Tenor of the Times

Joshua Redman returns to the Bay Area as SF Jazz tries to prove it's got everything New York has -- and maybe more

"Of course, those weren't the kind of calls I ended up making," he laughs. "Soon people started calling me for gigs; and all of a sudden I was knee deep -- or rather, neck deep -- in that world." That year, Redman won the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz saxophone competition, which resulted in a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records. In a field in which age and experience count for a lot, the young Redman surprised even jazz's most seasoned veterans with the virtuosity of his playing, and the emotional candor and maturity of his compositions. One thing that did take time was developing a signature style. Redman's playing has gone through a variety of changes, from the melodic and fairly conservative sound of Mood Swing to the more atonal and aggressive approach of Tenor Legacy with Joe Lovano. Last year, Redman -- who usually performs his own material -- moved in an altogether different direction with Timeless Tales (For Changing Times), a cover album featuring George Gershwin's "Summertime," the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," and Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

With Beyond, Redman's new album set for release in early April, the saxophonist has made what he considers another departure. "From a musical standpoint, it represents an exploration of new territory for us as a band," he says. "And [it] represents our moving beyond some of the things that we've done before. There are rhythmic elements, meters, grooves, time signatures that are a lot more complex than a lot of the things that I've worked on in the past. But hopefully that complexity is balanced by an emotional and spiritual directness, so that there's a simplicity there as well."

Although Redman doesn't necessarily believe music audiences have grown more sophisticated in recent years ("I would love to say that. But I think you've got some shining examples to the contrary -- namely 98° and Britney Spears."), he does feel there's been a slow but steady rise in the popu- larity of jazz as an art form. "I think that there's been an increased awareness of jazz, and particularly acoustic jazz, since the early 1980s," says Redman, "and of course, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Festival have had a lot to do with that."

Kline agrees. "Lincoln Center has done more for putting jazz on the cultural map than any other organization that's come before it. Wynton Marsalis, whether people agree with him or not, is really the big spokesperson for jazz today."

While Redman takes an inclusive approach to jazz music and programming, Marsalis has consistently remained a staunch spokesman for jazz traditionalism -- with that aforementioned capital T. Lincoln Center is worth mentioning because the expansion of SF Jazz puts the West Coast institution in a position to compete with the East Coast giant. But though there's been discussion of the recent changes implemented by SF Jazz as potentially leading to a rivalry between the New York and San Francisco organizations, Redman is uncomfortable with such comparisons. "I think it's premature to speak about what we are, at least in terms of my role, because we haven't even put on one show yet," he says.

"I also think that it's kind of reductionist -- it's the obvious comparison, and I don't think it's a fair comparison to anyone at this point. There's no question that my vision of music is not the same as Wynton Marsalis'; but I have tremendous respect for what he's done, and what Lincoln Center represents. Now, we're going to go out and do our thing, which is going to be different -- because San Francisco is a different place, SF Jazz is a different organization, and I'm a different kind of musician. But to the extent that we're different or similar, I'm hoping that we can do, in our own way, something positive, in the way they've done it."

For now, Redman says he plans to remain on the East Coast, though he visits the Bay Area a couple of times a year to perform and visit family and friends. "I totally miss San Francisco," he says. "The SF Jazz Festival has given me yet another reason to go out there -- and for me that's a really positive thing."

Joshua Redman opens SF Jazz's spring season Friday, March 17, at 8 p.m. at Grace Cathedral, 1100 California (at Taylor), S.F. Tickets are $20-30. For more information on spring season shows, call 398-5655 or visit www.sfjazz.org.

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