An interview with Joshua Redman for Jazz Australia. On playing in a duo “challenging and inspiring you with even more creative and provocative ideas”
On the eve of his duo tour of the East Coast with Brad Mehldau
JK: You met early in your careers, how long have you known each other?
JR: I first met Brad shortly after I moved to Brooklyn (which was summer of ’91). So we’ve known each other for about 25 years.
JK: Did you play together in a duo in the early days?
JR: Not really. We worked mostly in the quartet setting. For about a year and a half (1993-1994) we toured pretty extensively with Christian McBride (bass) and Brian Blade (drums).
JK: How did the duo come about?
JR: I think the first time we ever played duo was in the Fall or 2008 for the Enjoy Jazz Festival in the Mannheim/Heidelberg region of Germany. I think it was the idea of the festival director, Rainer Kern, to invite us to perform in that configuration. I think it was a pretty good idea.
JK: What is special about the dynamics of playing in a duo?
JR: Duo can be a very intimate and intense format in jazz. You are communicating and interacting and improvising with just one other musician, so you have a tremendous amount of freedom to discover and shape and interpret the music spontaneously together. The music can become incredibly malleable and fluid. As opposed to larger configurations where might be somewhat more confined to playing a particular role, in the duo setting there is so much space within the music for you to roam and explore. But with that freedom comes great responsibility. You have to be aware of and take care of every aspect of the music – melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, form etc etc… Duo, to be really successful and effective, requires deep and attentive listening, and a real empathy and camaraderie between the two musical partners. This is one reason I love playing duo so much with Brad. He has truly phenomenal ears. He hears everything and understands everything and feels everything and has an uncanny instinct for how to react in such a way that affirms and complements everything you play while at the same time challenging and inspiring you with even more creative and provocative ideas.
I feel like Brad and I have always had a special connection, which has to do in part with our common musical loves and influences (both in and out of jazz), and also in part because of what you might call shared musical values. We love bebop. We love the blues. We love classic rock as well as some of the alternative stuff closer to our generation. Lyricism is very important to both of us. Also very much so rhythm and groove. We’re looking for emotional profundity in music as well as intellectual stimulation. And I think we both have a really conversational approach to improvisation. We’re highly interactive and supportive listeners, and we like to respond to what we’re hearing in a way that encourages spontaneous musical dialogue. We’re constantly tossing ideas and motifs back and forth. There’s a real elasticity in our approach. A give and take. An ebb and flow. A welcoming. An openness. A togetherness. A oneness (of two).
JK: What other projects are you working on at the moment?
JR: I’ve been so lucky to have recently been playing with so many great musicians in so many diverse and rewarding musical configurations (trio, quartet, with string quartet, guest with big band, collaborative bands like James Farm, Still Dreaming…) But I prefer as much as possible to stay in the musical moment, and right now that moment is right here with Brad.