Don Redman is considered the first jazz composer - arranger by many. Also the first musician with both the inspiration and academic knowledge for this style of music. In short, he invented 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 which solved the problems of the new style, thus showing everyone else how to do it.
His brother led a band in Cumberland, Maryland and his father was a noted music teacher and had performed in a brass band. His mother was a singer. Don began playing the trumpet at the age of three, joined his first band at 6 and by the age of 12 was proficient on all wind instruments including the oboe.
Don studied music at Storer's College in Harper's Ferry and conservatories in Boston & Chicago. He joined Billy Paige's Broadway Syncopators and traveled to New York with them in 1923. Redman's first recording sessions were in 1923, with Fletcher Henderson, a well respected New York bandleader. Redman joined Henderson's band in 1924, as a reed player and staff arranger and stayed with the unit until 1927. During the early twenties Redman also recorded with many other jazz and blues greats including Clarence Williams and Bessie Smith.
In 1927, Don joined McKinney's Cotton Pickers in Detroit as the leader and musical director, remaining in that position for four years. This band at one point included such jazz legends as Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter and Fats Waller. Always in demand as an arranger, Redman recorded some sessions with Louis Armstrong in 1928.
Hoagy Carmichael was an admirer of the young Don Redman and legend has it that Redman gave Hoagy musical advice and may have written the introduction to "Stardust." Don was one of the first to record it as an instrumental, the words to that classic weren't added by Mitchell Parrish until a few years later.
In 1931, Don formed his own band from the nucleus of the Cotton Pickers and musicians from Horace Henderson's band. They stayed together for nine years, performing regularly at Connie's Inn in Harlem. The band made numerable radio broadcasts and was the first to play a sponsored radio series for CHIPSO in 1932 as well as a film short in 1935. During this time Redman also arranged music during the Thirties for Paul Whiteman, Isham Jones, Ben Pollack and Bing Crosby.
Redman is credited with inventing the swing choir in which the band sang a paraphrase of the words to a counter melody. This was used in '37 in Exactly Like You and Sunny Side of the Street.
In 1940 after the band broke up, he did some free-lance arrangements, then reformed the band for a short time at the end of the year. The following year, he toured briefly with the Snookum Russell Band, then returned to New York City for more free-lance arranging including Jimmy Dorsey's Deep Purple. He put together another band in 1943 for residency at The Zanzibar in New York and soon after resumed full-time arranging for Count Basie, Harry James and NBC studio bands. In 1946, Redman put together another band for a European tour, the band broke after a couple of months though Redman stayed overseas until August of 1947.
Don Redman had a TV series for CBS in 1949. From 1951 he worked as the musical director for Pearl Bailey, though rarely played any instruments publicly. He had a small acting role as a policeman on Broadway in 54-55 with Pearl in House of Flowers. He recorded on alto, soprano and piano in 1958-59. He played piano for the Georgia Minstrels concert in June of '62 and soprano sax for the Sissle-Blake Grass Roots concert in September 1964. During his final years he worked on several extended compositions which have never been publicly performed.
- The Don Redman Orchestra in 1931.
CDs in Print
- Don Redman's recordings on CD
- Classics Records:Don Redman and His Orchestra (1931-33), (1933-36), &(1936-39)
- RCA Records: McKinney's Cotton Pickers