Saxophonist Joshua Redman: Forged in Berkeley

Jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman: rooted in Berkeley. Photo: IMN.

When Joshua Redman was growing up in Berkeley, his mother took him to a bewildering variety of music performances: Indonesian gamelan, Japanese Taiko drumming, African drumming, Persian traditional music, and so on. “It’s quite possible that if I hadn’t grown up in Berkeley I wouldn’t have been the musician I am — or even a musician,” Redman says.

That eclectic musical upbringing did, of course, create a musician: one of the world’s most sought-after jazz saxophone players, who will perform with his quartet tomorrow night at Zellerbach Hall, where he heard many of those concerts in his youth. The New York Times, reviewing a Redman gig in 2008, enthused: “Joshua Redman is a saxophonist of such intelligence and energy that you could probably place him in any musical setting, and he would find a way to make himself at home.”

It wasn’t just the music he heard in Berkeley that helped form Redman. He took up saxophone in 5th grade at Longfellow, before going to Willard for middle school. “In the Berkeley public schools, there was a growing tradition for jazz,” Redman says. “Playing in the Longfellow jazz band I thought maybe someday I could play in the Berkeley High jazz band.” Redman reels off a list of great players that were at Berkeley High ahead of him: Craig Handy, Peter Apfelbaum, Benny Green, Will Bernard.

Redman did make it to the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble and is now cherished as its most successful alumnus.


But he wasn’t always intent on a musical career. After Berkeley High, he went to Harvard and graduated in 1991 summa cum laude in social studies. With acceptance to Yale Law School in hand, he decided to take a year off and moved to Brooklyn with some friends he had met in the Boston jazz scene. Five months after moving to New York, Redman won the Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition, and became busy playing and touring with a host of jazz masters, including his father, Dewey Redman. His year in New York turned into a career.

But Redman’s Berkeley roots weren’t forgotten. New York had become the focus of his work — “You get addicted to it” — but he came home regularly. “It seemed no-one ever left Berkeley,” he says. “I’d walk around and I’d see all the same people I grew up with.”

The occasional trip back turned into a permanent return in 2002, when he moved back to West Berkeley. He and his family — wife and two children, ages 5 and 8 months — now live in North Berkeley. But Redman admits he isn’t that involved in the local music scene. “I spend a lot of my life on the road playing,” he said. “When I’m home, I’m home.”

Tomorrow night, however, he’ll be home and playing.

The Joshua Redman Quartet, with Aaron Goldberg, Reginald Veal and Gregory Hutchinson, will perform at Zellerbach Hall in the Cal Performances season tomorrow night at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $22 and can be purchased online.