Saxophonist, Vocalist, and Educator
Vi Redd was first exposed to music during her formative years by her father, who was one of the leading figures on the Central Avenue jazz scene. Her great aunt, Alma Hightower an educator and performer of and with many musical greats, was another important musical mentor in her early life. At the age of five, she accompanied her aunt to sing at the First Day AME Church in Los Angeles. It wasn’t until she was about twelve or thirteen years old that she started playing the saxophone, when her great aunt gave her a horn and taught her how to play.Vi Redd Interview
Vi Redd’s family was very influential in her quest to become a jazz musician. At an early age, Redd was exposed to an array of records by artists such as Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and many others. In addition, her paternal great aunt acted as one her most influential musical mentors.
Vi Redd was born in Los Angeles in 1928, exposing her to many jazz influences passing through the city at that time. She remembers musicians performing in her living room at a young age--furthering her musical education at a young age. Vi didn’t initially imagine she’d have a career in music. “By the time [she] got out of high school, she wanted to teach music. [She] started out college wanting to be a music teacher, but all during this time [she] was performing,” recalls her father. In college, Vi learned to play the flute with great difficulty and because of this, turned back to the alto and tenor saxophone. Her band got together in the early 50’s and they would play at college sorority events and other gatherings of the same type. Vi’s road to formal teaching began when she taught a few blind students when she was in college. She received her B.S. in Social Sciences undergrad, so she eventually went back to gain her teaching credential at USC. Most of Redd’s early musical instruction came from her church and from her great aunt, Alma Hightower. Ms. Hightower taught her how to play the piano and the saxophone and she formed her own singing voice through singing at church. She was given flute lessons in college but ended up stopping them in order to focus again on her sax.
Vi Redd Interview
Redd came from a family of great musicians, perhaps pointing to her talent being genetic and thus innate. She did however, perform with such jazz greats as Count Basie, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, and Earl Hines who helped her improve her musicality and exposed her to further influences in the jazz world. Redd was deeply influenced by Charlie Parker early in her life even before she picked her ultimate instrument of choice. Through her aunt’s offer to teach her how to play the horn, she was able to fully realize the saxophone was where she would maintain interest. Around 1948, she formed a band with her first husband, trumpeter Nathaniel Meeks. She played the saxophone and sang, and began performing professionally. Although she performed with such jazz greats as Count Basie, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, and Earl Hines, she is rarely discussed in jazz history books except for those focusing specifically on female jazz musicians.
Vi Redd - Music
For additional information, here is the full transcript of Vi Redd that can also be found in the Hamilton College Jazz Archives: