In conjunction with Harvard’s Arts First festival (May 1-4), Grammy-nominated saxophonist, recording artist, and jazz bandleader Joshua Redman ’91 will receive the 2008 Harvard Arts Medal. President Drew Faust will present the award to Redman, who is the 14th distinguished Harvard or Radcliffe alum or faculty member to receive this accolade for excellence in the arts and contributions to education and the public good. Past medalists have included composer John Adams ’69, M.A. ’72; cellist Yo-Yo Ma ’76; filmmaker Mira Nair ’79; and director Peter Sellars ’80.
The son of tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman and dancer Renee Shedroff, Redman grew up in Berkeley, Calif., where he was exposed to a world of artistic influences including Indonesian gamelan, Indian raga, South Indian drumming, and African dance. As Redman describes his inspirations, “I feel like those sounds are there. They’ve always been there, kind of a part of my musical perspective; the way my ears are tuned to harmony and to melody.” In his most recent release, “Back East,” he explores those multicultural roots through the language of jazz in works by Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Wayne Shorter.
Beginning his freshman year at Harvard, Redman was lead saxophone soloist with the University’s big band and smaller jazz combos. Director of Harvard Bands Tom Everett recalls Redman’s vision, dedication, and ability to learn from a great variety of music. “He was a born improviser,” notes the director.
The Harvard Bands also provided Redman with opportunities to learn from and perform with jazz legends Benny Carter, Joe Henderson, and Illinois Jacquet. “It was a coincidence that all of these great artists all happened to be saxophonists, but what luck for Joshua,” said Everett. Redman values highly the experiences that he has had playing with master musicians. He affirms, “Those experiences have been invaluable to me. They’re definitive, life-changing experiences, and it’s because of those opportunities that I wanted to learn how to play and pursue a life in music.”
In 1991, Redman graduated from Harvard summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A. in social studies. He was accepted to Yale Law School, but requested a year deferment and moved to New York City, where he began to perform regularly. In November 1991, he won first place in the highly competitive Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Since then, shifting his focus to a career in music, he has performed around the world and released numerous recordings including the Grammy-nominated “Joshua Redman” and “Momentum.”