Since winning the Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition in 1991, Joshua Redman has logged millions of miles on the road while performing around the globe. But when the world started shutting down in March 2020, the Berkeley saxophone star wasn’t phased by sudden confinement.
“For me sheltering in place has never been a problem,” he said. “I’m an introvert at heart, a private person, and when not out performing I’m generally home. I’m not out seeing music and we rarely go out to dinner.”
Hunkered down in Berkeley with his wife Jennifer and their kids, Jadon and Avrah, he bided his time, woodshedding with his saxophone and pursuing his quest for the perfect cup of coffee. But after six months or so he found himself longing for the bandstand. He missed music as a creative outlet, but even more he craved the emotional communion with his instrumental peers.
“Music is where I’m an extrovert,” he said. “That is my social life. It’s through music I connect with people in the most direct and honest and uninhibited way, and all that other stuff falls away. The music is the hang and social connection. That was the isolation, not not being able to go and hang.”
A July 1 Stanford Jazz Workshop concert with tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, vibraphonist Joel Ross, and bassist Zach Ostoff at Frost Amphitheater marked Redman’s return to performing after 16 months, but he’s only played a couple of other gigs so far. “Every one feels like a gift,” he said, and his three-night run at the SFJAZZ Center, Oct. 1-3, feels like manna in the midst a gig-parched landscape.
Tentative signs of the jazz scene’s return have been evident far and wide in recent weeks, and Redman had a chance to join in for the most symbolically freighted reopening. Landing in New York City on Sept. 19 to oversee the mastering of his next album, he hustled over to the newly reopened Village Vanguard for the last night of cornetist Ron Miles’ debut run at the storied jazz club (which opened in 1935).
“It was my first time in New York in 2021, and yeah I brought my horn. Ron called me up and we played some Rhythm changes with the cats,” Redman said, referring to the oft-recycled chord changes of “I’ve Got Rhythm,” the 1930 hit by George Gershwin. “That felt hopeful and optimistic, but there’s a lot of reason for caution.”
While SFJAZZ bills Redman’s shows as the debut of his new trio, the truth is a little less dramatic. Bassist Reuben Rogers, one of the music’s most dependably swinging accompanists, has been a go-to Redman collaborator for tours and albums since the late 1990s. Marcus Gilmore, 36, is a more recent connection, and Redman has performed with the phenomenal drummer and Rogers in a quartet context. The Minor Auditorium dates mark this particular trio’s debut, but Redman continues to rely on a small pool of musicians rather than a working band, so there’s no telling when this lineup will perform together again.
Because of Redman’s rapid rise to fame, it’s easy to forget that he’s something of an anomaly amongst his peers in that he never went to music school. A standout player in the Berkeley High Jazz Band, he was hardly the ensemble’s most dedicated musician. He played in the Harvard Jazz Bands, a group that included several excellent players, but he wasn’t thinking of a career in music when he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in social studies and successfully applied to Yale Law School.
During a gap year in Brooklyn he quickly plunged into the New York jazz scene. He got much of his musical education on the bandstand with his father, tenor saxophone legend Dewey Redman (whom he had spent little time with while growing up), and a group of contemporaries who played regularly at Small’s and went on to major careers, including pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride, guitarist Peter Bernstein and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. After entering the Monk Competition almost on a whim, Redman catapulted into prominence.
A fast-moving career with all the attendant responsibilities of leadership meant there was always something else to focus on instead of his horn. Until COVID-19 arrived and swept away all his gigs, “and for the first time in my life I’ve really practiced every day, something that I feel like I’ve made a life out of avoiding,” he said. “There’s nowhere I can pretend to run to.” Redman returning from the proverbial woodshed and raring to play is a prospect that will quicken the pulse of just about any jazz fan.
While the pandemic put the kibosh on performances, it also rearranged his responsibilities as an educator. He’s been on faculty at Stanford for several years, and in April of 2020 the San Francisco Conservatory of Music appointed Redman as the second director of the Roots, Jazz, and American Music (RJAM) program, which locates jazz within a larger matrix of American and African-diaspora music.
The fact that Redman isn’t a product of the jazz education system was a major plus, according to SFCM President David Stull, who said that the saxophonist was the first choice for the position. “We needed someone not trapped in the dogma of the old school,” Stull told me for a story on the appointment for the San Francisco Chronicle. “Josh values tradition and he’s informed and driven by that, but he’s not trapped in traditional structures.”
East Bay theater folks might know Rebecca DuMaine through the years she spent teaching at Berkeley’s now-shuttered Waterfront Playhouse and Conservatory on Fourth Street, but jazz fans have come to admire her as a graceful and endearingly unaffected vocalist with a repertoire based in the American Songbook but not confined to it. She performs outdoors at the Back Room Sunday afternoon with pianist Dave Miller, a skilled accompanist who also happens to be her father, and veteran bassist Chuck Bennett, whose resume includes tours with Louis Bellson, the Beach Boys, and Maynard Ferguson. DuMaine has released six albums with the Dave Miller Trio (which included bass great Mario Suraci for several years), most recently Someday, Someday, a session that illustrates her continual growth as an incisive song stylist.