INTERMISSION | 15 minutes with …
SFJAZZ Collective takes off.
On March 6, 2005, we spoke to Joshua Redman, the artistic director and co-founder of SFJAZZ Collective, which has three appearances in Southern California beginning March 15, including a four-performance run at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on March 17 and 18. When we reached Redman, he was about to head over the Bay Bridge into Oakland, where he was born and raised..
Cristofer Gross: This is a great thing you’re doing with SFJAZZ.
Joshua Redman: Thank you. It’s a great thing to be a part of.
Gross: It’s nice to see a group of national significance waving the West Coast banner. Are you finding any reaction to the group in that context?
Redman: Not really. Obviously it’s a great pleasure and honor for us to be able to base this thing in San Francisco. It’s a great opportunity for the musicians who aren’t from this part of the country to come here for two to two-and-half weeks and be in a very intensive workshop environment, develop our original compositions and the arrangements that we’re working on. The San Francisco Bay Area is a wonderful place. It’s a very diverse place; an exciting, creative, beautiful place. All of us are happy to be here and be based out of here.
Obviously SFJAZZ is a West Coat organization. But I don’t think that with this band we have a specific kind of regional character or agenda. The musicians in the collective are from all over the country. Bobby Hutcherson and I are the only ones who reside in the Bay Area.
Gross: Although the personnel has changed slightly from 2004 to 2005, and by one member this year, the instrumentation of four horns, vibes and rhythm section remains the same. Obviously this is the voice you want.
Redman: The concept of the project was basically the brainchild of me and Randall Kline. The first thing that we settled on was that we wanted to get to be a composer’s collective and for it to be a band that really focused on modern music and new music. So that was the first thing we decided on. That we would really stress new and original work with this band.
Gross: And for you, modern era is what?
Redman: We bandy these words around and these labels around. And you could make the argument that all of jazz is modern music, so what really constitutes modern jazz? And then, many people see the beginning of modern jazz with the Bebop movement in the late '30s early '40s. But at this point, in terms of the outside composers, the non-original work that we play, we’ve focused on composers from the late '50s, 1960 onward. With Ornette Coleman the composition he really came to the fore in the late '50s early '60s. Same with John Coltrane. Herbie Hancock worked exclusively in the '60s on. Next year we’ll be doing the music of Thelonious Monk, obviously he’s on the scene and started writing at least a decade earlier. So you could say our cut-off point is 1950 onward, the second half of the century. But you know, it’s fluid and it’s flexible. The real thing for us was trying to focus on the – the most exciting aspect of the project was that it would give jazz musicians the opportunity to write new compositions and have the opportunity to develop those compositions in an intense collaborative environment. And, to give audiences an opportunity to hear ambitious new work. We thought it would be nice to set a lot of our new music in the context of great modern jazz composers of the past.
Gross: Do you come in with the new compositions ready to go or do you like to let them evolve in the rehearsal atmosphere?
Redman: That’s a good question. As far as the original compositions, everyone arranges their compositions before we start our rehearsal process. And most people have a pretty strong vision of their piece in terms of how they want the piece to sound and what they want to express. The wonderful thing is that over the course of those two weeks, these original compositions do evolve and they do change. It’s not simply a matter of rehearsing to play the parts right. In the course of hearing that composition played by this band with these musicians with these personalities, the composer’s vision may change. With most of these compositions, their final expression, the way they sound when we go on the road to start playing them is often what the composer might have originally envisioned.
Gross: And Gil Goldstein’s role is as arrangement resource, not the final word on what goes?
Yes. He’s a great resource and a great help to all of us. Obviously his primary role in the band is to arrange the pieces that we choose by that year’s modern composer, but with different musicians he’ll have a different level of responsibility in terms of helping them with their arrangements. Some of us come in with our compositions fully formed and honestly he doesn’t have that much . . . But with others he might really help a lot with orchestrations.
Ideas you can take or leave.
Absolutely. And we encourage everybody to . . . He has so much experience and so much knowledge he’s a great resource for us. In the past he’s shown me things that have really help the orchestration.
This year’s composer is Herbie Hancock. You’ve worked on “Maiden Voyage,” “Riot,”
“Tell Me a Bedtime Story,” “Little One,” “And What if I Don’t,” and “Actual Proof.” Have you had any surprises, any unexpected discoveries in exploring his work?
I would say not surprises but affirmations. The thing about Herbie’s music is that there’s such a range of genres and style. He draws upon so many different influences inside and outside of jazz and the breadth and the scope of his work is astounding. Probably more so than the other two composers this band has dealt with. Herbie’s music really evolved – I mean all of their music evolved – but I think the eclecticism and breath of Herbie’s music, the variety of his work has really been exciting for us as a collective. To be able to play so many great tunes, so many great songs in so many great styles. And I think it was an affirmation for us not only of the brilliance of Herbie’s music but also of a lot of our conceptions about music. Because a lot of guys in the collective, we’re very open minded as far as different jazz styles go. We’re versed and knowledgeable and love playing in many different styles. In a certain sense, I think Herbie’s music has been a catalyst for this band. I don’t want to say it’s a better fit for this band than Coltrane or Coleman, because it was so inspiring to play their music and in their way those composers really woke us up and helped us form an identity. But in a certain sense, Herbie’s music, I think because of the scope of it and the breadth of it, you know it’s taken this band to a new level. And it is a very great fit for the band. And also, because of the orchestration and instrumentation of the band, I think a lot of Herbie’s music lends itself more naturally to a larger combo, which is essentially what we are.
I dug into the records you’re working up this year and was taken by how perfect a fit a song like “And What if I Don’t” is.
Right, and we felt that feeling with all the Herbie compositions, because harmony as such a central focus of Herbie’s work, both as a player and as a composer, I think his work really lends itself to this band, because we have the opportunity with the four horns, vibes and piano to really explore harmony, and really voice harmony in a full and interesting way. You know that was one of the challenges, honestly, with say Coltrane and even more so with Ornette Coleman, was how to apply their harmonic concepts which were in a certain sense – and I don’t meant this in a pejorative sense at all– but in a certain sense was simpler, no less deep, infinitely as deep, but simpler. You know, how to apply those harmonic concepts to an octet. So, we had challenges there, but with Herbie it’s just such a natural fit. And yes, it’s great to be able to play on the one hand “And What if I Don’t,’ which is just this super bluesy, straight-ahead, soulful number. And then play “Maiden Voyage,’ which is kind of an archtype of modal jazz. And be able to play ‘Riot,’ which is intense, more up tempo, with freer elements to it. And play ‘Tell me a Bedtime Story,’ which is absolutely gorgeous, lyrical ballad. And be able to play a funk number like ‘Actual Proof.’ It’s been great for us to have that kind of range and variety to keep us fresh and keep us inspired.
Given that you have eight original pieces and six from Hancock, how much can you get into an evening?
We have to pick and choose. We get to hear all the music over the course of three nights, we’ll probably play all of the Herbie compositions and all of our originals. But over one night, an audience will be maybe able to hear three of the Herbie songs and the same number of originals.
And there won’t be any songs from Coleman and Coltrane on the tour?
We have so much music from this year that it’s unlikely that we will. However, because when we get to Carnegie Hall we’re doing three nights: one night of Herbie Hancock, one night of Ornette Coleman and one night of Coltrane.
Yeah. It’s great. But [having concentrated on Hancock this year] it’s possible that we may try to get in a little rehearsing [of Coltrane and Coleman] on the bandstand, which all of us are familiar with.
I certainly enjoyed the recent Momentum album of yours.
That’s been a great project for me to be part of. That band has gone on hiatus now, because I have to write some new music, and kind of reconceptualize some things, but we’ll get to another album soon. Yeah, funk music, groove music is obviously incredibly fun, and exciting. It’s also really challenging in a jazz concept. That has been one of my greatest challenges if not my greatest.
It can happen, it should happen and it is happening. Especially a lot of musicians of my generation. It’s a risky experiment and it doesn’t always work. Not everything that I do works, not everything that everyone else does work. But when it does work it’s quite inspiring.
Well you’re doing a wonderful mission of expanding an audience for jazz.
My mission isn’t to expand the audience of jazz. I mean obviously through my association with an organization like SF JAZZ, we do try to build audiences wherever possible and it is comforting when we see people in the seats, and to see a loyal audience for the music and to build an audience for that music. But I don’t think that’s the battle that I’m fighting. For me it’s really about trying to play the best music possible and be as honest and creative as possible and have the faith that if I do that and other jazz musicians do that the audience will come and be there. I mean jazz is going through an interesting time. In terms of its popularity, one could argue that it was more popular ten or 20 years ago. There was probably more of a buzz about jazz in the mainstream culture around the time that I first got to New York in the early ‘90s. And you could say that maybe there was a peak around the mid-90s. And as things shifted in the music business and the economy started to change, Jazz has gone through some rocky times, you know. Not musically, but one could argue in terms of its wider public acceptance from a commercial or business standpoint. But the important thing for me is where is the music at? What’s the quality of the music? And I think from a musical stand point, jazz is in as great a place as it’s been for the past 40 or 50 years. And I think there are a lot of great musicians out there doing creative things and I just want to be a part of that and contribute to that and promote that, wherever possible.