Unsung Women of Jazz #7 – Vi Redd
“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.” – From Rob Ferrier’s All Music guide Review of Vi Redd’s Lady Soul LP
Claire Daly, Tineke Postma, Tia Fuller, Virginia Mayhew are just a few of the strong women jazz saxophone players on the scene today. Rewind 40 – 50 years and you’ll find very few names. Elvira “Vi” Redd was one of those few. Now I know that there were many women sax players during the ’40’s – 60’s who were part of the “all girl” big bands and novelty acts. What I’m talking about are women who stepped out there on the front line with the men and recorded as leaders. Vi Redd was a pioneer.
Ms. Redd is the daughter of Alton Redd, who was a New Orleans drummer and the co-founder of the Big Easy’s legendary Clef Club. Vi was born in Los Angeles in 1928. With her father being a major part of the Central Avenue jazz scene, Vi was exposed to many of the greats of jazz from an early age. Young Vi was also blessed with an aunt, Elma Hightower, who was considered one of the foremost L.A. music teachers of her time. Ms. Hightower was instrumental in Vi’s decision to play the saxophone.
Like many sax players of her generation, Ms. Redd’s sound is heavily influenced by Charlie Parker. So, it was no accident that the first of her two albums as a leader was titled Bird Call. Recorded in 1962, it’s a good album, that features Herb Ellis on guitar; Leroy Vinnegar on bass; Carmell Jones on trumpet; Russ Freeman on piano and a young, pre-fusion Roy Ayers on vibes. In addition to her solid work on alto, Ms. Redd also sings on a few numbers, which is not a bad thing, as she is a fine vocalist with a compelling grit to her sound. The tunes penned by producer Leonard Feather are the only selections that miss the mark.
The next year, she recorded her second and apparently final album, Lady Soul. It’s the more polished of the two albums, with great playing and singing by Ms. Redd and first-rate support from Dave Bailey, Bucky Pizzarelli and Ben Tucker. Unfortunately, Lady Soul has slipped into obscurity and is extremely hard to find.
When one does research on the career of Vi Redd, the term that recurs more than any other is “under-recorded”. How true that is. For though Ms. Redd has played and toured with artists such as Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Sarah Vaughan and Max Roach, she has only two albums to her name and a scant four more with other artists. Notable among these is Now’s The Time; an all female session led by Marian McPartland, in 1977. Throughout the years, she gigged around the Los Angeles area and supported herself as a schoolteacher between engagements. She finally received a bit of long overdue recognition in 2000, when she was honored at “Instrumental Women: Celebrating Women-N-Jazz“, a concert at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
As of this writing, Vi Redd is retired and living in the L.A. area. And as we can see in this heartwarming interview conducted by a family member in 2009, she is still sharp, delightful and energetic.
- Bird Call (United Artists/Solid State) – CD Available [Japanese Import]
- Lady Soul (Atco Records – LP only) – LP OOP and rare – try eBay or MusicStack.com
- Now’s The Time [Marian McPartland] (Halcyon records) – CD and LP OOP and rare
- The Swingin’ Machine Live [Count Basie] (Le Jazz) – CD OOP, but attainable