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Remembering Jazz Pianist Freddie Redd

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The musician Freddie Redd has died at age 92. He was a talented jazz piano player and composer, but his best-known work was actually panned at first.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It was for an experimental play about drug addicts called "The Connection." Freddie Redd wrote the score and performed it on stage with a band.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE REDD'S "WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN")

KELLY: The play premiered off-Broadway in 1959. The New York Times called it a farrago of dirt. But then, a rave review in The Village Voice turned the tide. It won Obie Awards. It had a film adaptation. And "The Connection" is now seen as a landmark of American theater.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE REDD'S "WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN")

CHANG: Redd grew up in New York City, where he taught himself the piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

FREDDIE REDD: I'd find something I like, and I'd sit and I'd pick it out until I could, you know - or I had somebody show me, you know? Like, we used to - a lot of piano players around here, we use to show each other things.

CHANG: Speaking to NPR host Marian McPartland, he said he didn't become seriously interested in music until he joined the army.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

REDD: Somebody said to me one day - a friend of mine, a supply sergeant, he called up. He say, Freddie Redd, and he said, come here. He said, tell - this guy is trying to tell me there's nothing happening with this record. And it was Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie playing "Sure Enough" (ph), and it just wiped me out. From that moment on, you know, I knew what I was going to do.

BRAD LINDE: Freddie was, you know, completely of the bebop era.

KELLY: Brad Linde is a saxophonist and bandleader in Washington, D.C. He remembers when he first stumbled upon a cassette of the music from "The Connection."

LINDE: You know, he had, like, a very clear touch, like Sonny Clark. He had the lines like Bud Powell and, you know, the dissonance from Thelonious Monk - all the people he came up with.

KELLY: Redd did not record quite as much as his jazz peers, but when he lived in Maryland and Virginia, he and Linde made a few albums together. Two of them just came out in February.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE REDD'S "REMINISCING")

CHANG: Throughout his life, Freddie Redd lived in many places - Baltimore, San Francisco, Sweden. Linde said he moved pretty suddenly to New York City one day.

LINDE: Freddie always would say that, you know, when he feels like it's time to be somewhere else, he goes somewhere else.

CHANG: Freddie Redd was 92 years old when he died on Wednesday.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE REDD'S "THE THESPIAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.