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Saxophonist Joshua Redman brings his new interpretations of American classics to Ann Arbor

The Joshua Redman Group featuring vocalist Gabrielle Cavassa.
Blue LLama Jazz Club
The Joshua Redman Group featuring vocalist Gabrielle Cavassa.


Joshua Redman

Joshua Redman: "where are we"

Joshua Redman Group ft. Gabrielle Cavassa at Blue LLama Jazz Club


Michael Jewett: Saxophonist and bandleader Joshua Redman has an upcoming engagement in Ann Arbor at the Blue LLama Jazz Club. He is bringing his tour to Ann Arbor on the heels, if you will, of one of the best received albums--recent albums--of 2023--his Blue Note debut "where are we." We were able to catch up with the very busy Joshua Redman, where he's getting ready to go on tour and whatnot, calling in today. Hello, great to hear from you, Joshua Redman. Welcome to WEMU.

Joshua Redman: Thank you so much. It's great to speak with you. Great to be with you.

Michael Jewett: I should actually say welcome back. We spoke many, many years ago. You had just released a fantastic double live, we'll go deep into your discography here, your great double live album, "Spirit of the Moment: Live at the Village Vanguard," back in the day. You played actually on campus here at Eastern Michigan University. I have a great memory of that show and also longtime fan of that album. So, it's good to speak with you again. A few things have happened in the intervening 30-odd years.

Joshua Redman: Yeah, it's almost 30 years now. Okay, great. That was 1995.

Michael Jewett: Yeah. Somewhere in there.

Joshua Redman: I released that album.

Michael Jewett: Somewhere in there, I have a picture of us, actually taken on one of those great Polaroids. And I joked with you before we went on the air. We have not changed a bit. We've changed so little.

Joshua Redman: Not no.

Michael Jewett: Absolutely.

Joshua Redman: I'm actually younger, but more vital.

Michael Jewett: Yes. Jazz keeps you young. Jazz keeps you young.

Joshua Redman: Only in my dreams.

Michael Jewett: Your album, "where are we" is a first in many ways--your debut on Blue Note. It's the first record you've made featuring a vocalist, the magnificent Gabrielle Cavassa, and I think also the first time you featured some of your own words on a record. I'm not sure about that. So, there's a number of firsts.

Joshua Redman

Joshua Redman: Yeah, I know. There's a song on there that I wrote lyrics to. It's my original composition. After many of them, it's the first and only and possibly the last time I'll ever write lyrics.

Michael Jewett: Is this something that--maybe I don't want to digress too much. Have you written lyrics before?

Joshua Redman: No, no, no. Literally, this is the first time that I have ever written literal words to a song. Yes.

Michael Jewett: Okay. Okay.

Joshua Redman: Yeah. I mean, I've written texts before. I've written term papers before. But, no, I've never written lyrics before. So, I don't think it was a labor of love. There was a lot of labor in there. Hopefully the final result was passable.

Michael Jewett: WEMU listeners and just I think the jazz world in general--it's a really well-received record, a beautiful, lyrical, haunting, very complex record. The theme, if you're not familiar with "where are we," as I've said on the air, the musical storytelling is about places and also the emotional spaces associated with those different places. Like some of your earlier work, much of the music here are interpretations of, I guess you could say, popular song or other people's works all about different places. "Streets of Philadelphia." "Baltimore." "By the time I get to Phoenix." "Do You Know What it Means to Miss Orleans." You touched on a lot of different places in some of the emotional spaces there. The record opens and closes with some very timely and compelling music. "After Minneapolis" is referencing the death of George Floyd. You also closed the record, or nearly closed the record, with an interpretation of the John Coltrane piece, "Alabama," which was, of course, his response to the church bombing in Alabama in the in the early 1960s. So, this really feels like kind of like a travel novel in a way. You kind of open the book and close the book with these different themes, associated things, perhaps, and then take this journey through all these different fantastic places and songs. How did this come about? Is this travel something or just musical geography a passion of yours?

Joshua Redman: Well, I travel a lot because I have to to get to the next gig. I mean, I just I spent a lot of my life on the road, but I've never been passionate about travel. And maybe I'd take it for granted, you know? So, I mean, it is a blessing. And it's an incredible opportunity and privilege to be able to to go to all these amazing places in the United States and around the world and be able to play music for people there to get to do what I love to do. And I've seen incredible things and experienced incredible things. But, yeah, I mean, it wasn't just some sort of, like, ode to my love for travel or whatever. You know, really, when the concept emerged, it was somewhat artificial in the sense that when I started working with Gabrielle and we started planning the record, we had never made music together. We never even met. So, you know, there was just so many...the sea of kind of repertoire options and musical choices was so vast. It was hard to know where to begin--you know, original compositions, Great American Songbook standards, more modern pop tunes. There are so many things to draw upon. So, I kind of felt like we needed some sort of just conceptually limiting framework in a way just to kind of like narrow down the options. So, originally, this idea of places, in particular, it's places in the United States. At first, it was just places. And then I realized, "Oh, that's too many." You know, we got to, like, narrow it down. Originally, I saw it as a concept kind of a story, and to kind of around which we could organize, make some choices and organize our creativity. And then, I kind of thought that, like, as the real natural, organic creative work started to happen, the concept would actually kind of fall away and dissipate. And maybe it wouldn't end up being a record about these things at all. But the concept did kind of stick around and, I mean, there's many different layers and kind of many different concepts within the larger concept. But, it was important to us to kind of be able to represent many different aspects of America and the American experience and, both the kind of romantic and uplifting and positive and kind of nostalgic, idealistic aspects of living and being in love in America or whatever. But also, you know, it was important to address some of the hardships of being in the country and some of the injustices and, in particular, some of the ways in which the American ideals of diverge from the lived realities of many Americans. So, yeah, it's a lot to talk about and to think about. But, ultimately, it's like we're just trying to play beautiful songs, and, hopefully, each song will speak for itself.

