On Today’s Episode…
Join us with Karen Briggs and Michael Redmond as we discuss Karen’s career and their latest recording project to honor the musical legacy of Michael’s father, Edgar Redmond.
Some people will tell you that you should never meet your heroes- but I’m really happy I got to meet and talk with one of mine, violinist Karen Briggs.
I’m excited to share this interview with her and Michael Redmond, son of Edgar Redmond, whose work can be heard on many famous recordings from the 1970s.
Karen Briggs shares many great stories about her incredible career. We hear new recordings of music composed by Michael Redmond’s father, Edgar. Edgar Redmond was a composer ahead of his time who wrote Jazz and Blues for string ensembles plus rhythm section, as well as for full orchestra. Michael has commissioned new recordings, some of which feature Karen Briggs as a soloist. Orchestras and orchestra programs should definitely check out and/or buy the sheet music to include in their performance schedules.
Our discussion includes...
- How Karen got her start on the violin
- Karen’s teacher’s commitment to including multiple genres of music and its impact on her
- Karen’s family background in music and how it exposed her to multiple genres.
- How Karen dealt with others’ doubts that her instrument belonged outside of classical music.
- How she got gigs and built her career in LA
- Michael’s history growing up while his father worked as a composer and arranger for the Army Band.
- How his grandfather’s career as a classical violinist was limited by racism, but his musical guidance influenced his father’s concept of music
- Why Michael himself is not a musician
- The importance of legacy to Michael and Karen, and what they hope to pass on to today’s Creative String Players
Chris: This is episode 48 of the Creative Strings Podcast with special guests, Karen Briggs, and Michael Redmond. In this special interview, the legendary pioneering violinist Karen Briggs shares how she has approached her incredible career. And there are so many great stories that she’ll share in this interview. You don’t want to miss these stories.
Also, we’re going to hear new recordings of music composed by Michael Redmond’s father, Edgar Redmond. Edgar Redmond was a composer ahead of his time who wrote jazz and blues for string ensembles plus rhythm section as well as for full orchestra and Michael has commissioned new recordings, some of which feature Karen Briggs as the soloist. Very importantly, orchestras in orchestra programs are going to want to buy this music so that you can perform it and you can schedule this on your programming.
I’m really excited to share this episode with you today. Hello and welcome to the Creative Strings Podcast.
Chris: I’m Christian House violinist educator and music business entrepreneur. I hope these interviews will inspire you. To be creative in your life, in your art, in your business in every way. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.
I’m so excited for the opportunity today to interview you Karen Briggs, who are a legend to me. And also, it’s a really special opportunity because we’ve got Michael Redmond here to talk about the project that you’ve done with Michael. So, I’m going to do my best to kind of organically move through this confluence of stories and topics, you know, today. But first of all, just want to acknowledge you Karen, because you’ve been literally a hero of mine for so many years. And I feel like…
Karen: the feelings are mutual when it comes to that. Gosh, you know but, thank you. I mean, uh, a lot of great players out there and, uh, amongst the ones that I’ve heard, I definitely think of your playing is like just something highly admirable. I mean, I’ve listened to a lot of the tracks- especially I have a favorite, the one you did with, uh, Hamilton Harden and I thought that that was the baddest violinist I’ll ever heard in my life really did.
Chris: Oh my gosh. Thank you. Thank you. We interviewed Hamilton on the podcast as well. He’s, he’s amazing. I love him.
Karen: He is, he really is. He’s a hero too, a great guy
Chris: And to me. You’re one of the, you know, living pioneers of, you know, violinists who improvise, and who cross into all kinds of musical territories and, um, you know, it’s yeah, it’s just an honor to be able to connect with you. Um, and if it’s okay, I’d love to just, you know, just start off by asking you about this recent recording that you did, that’s really special. And we’ll get to talk about more and to see if we could just like, listen to this track that you just played if you’d be willing to tell us a little bit about the project from your perspective, and just kind of talk us into this, uh, this song.
Karen: Yes, absolutely. Well, you know, the really cool thing about this project is the key word here is legacy. Uh, um, Michael Redmond’s father, uh, was a very popular arranger, conductor, composer and the thing is, it was very apparent in the music is the era. And he was ahead of his time in a narrow where it’s like, the music to me, it’s reminiscent of that seventies, early seventies, like funk, like right around 1970-71, all the blaxploitation movies were out and, you know, the bell bottoms and the Afro and all this was going on at that time, I was a little kid, uh, probably by let’s see, I was born in 63, so, uh, my eldest sister who is 14 years older than I, she used to take me around with her and she was totally caught up. So she went to all the events and Nina Simone, and you know, these in New York, you know, these are, these are the pictures I’m visualizing, so when I heard this music, I knew immediately, I said, this is from that era. And I know that to utilize strings in that way, all those strings were utilized a lot more in music at that time, cause a lot of that stuff is in my head, the lines that I would hear, I can sing a lot of that stuff when I was little because it just caught my ear, but, uh, you know, a lot, a lot of times you didn’t see them featured in this way where strings was so prominent, they were prominent, but this was even more prominent in a way that you don’t hear even that often today. So, you know, I always trying to just kind of lend myself to that flavor based on whatever I could recall, go back, and look at Superfly. So, I put on my bell-bottoms and, you know, try to get into the vein and the era that, that influenced the sound of the arrangements that he sent.
