Jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman ’91 never planned to become a professional musician. Redman, who originally used his mother’s last name Shedroff, is the son of legendary saxophonist Dewey Redman, who performed with free jazz icons Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Raised by a single mother in Berkeley, Ca., Redman was hesitant to pursue a career in music.
“I didn’t grow up with my father around, but I know that he struggled to put food on the table for himself and for his family,” says Redman. “I knew that there were many challenges to becoming a creative musician with integrity.”
Although Redman was a talented musician in high school, he was also a talented student, graduating first in his high school class. When he was accepted to Harvard, he jumped at the opportunity to attend a top university. “Materially, I did not grow up privileged. My mother and I were on welfare at times when I was growing up. I wanted a sense of stability, and playing jazz wasn’t my first choice economically speaking,” he says.
At the time, Redman was also uncertain about whether he could cut it as a professional musician. “I didn’t think that I had the talent, drive, or focus,” he says. A Social Studies concentrator living in Adams House, Redman played in the Harvard Jazz Band for three years and also volunteered through PBHA while working part-time.
After graduating from college, he deferred his admission to Yale Law School for a year and moved to New York to take a break from school. Playing with other musicians around the city gradually convinced him to focus on music full-time.
“For much of my life, I’ve thought of myself as being somewhat like Jeckyll and Hyde,” he explains. “I thought school was the focused, methodical, and analytical side of me, while music was the opposite: the emotional, expressive side. Thinking back 20 years later, I’d say now that I see more overlaps between the two.” He hesitates to attribute too much of his success in music to his academic background. “It’s not like slogging through papers made me swing any harder,” he says.
Still, Redman doesn’t regret attending Harvard instead of music school. He explains, “In a vague, indefinable way, I think acquiring a classical liberal arts education helped improve my capacity to think critically, and I think that’s a valuable skill for any profession.”