Michael Jewett: The record is called "where are we." This is Joshua Redman, featuring Gabrielle Cavassa. Your debut album on Blue Note. Joshua Redman and his group performing in Ann Arbor, Tuesday, January 9th, Blue LLama dot com for complete information. Ticket demand and interest in this is pretty high, so definitely check with the club for availability. Again Blue LLama Club dot com. "where are we," again, the name of the album. The record does kind of feel like, although in some respects, very different from some other things in your discography. It does have kind of like an emotional feel or there have been other times where you've done a lot of work interpreting popular songs, great American standards, but this really, really does feel different. Tell me about the process of collaborating with a vocalist with Gabrielle Cavassa, because this is also kind of like her full-length debut recording as well. There's a lot of firsts going on here.

Joshua Redman: Well, she has, like, an EP. And then, also, she had a full length album, eponymous, I think, just called "Gabrielle Cavassa," and that came out, I think, in 2020. So, yeah, it's definitely not a first for her, but it's a first for me. I mean, I've worked with vocalists before but never collaborated with them on a full record or done a full tour. I mean, we're touring the world several times over by the time this is all done. So, yeah, I mean, it's amazing. It's great to get to kind of step inside and not always be the center of the melodic attention, you know? That's a luxury that I've enjoyed as a saxophone player in small group instrumental jazz. I mean, I'm generally kind of the singer. I'm playing the main melody and kind of charting the main melodic core. And then, I kind of like step aside and, like, the rest of the magic happen. But this has been an incredible opportunity to play some really beautiful lyrical songs. I mean, many of these songs that we're playing, I could never imagine doing instrumentally. They require the lyrics. They require the singer. They require a great singer like Gabrielle to really make them come to life. And it's an opportunity for me to kind of find other spaces within the music and other roles within the music. I've always kind of had this sort of rhythm section.

Michael Jewett: Is that a new concept?

Joshua Redman: I don't know. Yeah, yeah, it's in the DFM, but, yeah, I mean, I guess I've always wanted to kind of be more a part of the underlying fabric of the music even. And I'm a player, but I always feel like I'm a listener before I'm a player. And I think one of my strengths, even as a saxophonist and as a lead melodic voice, has always been in conversation with other musicians that I play with. And so, this is the chance to continue to do that, but also to kind of do it in, perhaps, more of a kind of supporting role. And, yeah, I love it.

Michael Jewett: Now how much touring or live--

Joshua Redman: But don't get me wrong. I still take long shows.

Michael Jewett: That's cool. Totally cool.

Joshua Redman: You're still going to hear a lot of saxophone.

Michael Jewett: That's totally cool. Totally cool.

Joshua Redman: But too many. You hear too much saxophone.

Michael Jewett: No such thing as too much saxophone if you're involved. I'm speaking with Joshua Redman. He and his group are going to be at the Blue LLama Jazz Club, Tuesday, January 9th. Contact the club--Blue LLama Club dot com--for the latest on reservations and whatnot. The acclaimed album, new album, debut album, on Blue Note, "where are we." Joshua Redman featuring Gabrielle Cavassa. Tell me about the touring ensemble besides you and Gabrielle Cavassa. Who else is with the group? I'm assuming it's a bit different than the one on record.

Joshua Redman: It is. We had a chance to tour with the band on the record, Aaron Parks and Joe Sanders and Brian Blade for a brief period of time in September right when the record came out. But since then, it's been an incredible band of of younger musicians: Paul Cornish is the pianist. Nazir Ebo is the drummer. And, actually in Ann Arbor, the regular bassist, Phillip North, isn't going to be able to make it. So, we have the incredible Matt Brewer is going to be with us, and I'm just so excited to get to play with Matt. I've known him for a long time and loved his music. You know, he's on so many of my favorite albums. And I think one of the greatest bass players of our time. And we've actually never done a gig together, I think.

Michael Jewett: Oh. Okay.

Joshua Redman: I'm excited to be able to play with him in Ann Arbor.

Michael Jewett: Fantastic. Fantastic. Thank you for being so gracious with your time and whatnot. I know you got all sorts of stuff going on and touring and whatnot. Again, the acclaimed album "where are we." Joshua Redman featuring Gabrielle Cavassa, Tuesday the ninth at The Blue LLama. A rare chance to hear Joshua Redman and company and also the first chance to hear..I got to tell you. You know, we've been playing the record now for a few months, and it's like you get a call and email. It's like, "Who is that? What is that?" Because it's pieces we know it or it's familiar. But, there's a new voice and very distinctive sounding record. So, congratulations on the success of the album.

Joshua Redman: Thank you so much.

Michael Jewett: And what a rare treat to be able to hear you in a fantastic, intimate venue like The Blue LLama coming up soon. Bravo again! Joshua Redman coming to Ann Arbor, Tuesday, January 9th. Thank you so much for your time.

Joshua Redman: I appreciate you. Thank you. Looking forward to coming.

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Michael Jewett is the long-time host of 89.1 Jazz every weekday afternoon. Besides his on-air work; Michael is WEMU’s Operations Manager. Mr. Jewett started working for WEMU in 1983. He’s been on the air longer than any other current WEMU music host.
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