For every legendary and instantly-recognizable Blue Note album—Blue Train, Moanin’, Somethin’ Else, The Sidewinder, Out to Lunch, Maiden Voyage, Speak No Evil—there are many more that are just as strong, yet not nearly as well known. Three of those under-appreciated Blue Note classics were recorded by pianist Freddie Redd in the early 1960s—The Connection (1960), Shades of Redd (1960), and Redd’s Blues (1961).
Born in New York City in 1928, Redd taught himself piano growing up, but only became a serious student of jazz upon hearing recordings of Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie during a stint in the army in the late 1940s. Upon returning to New York in 1949, Redd frequented the Monday night jam sessions at Birdland and picked up gigs with the likes of Cootie Williams, Art Blakey, Gene Ammons, and Charles Mingus. He became quite close with tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks (another under-appreciated Blue Note artist), and the two frequently played in each others’ bands. Speaking to All About Jazz in 2005, Redd remembered, “Tina was just a young dynamo… he always kept turning it out. Tina was always my first choice—whenever I had a gig… I’d get him.”
In 1959, Redd was asked to write and perform music for a new play called The Connection, written by Jack Gelber and produced by the groundbreaking theater group, The Living Theatre. A play-within-a-play that explored taboo subjects like drug addiction, The Connection received immense acclaim including three Obie Awards, as well as subsequent productions throughout the United States and Europe, and even a film adaptation. The success of The Connection brought Redd to the attention of Blue Note executives Alfred Lyon and Francis Wolf, who signed Redd to a three-record contract. The soundtrack to The Connection, featuring the leader’s memorable tunes and energetic accompaniment alongside blistering solos by saxophonist Jackie McLean, would become Redd’s best-known work. Writing in the New York Times on the occasion of the record’s re-release in 1989, Peter Watrous noted that “[i]n one respect The Connection is a blowing date set up for Mr. McLean, who plays wonderfully, but like many Blue Note records of the period, it’s perfectly arranged, with each harmonic movement accented and intensified by changes of texture or rhythm… It is hard-bop at its best.”
Success proved unjustly fleeting for Mr. Redd, who bounced from one jazz scene to another, spending time in Europe, Mexico, San Francisco, and a longer stint in Los Angeles. He has recorded sporadically since his days as a Blue Note artist, but always at a high level with his trademark pungent chord voicings and explosive, on-top-of-the-beat lines that establish his roots in classic bebop. After settling in Baltimore in 2011, Redd has played regularly at the venue An die Musik with great local players and passers-through like bassist Michael Formanek, saxophonists Brian Settles and Brad Linde, and drummers Matt Wilson and Tony Martucci. In 2013, Redd embarked on a European tour, proving that he still has much to say musically.
The Jazz Gallery is proud to present Mr. Redd in a quintet setting this Saturday, July 18th. As one of the few living links to the bebop era, Freddie Redd’s performance is a truly special occasion.
Freddie Redd performs at The Jazz Gallery on Saturday, July 18th, 2015. Joining Mr. Redd on piano are Josh Evans on trumpet, Chris Byars on saxophone, Ben Meigners on bass, and Keitha Balla on drums. Sets are at 8 and 10 p.m. $22 general admission ($10 for members). Free with SummerPass. Purchase tickets here.