Wednesday, September 27, 2006

We're Skipping Brotherly Love This Month

See? This is what I try to tell people.

My town is not the sort of town that allows you to easily forget it. If it ever senses that you've begun to put its most recent misstep behind you, it makes ready another assault on courtesy and common sense.

And so it is that just as you'd come to terms with the Rocky statue being returned to the front of the Art Museum, or gotten the taste of Joey Vento's cheesesteaks out of your mouth...

PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia School District is getting some flak over listing "Gay and Lesbian History Month" on its calendars.

Some parents have called and e-mailed the school district, upset that October was listed as "Gay and Lesbian History Month" on school calendars, saying the listing is inappropriate for young children.

District spokeswoman Cecilia Cummings says 200,000 calendars were sent to students' homes, and her office has gotten about three dozen complaints.

She says it's not the first time: "We get calls from people who don't want to see African-American History Month, who don't want to see Women's History Month, who don't want to see Ramadan on a calendar, who don't want to see Rosh Hashanah on a calendar."

Gay and Lesbian History Month was not listed on last year's calendar. Cummings calls this year's calendar "a celebration" of the district's anti-discrimination policy.

She adds that parents who have questions about how to talk to their children about diversity issues can call the district's communications office at 215-400-4040.

And that's not all they can do!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Beautiful Limbo

A week ago I performed as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, presenting a 90 minute solo piano work called Red Wave.

A handful of friends very kindly turned out to cheer me on and we even had one or two strangers purchase seats to the exhibition, which is pretty good for a Fringe show as I understand it.

We rented a very beautiful space downtown with great acoustics and a recently tuned piano. The piece itself grew partly out of the general despair I’d been experiencing this year and addressed itself towards finding the possibility of hope.

As is generally the case with these things, the results were a mixed bag: there were things I wanted to do that succeeded, there were things that failed, and things that turned out much better in the doing than they were in the planning.

To my mind, those are the best parts of all.

I’ve found that Time takes on some interesting properties when I do these long shows. There are sections that seem long to me but haven’t been long at all, and I’m wondering where the next hour is going to come from. But mostly the whole thing goes by in a wink. It’s a beautiful limbo and I would recommend that people try to lose themselves in something similar if only to experience that weightless feeling.

As for my introductory remarks (“Welcome to the last event in Philly Loves Rocky Week!”), I keep forgetting that I’m a lot funnier in my head than I am when addressing an audience. Sorry about that.

One thing I did mention before the show was how much it felt like a homecoming, as if I were coming full-circle, in a way. Sitting there in the middle of a city where I had spent so much time and experienced so much, within walking distance of so many of the places where I had planned, dreamed, and even played before, only added to the sense that the afternoon would be something of a bookend to many of the adventures you’ve possibly read here.

If you’ve ever visited here on any sort of regular basis, you have no doubt noticed that the narration of those adventures has slowed up considerably. Part of this is due to my own ambivalence about whether or not to keep this shingle out. At the moment, it exists mostly as a comfortable online living room where I can quickly check my favorite sites. Whether or not I can make it more than this has yet to be decided.

Similarly, this performance was something of a last hurrah, insofar as I’m uncertain of where I’m going from here. I’m calling off the public performances for now, but am still entertaining ideas concerning writing and recording music. And, of course, we’ll release the show for the handful of interested parties whose CD collections would otherwise be lacking that certain je ne sais wha…?

When this one was all over, though, the wife said something that made me see the entire piece in a different light.

It could well be that the piece achieved its end before I even touched a key on the piano. For if I was searching for hope, the sight of so many friends wishing me well and declaring their faith in me accomplished that without my contributing a note on the keyboard.

So now I'm left wondering what the real performance was. It may well be that I was the audience and the folks in the seats were the featured attraction.

Which is pretty cool when you consider that they paid me.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Look For The Black Star

I just want to take a few moments to talk about the recent loss of Dewey Redman.

If, as the Washington Post has it, Redman “was the very image of the struggling, underappreciated jazz musician,” no one deserved it less. There was always something very accessible and inviting about Redman’s music to my ears, the warm, physical Texas tone, the deep well of blues that it eagerly drew from, and the consistent freshness of a sound that straddled that line between the traditional and the avant-garde.

He should have been huge.

I first heard him on Ornette Coleman’s Science Fiction album (hadn’t gotten to Ornette’s Blue Note albums yet), and Redman sounded like his big brother, with a sound bigger and broader than the leader’s. Like Ornette translated to tenor, sure, but there was something unique about it, too. People, especially when talking about jazz, like to talk about the music’s “human” sound and that’s the word that most comes to mind when I hear him. It’s in part because Dewey had a way of playing that he developed whereby he’d moan, growl, and sometimes actually talk through his horn. I remember vividly seeing him once in the mid-70’s when he seemed to be carrying on both parts of a conversation as he played and, even though most of the words were hard to distinguish, you could get the gist of it from the tone and when he got to the “punchline,” the audience roared.

Dewey also had a fondness for a high-pitched middle-eastern horn called a musette, which invariably appeared once a performance, as well as the autoharp. I’m guessing not everyone shared his affection for these, though. When Impulse reissued his Ear Of The Behearer album on CD, they basically took all the tenor tracks from that LP’s follow-up Coincide and used them as bonus tracks, effectively creating a zither-free version of Behearer’s sequel.

One of my favorite Redman recordings actually dates from 1966, Look For The Black Star. Arista/Freedom put it out here and I still have the same weatherbeaten vinyl cut-out copy that I played to death for so many years. God, it just cheered me up whenever I put it on. He became an integral part of Keith Jarrett’s group, though I didn’t follow him there, and there were always the wonderful albums made with his fellow Coleman sidemen as Old And New Dreams, who I was lucky enough to see once. And then, there was the irony of seeing his son Joshua become a very popular and successful musician on his own. The music wasn’t for me, but it did seem to bring an added measure of attention to his father.

My personal reason for thinking so fondly of Redman lies in a backstage visit I made, though, years ago. I don’t remember much of what I said, but I do remember that at one point he asked me if I played an instrument. Now at the time, I was terribly in love with the saxophone, though it didn’t seem to love me. So I said something like, “Well, I play the saxophone a little, but I’m just a beginner.” Dewey replied, “Well, I’m just a beginner, too. I’m always learning.”

Now aside from the fact that this was just an incredibly generous and modest thing to say, it became the standard whereby I judged any artist after that. It seemed to me that the artist who was willing to see themselves as starting from scratch every time, and who was humble enough to admit that they still had lots to learn, regardless of their professional accomplishment, was invariably the greater artist.

It stayed with me. It has stayed with me, to this day. And I’ve tried to remember to keep the spirit of Redman’s generosity to me that day in all walks of life, not just artistic ones.

I’ll miss him.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Dewey Redman, 1931-2006

This just guts me. More on it later but, for now, here's the Washington Post:

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.