seed got planted in the first place.
There's always been something a little mysterious and elusive (even unreliable) about inspiration. You never know quite where it comes from or precisely when it's going to come. As an improvisor, I have always felt that whatever vocabulary I have, whatever material I've practiced or studied, whatever I "know" means nothing if I don't feel creative, focused, and engaged – if I don't feel like I have something to say, some story to tell. Similarly, as a composer, I've never felt like I could just sit down and start writing if I didn't experience that magical "glimmer" of an idea which inspired me to do so. Perhaps this is why composition has never seemed like a very consistent thing for me. I've had intermittent spurts of productivity, where I've written a lot of tunes in a concentrated period of time. And then I've gone through long droughts, where I haven't written anything at all.
However, I think I'm finally starting to realize that part of the inspiration for composition can come just from the mere act of doing it. Once again, kind of like improvisation. There are many times when I walk on stage feeling tired, stressed, dull, unmotivated – like I have nothing to offer. But then once the band starts playing, I get caught up in the energy, the interplay and the flow, and all of a sudden I feel incredibly creative and inspired. Similarly, I have recently tried to experiment with the approach of just committing to write – sitting down at the piano/computer or with just a pencil and manuscript paper (horror of horrors!) – even if I feel like I don't have any particularly exciting or worthwhile ideas. It's too early for me to tell if this approach will pan out in the long run. But so far, the results seem promising. Perhaps, with both improvisation and composition, it's really all about embracing the Process (as opposed to concerning yourself too much with what idea, or seed, or feeling, or state of mind, is going to create the ultimate Product). Maybe that's all the inspiration you really need. . . .
- Method: How do you do what you do? I'm working really hard on my saxophone playing but I have a bunch of people telling me different things about improvisation. Some say that I should do it all by ear and others say to do it by learning all scales and modes. I just don't know which direction to take. If I go with learning by ear, how do I train my ears well enough?. Any suggestions?
I don't believe that there is any one way to learn and improve as a jazz improvisor. I have met so many amazing and amazingly unique musicians with so many different backgrounds, styles, and approaches to improvisation. Everyone has to find their own "way" consistent with their own singular perspective and personality. That being said, I do think that the ear is tremendously important. You have to be able to "hear" what you want to play and what others are playing in order to be able to improvise, communicate, and interact effectively as a jazz musician. Some people are born with naturally incredible ears – different types of perfect pitch, for example. I am definitely not one of them. So over the years I have had to (and continue to) work hard to develop my ear. For me, one of the best approaches has been to "transcribe" great jazz solos, but to learn them by ear and memory, as opposed to writing them down. Then learn that same solo in multiple keys, maybe even in every key. Quality and depth, not quantity and breadth, are what's important here. Don't be afraid of simplicity, and concentrate (at least at first) on solos of great melody and clarity. Better to take one chorus of Lester Young and really absorb it then to take 27 choruses of John Coltrane and lose focus or get overwhelmed. Also, when you are listening to recordings, spend some time trying to figure out what the all the instruments are playing – not just the sax, for example, but the bass notes and piano chords as well. But, by all means, you should also learn your scales and modes. Fluency with theory is extremely valuable (perhaps even essential) to modern jazz improvisation. It doesn't have to be one or the other: ear or theory. It can, and should, be both. Do it all! And do it in your own way!