Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Donald Matthew Redman, 29 July 1900, Piedmont WV; d 30 November 1964) Reeds, vocals, bandleader, arranger, composer. The son of a music teacher, he could play any wind instrument by age twelve. He studied at conservatories, went to NYC '23 and joined Fletcher Henderson as arranger and saxophonist. He was one of the principal inventors of jazz writing for the big band, not only writing separate parts for reed and brass 'choirs', leaving room for hot solos, but putting sections in opposition: he solved the problems of the new style, showing everyone else how to do it, and wrote virtually all of Henderson's arrangements as it became the band to beat. Hoagy Carmichael was an admirer; legend has it that Redman gave Carmichael advice, and may have written the lovely intro to 'Stardust': he was certainly among the first to record it, two years before it had lyrics.

Redman left Henderson '27 to be music director of McKinney's Cotton Pickers and made it the most popular band in the Midwest; he recorded his own pretty tune 'Cherry' twice in '28, once with the Cotton Pickers (vocal by Jean Napier) and without a vocal with a pick-up group including Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, other stars. He led two Chocolate Dandies freelance record sessions '28 (including 'Stardust') and '29. On the November '29 Cotton Pickers dates he used Henderson sidemen, sang his own 'Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You?', his slyly intimate, half conversational vocals also on 'Miss Hannah', 'Wherever There's a Will, Baby' (with a fine solo by Coleman Hawkins) and 'The Way I Feel Today' (exceptionally fine Fats Waller comping behind the vocal).

He formed his own band '31, using several Cotton Pickers and taking over a Horace Henderson group for a gig (early records labelled 'Harlan Lattimore and his Connie's Inn Orchestra'; Lattimore was a pop vocalist). He often had fine soloists such as Benny Morton and Harold Baker; always Bob Ysaguirre on tuba, then bass (b 1897, British Honduras; d 1982 NYC). In '31 he was the only black bandleader to have his own radio show, sponsored by a soap maker; he recorded his theme 'Chant Of The Weed' '31, '32 and '40 (and later arranged it for Duke Ellington), a bold piece full of whole-tone passages which the early band had trouble playing in tune. The emphasis was on writing, as in the Cotton Pickers: he wrote difficult stuff and was a good teacher, his tricky passages well known among musicians (cf. reed chorus in 'Tea For Two', trombones in 'I Got Rhythm', both '32). He made good use of the 'swing choir', with the band chanting a paraphrase of the lyrics to a countermelody, often with a soloist playing the straight melody, using this device '37 on 'Exactly Like You' and 'Sunny Side Of The Street' some years before Sy Oliver's famous version of 'Street' for Tommy Dorsey. Having done as much as anyone to bring about the Big Band Era with hot tunes ('Nagasaki', 'Hot And Anxious'), novelties and patter vocals ('I Heard', 'Reefer Man', later 'I Got Ya', 'About Rip Van Winkle'), he gave up the band in 1940.

He fronted other bands (Jay McShann '42), then toured Europe '46 with a band including Don Byas and Billy Taylor, effectively introducing a post-war style to Europe, which hadn't heard any new jazz for years; the band made a huge impression, and there is a lot of information about that tour here. He wrote freelance (e.g. 'Just An Old Manuscript' for Basie, '49) and became music director for Pearl Bailey '51; none of the kids who enjoyed Bailey's top ten hit 'Takes Two To Tango' the next year knew that the arranger was a giant of American music. Redman played a policeman in the Harold Arlen show House Of Flowers '54; he made two LPs of big-band sides in July '57, some with Hawkins.

Edinburgh's Hep label started a complete Redman series from '31 with good transfers by John R. T. Davies, notes by Frank Driggs: nice period pop as well as jazz classics. Doin' What I Please on ASV was a good compilation of 1925-38 including some Henderson and Cotton Pickers sides.