Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

National Sax Day – Joshua Redman

Three weeks ago, November 6th, was National Saxophone Day but we can be excused for being just too distracted. Here is my tribute to the day, better late than never, recognizing a great Left Coast local boy.

I have always prided myself with enjoying more than one genre of music. It seems a waste. I have my favorite heavy metal groups, punk, soul and R&B. I have flirted with country and now, with my son’s guidance, am tentatively learning to enjoy rap. Somehow, until I came to live in Berkeley, jazz just passed me by. So it is fitting that the first jazz artist that I learned to admire is Berkeley born and bred.

Joshua Redman is both African American and Jewish American. I have no idea how this fusion affected his music, but I am aware that African American Jews have additional obstacles within even the liberal Californian Jewish community. When it is only a second glance born out of reflex, it is still one glance too many. Sometimes it is more and I have had the misfortune to witness this while working with an African American Jewish student at the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center.

According to his biography Redman was exposed to many kinds of music at the Center for World Music in Berkeley, where his mother studied South Indian dance. He graduated from Berkeley High School [1], class of 1986 (my eldest son will study here next year). In 1991, Redman graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Social Studies from Harvard University, a path I would be happy for one of my boys to emulate.

Redman won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, also in 1991, and began focusing on his musical career. I am not qualified to judge his music; I can only say that as a consumer, I have become captivated by it. When I return home from work, tired and facing making dinner and helping the kids negotiate their homework, Redman’s sax is often in the background.

Redman was an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards’ judging panel to support independent artists. Unfortunately, with the decline of session studio work Redman’s contributions are gradually being replaced with computer-based synthesized music. While again claiming no musical talent or judgment, I have to share that I find the rise of computer-based synthesized music to be disturbing. If I can claim to play music because I own a certain computer program, then Houston we have a problem.

My youngest recently told me that he can choose a new instrument and can’t decide between a number of instruments including trumpet and sax. I thought of Joshua Redman and fired up my favorite Redman album, Freedom in the Groove, onto my stereo system. No pressure there, son.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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