Monday, September 26, 2016

Dewey Redman

Dewey Redman, Parkdale, June 1990

MY PORTRAITS OF JAZZ MUSICIANS WERE MOSTLY TAKEN when I desperately wanted a career that nobody could have anymore. Basically I wanted to be William Claxton or Francis Wolff or William Gottlieb or Herman Leonard; the time when it was even possible to have that career had ended at least twenty years before I took most of my jazz photos, so what I ended up doing was documenting a brief period in the history of jazz music, after it had given up all hope of becoming anything like popular music again, and just as it started turning into a kind of museum music, either practiced by enthusiasts for meagre pay or performed by a dwindling group of "legends," in nothing remotely like the context where it once lived and thrived.

And I know this sounds bleak. It isn't meant to be. I remember the shoots where I made these photos with real fondness, and can savour the enthusiasm that I brought to them, often without the expectation of ever seeing payment. I was truly a fan of the music, and of the people I was photographing, many of whom I met through Jane Bunnett and her husband Larry Cramer, who were making their own way up the first steps of their careers and were often as thrilled as I was to be working with these musicians. And it was through Jane that I met tenor sax player Dewey Redman.

Dewey Redman, Parkdale, June 1990

Dewey was one of my favorite people, ever. Born in Texas, he made his name playing with Ornette Coleman during the revolutionary period of free jazz in the late '60s. Through the '70s and '80s he played with Keith Jarrett and Pat Metheny, and with fellow Coleman alumni like Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell and Charlie Haden. My friend Jane asked him to play with her on her first record, In Dew Time (the title track was a tribute to him) and he'd pass through Toronto frequently over the next decade or so to play with Jane or with his own band.

Dewey was one of the funniest men I knew, a natural comic who loved keeping rehearsals, soundchecks and recording sessions light and cheerful. At a soundcheck for a big concert Jane held at St. Lawrence Town Hall in the early '90s, he reduced Don Pullen - a man whose attitude to playing music could generally be described as serious as cancer - to helpless tears of laughter as he pretended that the blasts of feedback through the sound system made him incontinent. At the same show he raucously chided Charlie Haden for his taste in large-breasted women. It was hard to take yourself too seriously with Dewey.

Dewey Redman live with Jane Bunnett, Toronto, June 1990

He had endless great stories about the places he'd been and the people he played with. He remembered doing benefit gigs for the Black Panther's children's breakfast program in San Francisco, but admitted that he mostly did it because Angela Davis looked "so fiiiiiiine."

I visited him at his apartment in Flatbush once. Scrutinizing the door buzzers for his name to no avail, I walked outside again and called his name. Two older ladies stuck their heads out a window overhead and asked me who I was looking for.

"Mr. Dewey Redman, ladies," I said.

"DEWEY! What in hell kinda name is that? You ever heard of a Dewey living here?"

"I ain't ever heard of no Dewey," the other woman bellowed back, before Dewey's head suddenly popped out through another window and he told me which buzzer was his. He was apparently home so little that no one in the building knew who he was; he didn't even bother putting his name on the mailbox.

Dewey Redman, Parkdale, June 1990

I shot these photos when Dewey was in town playing a show with Jane. I was desperate to get his portrait, so I asked if he'd come by one day after rehearsing around the corner at Jane and Larry's house. He dropped by with his Australian girlfriend; I took their photo together. When I visited him in Flatbush he proudly showed me where he'd taped it in the corner of his television set.

The live shot was taken at the concert; I don't remember where it was, but I shot it on medium format with my Rolleiflex on a tripod, hungry to get something different than the usual jazz club shot, grainy and dimly lit. The studio portraits were done with a big softbox in front of the only backdrop I owned, a big roll of gray seamless paper.

I wanted something simple and classic and dignified that caught Dewey's humour and soulful nature. At the time I dreamed that they might have ended up on the cover of an album, maybe on Soul Note or Black Saint records. I don't think anyone has seen these photos until now.

Dewey Redman died of liver failure in Brooklyn, New York on Sept. 2, 2006.

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