Chris: That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. So what’s the name of this song we’re going to check out right now?
5:13 Michael: Yeah, Entre Blue. And then it was blue string, so Entree Blue, if we can start off with that one. yeah.
Chris: Let’s kick, let’s get, let’s kick it off. Let’s let everybody listen to this. Featuring Karen Briggs, the music of Edgar Redmond, Entree Blue.
[Sound recording plays]
Chris: Okay. Okay. So, um, yeah, I want to get into talking more about the music of Edgar Redmond with his son, Michael Redmond, who is joining us here today. And just before we get into that, um, since you were talking Karen about the early seventies and hearing that music as a kid, could you tell us a little bit about what it was like for you, uh, to, to grow up as a violin player in, in that time? What was your training like? And, and what was that like for you? I presume that you were trained, uh, quote, unquote, classically, but also that you had other influences that if infected you early on.
Karen: Yeah. Well, you know, sometimes I wish I could say that of, because so many people expect me to say that I feel like I did something wrong that I didn’t really go that route. Um, I started playing violin just like a couple of months before my 12th birthday in the public school system. I had an amazing teacher, uh, and this was in Virginia, we had left New York by this time my family had gone back to the south, uh, in the Tidewater area of Virginia. So, uh, this teacher and the way I fell into it, oh gosh, I almost hate to tell this story because there so many people, like they know when they’re like five years old, I want to do this. I didn’t know that I took orchestra because we had left New York, my elder sister was still there. They came to recruit us. They came with the string section. They came with this light-skinned dude with a big Afro and he was singing tunes from the spinners. They were also playing Mozart and Beethoven and Fifth of Beethoven, uh, Dvorak, and they were playing pieces like that. And, uh, but they were playing, you know, the music that was kind of hip hop for us at the time, the R and B at the time. And you know, when this dude with the Afro start singing, all the girls started screaming. I wasn’t that type of girl. So I just caught a lot. It’s like, okay, this is really interesting. But the main thing she said, she said, well, we’re recruiting. And if you join me orchestra, if you take it up in summer school, you will be automatically placed in the advanced class when regular semester begins. And we’re going to do that. I was like, oh, well, so I, okay, this wasn’t my favorite thing to take, I came home and told my mother, I said, we could choose our classes now. She’s like, what did you choose? I said, home economics. And she said to something else. So I said, okay, maybe I could do this. This orchestra thing may be good enough to make the trip to New York and see my sister. That’s how it happened.
Whole knew 47 years later, I’d still be doing this, you know? Cause I know there’s some people like I’m going to be a violinist, I’m going to go for it. This was total fate that this happened. I did have a very good aptitude for it, I could remember pitches and things like that. Even before I knew there was a such thing as a sighting, I could always sing in a, my youngest child can do that.
Or her sister who is 14 years older than her cannot. So I know that gift was there. Uh, which helped with playing violin to understand, you know, not that I always play in tune, but at least I understood when I wasn’t. Uh, and so, you know, that’s how I got into playing violin literally. But this teacher that I had was very open and she knew that she had to do this to keep these kids interested. She had a full class of all kinds of kids from all kinds of backgrounds and neighborhoods, mainly African-American and, they will all tell you to this day, what a huge, positive impression this class had on their lives. And she followed me. She was calling me when I left college and moved to California. She was still calling me. I think I was pregnant with my first child when she passed. And I told her that I was going to have a baby. She was like, well, whatever you do, don’t you stop playing that violin! You know, that’s kinda, that’s how she was. Uh, her name was Pauline Harding and, uh, the last concert she saw me play was a big concert at Carnegie Hall, the one they made the movie “Music of the Heart” from I did the actual concert and then they came back later and did the movie. And, uh, I was glad she saw that Dave Grusim, uh, played piano. Uh, I almost feel like I should say I accompanied him, but he accompanied me. It was a lot of fun. Our families met, we had dinner at the Russian tea-room. It was an amazing event at that time, it was probably in like 1999. But, uh, yeah, that’s how I got into playing violin. And later, I think when I got into college I saw they had this class called sight singing an air training and it was like, oh, there is a such thing, there’s a class for this? They teach people who to do this? Uh they did it, of course, with Solfeggio, I just knew what the notes were. So, I made a deal with my, my professor was like, well, if I comment just on Fridays, you can give me the hardest one, you don’t have to give me the first note, and I just sing it can I just pass this class with a B. Because the class was like eight o’clock in the morning, I catch two buses. He said, yes, he agreed and I made a B. But he just left me my lah-lah-lah instead of do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do Latifa. Uh, which, cause that kind of slowed me down. But uh, yeah, the pitch was there. And so, you know, this hope with a fretless instrument, of course. And uh, the rest I kind of learned from experience, I did play in the Virginia symphony, I had enough natural ability. So that was kind of like paid training. Um, my father took me to jam sessions. My father was a sax player. His father was a trumpet player and also my next door neighbor. And a lot of musical people. My father had 13 brothers and sisters, all of them were kind of musical. Nobody did it, you know, for a jobs, a living, a profession, but they all dabbled in it. And, uh, so I had those influences.
