Playing in Dewey Redman’s quartet


Written by: Barnaby McAll

I made this recording while I was playing with the great Dewey Redman’s Quartet in Chicago with Matt Wilson on drums and John Menegon on bass in March 2002. I listened  at the time and I thought it was unsalvageable, as I had recorded it at a very low volume. However, I dug it up recently whilst in lockdown, pumped up the volume and realised that it was a great document and that Dewey is playing incredibly well, as are Matt and John. I am a little green to be honest.

So then I asked Dewey’s wife Lidija, if I could put it up here so that anyone who wants to check it out can. [It’s at the bottom of this article. – Ed.]

I also decided to send this post I had written about all my recollections of Dewey for my Patreon Page: “Playing in Dewey Redman’s Quartet”

Dewey used to say, “we’re gonna dig a little deeper next time” and digging deep is the way to the best of what music lives inside you. Listening back, I know I was a little wet behind the ears and I am grateful Dewey gave me the chance because I was not able to be in the music and in the present and relating to what was going on as well as I could have been.

Dewey and Barney

One time while I was soloing Dewey came up to me and whispered “stretch out Barney, you’re not here for the money”. Dewey brought things out in me that I didn’t know were there. I felt blessed to be able to commune with him in his amazing band and I felt it actually changed my makeup and musical conception. We played a number of gigs including the legendary “Vision Festival” in New York. Having recently read As Serious As Your Life by Val Wilmer (which I highly recommend), I realised I was in pretty deep and that the new black music revolution of the 1960’s was alive and well. I just didn’t have any idea what it was until I looked back.

Dewey was a special person, a descendant from the Griots, or that’s what he told me was true. He was like a missing piece to the jazz puzzle for me. He certainly changed the face of improvised music alongside Ornette, Charlie Haden, and Don Cherry and the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, etc. He was pivotal but was never recognised in the way he should have been. He was a giant and he created movements alongside those that received all the credit.

Keith Jarrett knew he was connecting with a pure flame of the new when
he hired Dewey. Keith knew what Dewey had, and gleaned a great deal
from it – it connected him with the new landscape in music and the new
black music revolution.

Dewey told me when he recorded Jarrett’s Survivors Suite (my favourite
Keith Jarrett album) that he was strung out and that between each song he would have to go to the bathroom. Manfred Eicher (ECM Producer) didn’t know Dewey was so sick… He thought Dewey had a stomach ache – but Keith knew and he wasn’t happy.

Keith’s American Quartet ended after that..but man does that record sound incredible. Was it some transmutation of terror?… a catharsis?… some distillation on Dewey’s part? On that album, to my ears, you can hear Dewey really playing changes. Complex ones. Some people have said Dewey wasn’t really a changes player but that is just not true.

Once at the Deerhead inn, Keith Jarrett told me he didn’t consider Dewey a changes player but that one night Dewey actually literally channeled Coleman Hawkins through his horn and played the living daylights out of some serious changes and everyone was just jaw to the floor. Then other nights he would play more freely and impressionistically.

When Dewey was playing with Ornette he once asked him if he could get the chord changes to a tune because it seemed like there were specific changes to it. He handed Ornette the chart and then Ornette took forever scribbling on the chart. When Ornette handed the chart back to Dewey, it had a different chord on every note of the melody!

Dewey said that it’s always all about the MUSIC. It’s not about the money. He said you must be dedicated to the music. That when you’re playing bop – play bop. When you’re playing free, play it free. When you’re playing bluesy, play really bluesy. “Music is the biggest mystery,” he said.

One time he said ” Barney, when you work out what music’s all about,

He said music is unlike the other arts because you can’t see it but you feel it as deeply as if you saw it.

He said that when he would play the Musette in the early days, he would get lots of woman falling all over him because, he would point the bell of the musette right between the ladies’ legs and play a note that would just resonate there… “and then that was it”!

Lol! He was so funny, he’d say “I might be old but I ain’t cold”!

Dewey said..”people always ask me what I think about when I play…and
my first answer is “I react”.That’s what he said. “Music is never  free…because you are reacting, following things, sounds.”

“Music will heal you,” he told me.

He would make certain sounds and utterances from the side of the stage. You can hear him on this recording doing it. Sounds of recognition, of joy at things people played, of affirmation or wonderment. Playing with Dewey felt ritualistic and communal.

Matt Wilson and John Menagon are both really great people and players. Matt Wilson was so positive and is a super creative person who always seems to be enjoying himself and never puts anyone down…all mistakes were like little childlike joys to him. He looks up into the sky at times to think, to contemplate and that is when you see his unsanity – the unsanity of his pure creativity. Matt would crack jokes and really laugh after each set. He has always smiled a lot and his playing was about just finding new ideas constantly. Melodic and musical… I saw him at an airport one time and the first thing I said to him was “OK…lemme see your socks”. because Matt Wilson is the sock pimp! He was of course wearing some splendid specimens of just outrageous sock-dom.

Dewey was so wise and he never trusted business people, possibly in
some ways to his detriment. He wasn’t always that forthcoming with
crowd members or fans either, but with the band, he was so friendly and kind. When we were on tour in Chicago, I got sick with the flu. Dewey called me up to see how I was when he knew I was sick the night before. He then checked in throughout the day. What a gem.

Dewey would start the set by saying stuff like “OK everyone, you don’t have to worry about Osama…or whether the Spice Girls are coming back… You can just relax…send us some good vibes and we’ll send ’em right back at ya”…

And always, when Dewey said goodbye to musicians he would always say
“thank you for your music”.

First time I heard Dewey live was with Gerry Allen, Eddie Moore, and Lloyd Swanton at the Tankerville Arms in Melbourne. There was a tense
expectation in the air, exciting and like something heavy was about to go
down. Just before they were about to start, Lloyd bent down to pick up his bass and, as he says:
” A stage light dazzled me and blinded me to the fact that the corner of the piano lid was sticking out. To anyone watching it must have looked like I was quietly setting up my gear, and then decided without warning to smash my head down onto the corner of the piano lid as hard as I could. I’d pay to see that. Anyway, it certainly cured my stage fright, and yes, I think it helped a lot in coping with the heavy company”.

Lloyd proceeded to play the set with blood dripping from his head and
I always saw that as Lloyd’s initiation into some other portal or musical level. It was a stunning gig and was one of those transformational musical moments for me and I dare say the battle victorious Lloyd.

Dewey had a mystical air about him. He had a strong aura of intensity and love. He had this gruff voice and he mumbled a lot so you had to listen. He was brilliant at pretending he wasn’t paying attention and then, when you’d least expected it, he would say something or re-iterate something that proved he was quick as a whip and right there all along. He was switched on like a bright light but wore his shade of ambiguity to ward off evil. He just understood a lot of stuff.

Barney McAll

That was his way, he acted like he was vague and spacey but he was severely clear. He had a wonderful spirit, like a wise man, or a sage, but so hard to pin down. Not aloof, just not always available. He was very loving..very genuine and kind in spirit. Hilarious too. He had this croaky rascal laugh as he purchased a cognac at 9am at the airport bar.

I remember going over to his apartment on Martense St in Brooklyn for a rehearsal. He was living in the same place he had lived since the 70’s. His lovely wife Lidija answered the door…and Dewey appeared in full African regalia, bright colours, the smell of incense and there were posters from his past glued all over the walls like wallpaper. He went and got this tiny Casio keyboard and some charts and we proceeded to run his music down.

The keyboard was atrocious but it didn’t matter. I had just learned this Bud Powell lick and was fond of it so I strategically played it in one of my solos while we were rehearsing and Dewey let out a sound that was like he knew I had just learned it and that I dug it. It felt kind of psychic in a way. That’s how he was.

Dewey told really great stories. Stories about meeting John Coltrane and how he told Coltrane he had beautiful fingers? and then suddenly felt
embarrassed. He told a funny story about when he first came to NYC. He
was all nervous and was playing his first gig. He finished playing and came off the bandstand and a man approached him with a sort of strange enthusiasm,

The guy says “Where you from Man”? Dewey says, “Houston Texas”.

