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Dewey Redman: 1931-2006
Dewey Redman
tenor saxophone, musette

Born: May 17, 1931 in Fort Worth, TX
Died: September 2, 2006 in Brooklyn, NY



Free jazz saxophonist, composer, leader

by Andrea Canter
Copyright © 2006 Andrea Canter

Dewey Redman, an Enduring Original, 1931-2006
© Andrea Canter

"I like to think of myself as an original. I have my own sound. That's not easy to come by, I worked on it for many years. But I like to think that I sound like Dewey Redman." - Dewey Redman

Dewey Redman once described himself as "survivor." He survived criticism of the "free" music he played with Ornette Coleman in the late 60s, well before the jazz public was ready for the unusual harmonies of what was then known as "avant garde." He survived prostate cancer (diagnosed in the late 90s), coming back to perform and record in the 21st century, playing into his 70s and outliving, outplaying many of his early cohorts. And he survived a fair amount of oversight, these days known more as the father of modern lion, Joshua Redman, despite his years as a singular artist with a very different style than his offspring. Dewey passed away on September 2nd at age 75 due to liver failure. Probably his music will finally receive the recognition it always deserved.

Growing up in the 30s in Ft. Worth, Texas, Dewey heard Duke Ellington on his parents' records. He also traces his musical inclinations to a man he later realized was most likely his uncle, the great bandleader Don Redman, whom he never met. At first he sought trumpet lessons, "because it had three keys. I figured I could work that out." However, he was discouraged when the school music teacher told him "your lips are too big." Instead, Dewey started out on clarinet in a church band at 13 and later played in his high school marching band with another young musician named Ornette Coleman. He was largely self taught, having "learned by trial and error and watching other saxophone players do what I do and asking them questions. That's the best lessons in the world."

Redman played alto and tenor in his college jazz band at Prairie View A & M, finally settling on the tenor. After a stint in the Army and years of teaching music while gigging on weekends, he moved to California in 1959, working with Pharoah Sanders and Wes Montgomery around the Bay Area; he moved to New York in the late 60s where he became a part of the avant garde scene with old pal Ornette Coleman. In addition to his work with Coleman, he displayed a talent for adapting to a wide range of styles, playing with Old and New Dreams (Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell), Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Carla Bley, and Haden's Liberation Orchestra, and leading his own ensembles. "I like to play it all-styles as far as I can, because in my band we are playing the so-called avant-garde, a little be-bop, ballads, blues. I also play the musette… it comes from the Middle East. I try to do a variety of styles, because one style bores me."

Redman was a more popular performer in Europe than in the U.S., noting that "I especially like to play in Europe, because the appreciation for jazz is much greater than it is in America outside of New York, New Orleans and Chicago. America is not as great for me as Europe." Free or bop and everything in-between, Dewey released more than a dozen recordings under his own name, and twice recorded with son Joshua on Coincides and African Venus. Last spring, Redman celebrated his 75th as part of the SF Jazz spring season (directed by son Joshua) in San Francisco, leading a quartet anchored by Twin Cities giants Gordon Johnson (bass) and Phil Hey (drums), with Frank Kimbrough on keys. He reconnected with Johnson and Hey at the Twin Cities Hot Summer Jazz Festival in June. Noted Phil Hey, "He was a great artist and a very cool guy. I never met anyone who loved music more."

Dewey was still blowing strong at the end. He played his last gig just a week earlier in Manhattan as part of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Tompkins Square, with his quartet including Frank Kimbrough, John Menegon and Tani Tabbal.

He was one of the last of the great "Texas Tenors," but perhaps more than any other, had a sound that defied classification, a style that was free yet melodic, beyond mainstream yet always accessible. It was a sound that, like Dewey himself, endured despite the ever-changing norms of the jazz audience.

"What I reach for first when I play is sound. Technique maybe, but there is technique in sound." - Dewey Redman

(This article was originally posted on the Jazz Police website at

Andrea Canter
Andrea Canter is a JJA member, contributing editor to, where this article first appeared, and the administrator for the Jazz Ink website at


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Dewey Redman at the 2003 JVC Jazz Festival in Newport, R.I.

by Michael Kurgansky
Copyright © 2006 Michael Kurgansky

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Dewey Redman at the 2003 JVC Jazz Festival in Newport, R.I.

by Michael Kurgansky
Copyright © 2006 Michael Kurgansky

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