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Bill Shoemaker

Dewey Redman 1931—2006

Dewey Redman
Dewey Redman                                         Michael Wilderman©2006

For much of its illustrious run, Baltimore’s Left Bank Jazz Society presented its Sunday concerts at the Famous Ballroom, located on the second floor of the building at 1717 North Charles Street. A long staircase led up to the ballroom from the box office on the street. At the top of the stairs, a Left Bank volunteer was perched on a stool to take tickets, usually a short, stout woman with a permanent scowl.

The Famous was quickly filling up for Old & New Dreams in early 1979, and I found myself at the top of the stairs, waiting for friends, the ticket-taker occasionally glowering in my general direction. To my surprise, Dewey Redman trundled up the stairs, lugging his horns. When he arrived at the top, he was given the full body scan by the ticket-taker.

“I’m with the band, ma’am,” Redman said politely.

“You’re late,” said the ticket-taker, who added, raising her chin and narrowing her eyes, “Now don’t be playing that avant-garde shit.”

For a nanosecond, Redman thought the woman was joking and was halfway to smiling when he realized she was dead serious. He then dropped his head and said, “Yes, ma’am.”

“Just play the blues and you’ll be alright,” the woman said as Redman turned away.

“Yes, ma’am,” Redman replied.

As he walked past me, Redman gave me an incredulous, Can-you-believe-this? look.

Late in the gig, Old and New Dreams played an apocalyptic version of Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts.” Redman was copiously playing blues licks. I looked back towards the stairs, but the ticket-taker was gone.

When I recounted the story to him 20 years later in the course of an interview for JazzTimes, Redman chuckled, and said there was still a lot of people that don’t understand that it’s all the same music. One of Dewey Redman’s legacies is that he reduced that number every time he played.

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