The Guy says “well , you sound like SHIT, go back to Houston!”

He told me that one time in Europe some schmuck came up to him with a
Joshua Redman CD and asked Dewey to sign it? Dewey felt conflicted over his somewhat estranged son’s great success as a tenor sax player. But I have to say, Dewey wasn’t helpful to his own career, he would sabotage his success regularly and was pretty flakey. But I do know he loved Joshua and at Dewey’s funeral, Joshua played some solo saxophone music that was the greatest I have ever heard him play. That was a deep moment:

I remember Dewey told a story about touring with Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett at the same time. He would alternate tours with them both. On this one gig, he was with Ornette and it was a big saxophone summit or
something. Anyway, Ornette’s band room was next to Dexter Gordon’s room. But neither Dexter nor Sonny Stitt would even talk to Ornette. They
felt he couldn’t play changes and was ‘jive’. Meanwhile, Ornette at that time was changing the landscape of improvised music.

Dewey noticed that Sonny had gone into Dexter’s room and that Dexter was showing Sonny fingering exercises, so Dewey decided to go check it out. While he was in Dexter’s room , Dexter, Sonny, and Dewey all hear this amazing alto playing that IS Charlie Parker? Some straight ahead bebop of the highest order.

They rush next door and it’s Ornette! Dewey said that, from that day on, they ALWAYS had respect for Ornette, because Dewey said, on various occasions he heard Ornette play exactly like Bird but Ornette had chosen to go deeper into his own thing via the springboard genius of Bird.

One Christmas I went over to visit Dewey in the morning around 10 am and when I got to the door Dewey handed me a Cognac! “Happy Christmas
, he said! His wife also got me some christmas cake and we just hung. I remember I asked him about Paul Bley and he told me “well, Paul Bley is very into Paul Bley!”. I had also just met Keith Jarrett at the Deerhead Inn and I was telling Dewey all about it. Dewey said to Lidija “give him some CDs of me with Keith” and Lidija gave me both box sets of the Keith Jarrett American quartet. He told me one time he was playing with Kenny Kirkland and that he yelled out to Kenny to “Stroll” but Kenny thought he had yelled “STRIDE”, so Kenny started playing all this stride piano. Dewey laughed hard… but wow, how fascinating is it that Dewey and Kenny Kirkland played together.

To me, Dewey had connections to other realms and was able to play little familiar folk melodies that you had heard before, just not here on earth. Infinite anciently familiar melodies. He really loved Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon too and he had so much soul it was terrifying.

The second last time I saw him was at the Nice Jazz festival in France. I
was leaving the hotel with The Groove Collective and was in the van
and here comes Dewey Redman, running up to the van yelling “Barney,
Barney”. He had heard I was there and he wanted to say hi?! I couldn’t believe it! He stopped the van and said hi through the window to me. That was Dewey Redman. He was just a good human without airs and I felt so proud that day.

The very last time I saw him was in Switzerland in a hotel room foyer. I’ll never ever forget his white hair and shining skin that day and I intuitively felt like it would be the last time I saw him, but I didn’t admit it to myself. There was some aura around him, very dark and very light. He had a particular mystique about him which I can’t explain. I was there playing with Josh Roseman and Joshua Redman was also on the festival bill. Dewey seemed like an old sage in that foyer. He was glowing with life and I was always so intimidated by his history and his music but I also felt like he just also was a down-home friend. I told him i was getting married and he said Man! you better send me an invitation, coz if you don’t, I will never speak to you again!

I said I would and I did. The reason I had hesitated was because he is
Dewey Redman and I just didn’t expect he would really come. But, he was
deadly serious and I really felt that love from him.

After he died, Lidija told me that he never received the invitation and was really sad. He really wanted to come.

Thank you Lidija- you are a shining sun.

Thank you Matt, John and Dewey for your music!

Here’s the recording

CREDITS. released June 19, 2021
Dewey Redman- Tenor Sax
Barney McAll – Piano
John Menegon – Bass
Matt Wilson – Drums


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