When your idols hear you, your perception of who you are on the scene and who you are as a musician takes on a new meaning and purpose. We are always in a state of development as improvisers and constantly experiencing this multigenerational and multicultural world of music we live in. The wisdom of the elders combines with the enthusiasm and exuberance of youth in all of us and is documented in our recordings throughout our lifetimes as jazz musicians.
If you know people are listening to you, you might play a certain way so they might dig you. But if you don’t know, the pressure is off and you might be yourself, for better or for worse. In my case, the first time Dewey Redman heard me play, I didn’t know he was listening. I was having a jam session at my loft on 23rd Street in New York City. We were playing some things in a very free and open way. My friend, guitarist Michael Bocian (who later played with Dewey) looked out of the window and saw Dewey standing there listening. After awhile, he looked up and asked Michael who was on tenor. Michael told him Joe Lovano and he said, “Tell him to keep playing!” and walked away.
After we finished the piece, Michael told me about diggin’ Dewey diggin’ me. It was 1979 and I had just left the Woody Herman band and was dealing with New York and its jazz community. I loved Dewey Redman’s playing and first heard him with the Keith Jarrett Quartet with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian in Boston at the Jazz Workshop in the early 1970s. We hadn’t met yet, so I was very excited to know he had heard me, and through Michael was encouraging me to carry on!
I have always believed that one way to “make it” was to be heard by the masters and accepted into their world. You have to be yourself, try to survive and play your horn. Shortly after that, I went to hear Dewey’s quartet on a double bill with the Paul Motian Trio featuring Charles Brackeen at the Public Theatre in New York. That, incidentally, was when I met Paul for the first time as well as Mr. Redman. I was off into it, soon playing with Paul and standing toe-to-toe with Dewey as a member of the Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra. Things happen fast when you challenge yourself and are deep into it. The Struggle continues, as I learned from Dewey. Be yourself and the truth about who you are will come through your horn and into your music.
Dewey Redman’s sound and ideas are all about the truth, and his contributions as one of the most soulful, creative and entertaining musicians of all-time will live on. But even more than that, he was a funny, compassionate, spiritual man full of love and was a thrill to be around. He lit up the room with his joyous personality and inspired everyone around him to greater heights.
He called me “Jo L” and he will never be forgotten.