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Tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman dies at 75

Dewey Redman, the multi-dimensional tenor saxophonist who performed and recorded with Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Keith Jarrett, Cecil Taylor and other iconic avant-gardists, died Saturday after suffering liver failure. He was 75.

Redman possessed a warm, round tone and a mastery of blues-inflected bebop phrasing that made him one of the less intimidating of avant-garde saxophonists-even when engaged in distinctly outside techniques: Screeching and skronking, atonal soloing and screaming or singing into his mouthpiece in order to achieve a pitch all marked Redman’s singular style. Redman’s son is ’90s-era tenor-sax phenom Joshua Redman, a postbop-based player whose recent albums have embraced neo-soul, R&B and pop-jazz.

Redman was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, and began in music by playing clarinet in his church band. He eventually took up the saxophone and played it alongside Ornette Coleman in his high-school marching band. Later in his career, after Coleman had already established himself as a pillar of the avant-garde with his groundbreaking Atlantic albums, Redman would play Coleman’s foil in the late 1960s as Don Cherry had done a decade earlier.

Redman attended Prairie View A&M University in Texas and worked as a school teacher briefly before moving to Los Angeles in 1959 and eventually ending up in San Francisco.

Redman’s tenure with Ornette Coleman from 1967 to 1974 resulted in a slew of highly regarded recordings, including Love Call, New York is Now, Science Fiction and Broken Shadows. Recorded at the height of the Civil Rights movement, when free playing was as much a social and political pursuit as an artistic one, these recordings argued that the avant-garde still kept one bluesy, melodic eye on tradition, even in the midst of recklessly adventurous blowing. The highly underrated Coleman/Redman years found taut, frantic heads like “Open to the Public” off 1968’s Love Call existing alongside musical, clever hard-boppish tunes such as “Broadway Blues” off New York is Now, released that same year.

Redman appeared in Coleman alum Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and with even more former Coleman sidemen as Old and New Dreams, a repertory band of sorts that paid tribute to Coleman while also performing original compositions by group members Redman, Haden, Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell. Redman also fruitfully collaborated with Keith Jarrett (and Haden) in the keyboardist’s American Quartet. Jarrett’s 1973 album Fort Yawuh finds Redman blowing in every shade and texture, from violent, pre-Zorn trills to world-influenced meditative passages. Another key collaboration occurred in 1980, when Redman joined with Michael Brecker, Jack DeJohnette, Haden and leader Pat Metheny on 80/81, one of several breakthrough albums of the guitarist’s career.

Why Redman is known as an important sideman rather than a giant in his own right has more to do with his less-than-prolific composing and lack of seminal leader recordings than his ability or innovativeness, both of which Redman had a surplus of. Two noted leader sessions occurred for the Impulse! label in 1973-4, with The Ear of the Behearer and Coincide, respectively.

Redman was an active performer and recording artist until the end of his life. In 1999 he released Momentum Space with Cecil Taylor and Elvin Jones and, just this year, performed at the Jazz Journalists Association Awards and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. He is survived by his wife Lidija Pedevska-Redman and two sons, Joshua and Tarik.

Originally Published