Joshua Redman was born February 1, 1969, in Berkeley, California. By the time of his birth, his father, noted saxophonist Dewey Redman, had moved to New York and was playing with Ornette Coleman. Redman’s only contact with his father was hearing his records around the house, and during infrequent visits to town with Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Old and New Dreams, and others. His mother, Renee Shedroff, a dancer and librarian, was the driving force that nurtured his creativity.
Redman’s formal music training began when his mother enrolled him in Indonesian and Indian music classes at the Center for World Music. These unique art forms, along with the recordings of Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, and Dewey Redman were his early influences. Redman soon learned to play the recorder, guitar, and piano. He listened to popular music, such as James Brown, Earth Wind & Fire, the Commodores, Parliament-Funkadelic, Led Zeppelin, and The Beatles.
At ten years old, Redman settled on the tenor saxophone; he had been exposed to it since birth and felt naturally drawn to the sound. He started with the clarinet and moved on to tenor the following year. The Berkeley Public Schools had an exceptional jazz program, directed by Phil Hardymon. (Graduates include Benny Green, Craig Handy, Peter Apfelbaum, and Rodney Franklin, among others.)
Although he quickly became an accomplished saxophonist, Redman was often more interested in popular music than jazz. Experimenting with guitar and keyboards, he would seldom practice the saxophone. The Berkeley High School jazz band, directed by Charles Hamilton, won several competitions, with Redman usually named the best soloist. His high school jazz quartet started working professionally. Though he still didn’t practice, he was listening more and more, rediscovering the music of Rollins, Gordon, and Coltrane, and also absorbing the styles of Charlie Parker, Joe Henderson, Stanley Turrentine, Ben Webster, Wayne Shorter, Coleman, and others. Always a serious student, Redman’s academic studies took precedence over music. With straight A’s throughout high school, he graduated in 1986 number one in his class. He wanted to become a doctor and was accepted early admission to Harvard. Boston suited him well; he could be in a city with a strong music scene and still concentrate on his studies.
While at Harvard, Redman played in the school jazz band, but that was about it for music. His limited playing experiences included a few gigs with Delfeayo Marsalis his senior year; after weeks without practice, Redman would get on a plane and show up for the gig.
However, during summer breaks in Boston, he spent most of his time hanging out with musicians at the Berklee College of Music and participating in jam sessions. He also debuted with his father at the Village Vanguard in summer 1990. His intense listening continued with his influences expanding to other instrumentalists — McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Kelly, Elvin Jones, Ray Brown, and Freddie Hubbard, among others.
Redman graduated Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1991, and was accepted to Yale Law School. He was now on his way to a career in civil rights law or social work, but before jumping in, he took a year off. He wanted to check out the music scene in New York — not as a career move, but as a chance to concentrate on being creative again. In June 1991, he moved to a house with four other musicians in Brooklyn. For the first time in his life, he was practicing regularly, playing jam sessions every day, and taking advantage of the New York jazz scene. He was also playing regularly with his father.
Finally, in late November 1991, he performed at the Thelonius Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. He won the contest and has since performed and/or recorded with Elvin Jones, Charles Haden, Jack DeJohnette, Pat Metheny, Roy Hargrove, the Mingus Dynasty and Big Band, Red Rodney, and Paul Motion, among many others. He was also voted Best New Artist in the 1992 Jazz Times reader’s poll.