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Known throughout the world as one of the 20th century’s major jazz composers, Donald Mathew Redman (July 29, 1900-November 30, 1964) was a pivotal figure in the evolution of that American art form. Known as “the little giant of jazz,” Redman was a multi-instrumentalist whose innovative arrangements laid the foundation for the big band era.

Born in Piedmont, Redman was a child prodigy who learned to play most orchestral instruments. He graduated from Storer College with a music degree in 1920 at the age of 20 and then studied at conservatories in Boston and Detroit.

A fine saxophonist and vocalist, he played with Billy Paige’s Broadway Syncopators before joining Fletcher Henderson’s band as chief arranger. He also played sax on recording sessions with Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters, and many others. Around 1927 he became the musical director of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and in 1928 joined Louis Armstrong’s Savoy Ballroom Five. Throughout the 1930s, Redman led his own big band while writing for top bands such as Paul Whiteman, Ben Pollack, and Isham Jones.

During the 1940s, Redman composed and arranged for Count Basie, Cab Calloway and Jimmy Dorsey. For the remainder of the swing era he freelanced as an arranger and, in 1946, led an all-star orchestra that was the first band to visit postwar Europe. In 1949, Redman had a musical show on the CBS television network, and in the 1950s, served as Pearl Bailey’s music director and acted with her in the play House of Flowers. In his later years, he rarely performed in public, preferring to work on several extended compositions that have never been publicly performed.

Redman died in New York City. He was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

Last Revised on December 14, 2017

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e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "Don Redman." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 14 December 2017. Web. 22 March 2018.


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