Dewey Redman, 75; Avant-Garde Jazz Saxophonist

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Dewey Redman, 75, whose powerful, rough-hewn tenor saxophone style made him an important figure in avant-garde jazz and who was the father of saxophone star Joshua Redman, died of liver disease Sept. 2 at a veterans hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. He also had prostate cancer in recent years.

Mr. Redman was the very image of the struggling, underappreciated jazz musician, refining his art in obscurity for years with little reward. He was admired by critics and fellow musicians, but his difficult, uncompromising music failed to attract large audiences. The poignancy of his plight became more apparent in recent years, when his son became one of the leading attractions in jazz.

Mr. Redman had a connection with the vanguard of jazz from an early age, having been a high school classmate in Fort Worth of Ornette Coleman, one of the most innovative jazz composers and musicians of the past 50 years. Mr. Redman didn't find his own musical voice until he was in his thirties and living in San Francisco, and later in New York.

"I think of myself as a country boy from Texas trying to make it in the big city," he said in 2003. "I learned by trial and error and watching other saxophone players do what I do and asking them questions."

Drawing on his early influences of John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins, Mr. Redman won respect for his venturesome musical tastes. He made a dozen recordings as a leader and continued to give rousing live performances until the week of his death.

Like many other saxophonists from Texas, he perfected a broad, full-toned sound that became a readily recognizable hallmark.

"Technique is okay," he said three years ago, "but if you got the technique and I got a good sound, I'll beat you every time."

Some of Mr. Redman's free-form performances stretched the limits of standard harmony, melody and pitch. But after a blizzard of notes, he could slow the pace for a heartbreaking ballad. On the 1996 album "Live in London," which he cited as one of his favorites, he mixed fiery free-jazz tunes with touching readings of the standards "I Should Care" and "The Very Thought of You."

Walter Dewey Redman was born May 17, 1931, in Fort Worth and grew up as the only child of a single mother. He began playing the clarinet at 13 and was in the same high school band as Coleman, future jazz drummer Charles Moffett and saxophonist Julius Hemphill.

He graduated from Prairie View A&M University in Texas with a bachelor's degree in industrial arts. He began playing the tenor saxophone in college, then spent two years in the Army while moonlighting as a nightclub musician.

From 1956 to 1959, Mr. Redman taught music in Texas public schools while studying for his master's degree in music, which he received in 1959 from the University of North Texas.

In 1960, he settled in San Francisco, where he became reacquainted with Coleman, befriended Coltrane and gradually found his own direction, releasing his first recording, "Look for the Black Star," in 1966.

After moving to New York in 1967, he joined Coleman's group and became a leading exponent of the saxophonist-composer's music. He spent five years in the 1970s with the influential American Quartet, which included pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian. Later, Mr. Redman led a group called Old and New Dreams with Haden, trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell -- all protégés of Coleman's. Mr. Redman experimented with unusual musical forms and instruments, including an Asian form of the oboe.

Mr. Redman had three sons with three women. The eldest, Kenthony Redman, died earlier this year. His second son, Joshua, was raised by his mother, Renee Shedroff, in Berkeley, Calif. A third son, Tariq Redman, is from Mr. Redman's marriage to Pennie Redman, which ended in divorce.

With his father largely absent during his childhood, Joshua Redman developed his interest in the saxophone independently. When he became well-known in the early 1990s, he got to know his father better, and they often performed together.

Perhaps because of his son's renown, or because public taste finally caught up with his music, Mr. Redman found more acclaim in the past 15 years than he had earlier. In 2004, he was featured in a tribute to the music of Coleman at New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Besides his sons, both of Berkeley, survivors include his wife of nine years, Lidija Pedevska-Redman of Brooklyn.

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