Vi Redd

Vi Redd is one of the few female saxophonists who was a bandleader outside of the all-girl bands that I’ve encountered in my research on women in jazz this month. (At the time I originally wrote the post, I’d collected 79 names and only 10 of them were ones I knew previously. Now I’m up to 242!)

Daughter of drummer, Alton Redd VI, she grew up in a musical household. Redd started to sing in church when she was five and picked up the saxophone at about age 12. Her great aunt, Alma Hightower was considered to be one of the foremost LA music teachers during that time and gave her lessons. (Incidentally, Alma Hightower was also Melba Liston’s music teacher for a while.) She formed a band in 1948 and began to sing and perform professionally, but her career really took off in the early 1960s. She was one the first female instrumentalists to headline the Las Vegas Jazz Festival in 1962, and even then as a 34-year old woman with children and an established career was reviewed patronizingly as “an attractive young girl alto sax player.” [1]

According to Yoko Suzuki, University of Pittsburgh, Vi toured with Earl Hines in 1964, played with her own band at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966, and traveled to London to “play with local musicians at the historic Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. She was initially invited there as a singer and was scheduled to perform for only two weeks, but due to popular demand her performance was extended to ten weeks.” Suzuki also shares the story told by Leonard Feather that Vi was “Booked in there (Ronnie Scott’s)…only as a supporting attraction…she often earn[ed] greater attention and applause than several world-famous saxophonists who appeared during that time playing the alternate sets.” [1]

Vi Redd recorded two albums: Bird Call in 1962 and Lady Soul in 1963. Lady Soul is my favorite and Rob Ferrier of All Music describes it nicely:

“This record is a sterling example of what the music [jazz] lost in the name of its phallocentricity. Vi Redd demonstrates a thoughtful tone and a careful respect for those around her. Her solos are pithy and directly to the point…Quite honestly, there’s really nothing quite like her records.” [2]

Redd also appears on several other albums including Al Grey’s Shades of Grey, Count Basie: Live at Antibes 1968, Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon: The Chase, and Marian McPartland, Now’s The Time (Also featuring the great Mary Osborne!) [3] Here’s an excellent video clip of Redd performing with the Basie band at that concert in 1968:

Listen to a playlist of her music here.

(Re)sources

[1] Yoko Suzuki. “Invisible Woman: Vi Redd’s Contributions as a Jazz Saxophonist.” American Music Review. Vol. XLII, No. 2, Spring 2013. http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/web/academics/centers/hitchcock/publications/amr/v42-2/suzuki.php

[2] Curt Davenport. “Unsung Women of Jazz #7 – Vi Redd.” Curt’s Jazz Cafe. https://curtjazz.com/2011/10/01/unsung-women-of-jazz-7-vi-redd/

[3] Wikipedia contributors, “Vi Redd,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Vi_Redd&oldid=872902200 (accessed January 16, 2019).

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