Daddy loved jazz. You know, he played a lot of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, all the classic, uh, Cannonball Adderley. It was my older brother and sister that brought artists. Like my brother introduced me to Jean-Luc Ponty. He brought home, uh, “The Renaissance”. And so I heard that and he, he called me Box,
That was my nickname. And the very last note of the song he’s like, “Box, I bet you can’t play that note.” So, of course, I spent hours trying to find that in the song and make it clean. And he got into it. I played the song with Patrice Rushen, who was on the original record with him. We play- every time I get with her, I played with the song. I love that song. And, uh, you know, I don’t play like him, but gosh, I love his phrasing. Uh, I had heard of Stuff Smith. Um, I had heard of Ray Nance, who I believe played trumpet with Ellington. Uh, Noel Pointer. I had met him that thrilled at the time. He was kinda the first guy I saw. I saw his, uh, first album cover of Fantasia. I learned every song on there and played it in my math class one day. They told us about tomorrow, we’re not going to do math, we’re going to have a talent show, whatever your talent is. So I came up to violin, played on a cassette tape at that time and I played one of the songs from that record, the class just looked at my…
Like they didn’t say anything. They just, I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but, you know, I just, I always was outside of the box with it. I was met with a lot of resistance, it was an uphill climb. Uh, by the time I got to college, my instructor, when I want it to be in the jazz ensemble, for example, violin wasn’t meant to do that. They didn’t teach us how to write chords changes. You know, they didn’t think we needed to know that, but I always fought for it, and I did. I changed my major because it was part of the curriculum to get in there, but I was surrounded by horn players and I was like, okay, they were giving me Bb parts that. Didn’t make me feel too good. I was carrying a load of like 21 hours and I had to do this too. So, you know, and then after I left there, I went to New York, I was a booking agent for about a year at SOBs. Uh, and then eventually I left there and went to Los Angeles where I also did a whole lot of growing up, I went there in like 1987. And there the first steady gig I got was playing Charanga, you know the Afro-Cuban Latin salsa and being able to dance and play at the same time, came from playing that genre and rhythmically it grew my vocabulary exponentially. So, you know, and also strengthened my because there’s a lot of repetition. I mean, you got dancers, you’re going to play one song for about 15, 20 minutes, you know? So, I developed quite a muscle just behind playing those patterns. And, uh, you know, I saw, I guess I’m saying all this to say, sorry, I eat up so much time, but you know, I’ve just been off. All different places, the best school in the world for me, musically and has been the world, literally Yanni was a whole ‘nother thing. He had this Greek thing and odd time signatures, uh, that had some of that with the symphony but, you know, he brought it in a whole ‘nother way, uh, just to understand how to groove with that. Uh, you know, and since then I’ve been through several countries in the Middle East to play with other musicians from there. And it’s like, okay, it’s not as difficult to me as it felt in the beginning. But, uh, when I was in Virginia, I remember somebody’s fiddle player didn’t show up. They needed a fiddle player. They didn’t care, they just needed a fiddle player. I showed up, I didn’t know much about country, but I had heard it before. So I tried to deliver as much double-stops as I could, but when I finished, they said, well, you still sound like a jazz player. So I said thank you very much. And they never called me back.
Yeah. So, yeah, and I don’t have a large vocabulary in any one style. I probably jazz is probably the largest one because of the fake book, but, uh, you know, in the standards that are in there, but I don’t have a large vocabulary in any one style, but when you put it all together, it can go anywhere, you know, and the hip hop thing came and you, it was a Wu-Tang, I played on their records and he just sang it to me, you know, not every violin players gonna come in there and, if I sing this, can you play it all? Like, yeah, give it a shot. He was out of tune, but I knew what he meant. And, and I just played it. And I mean, that thing went like, I don’t know, it really did well from what I heard, I heard it was like the best, one of the best, or if not the best-selling project they did- it was a double- CD set. And at one song called Re-United- didn’t have much depth to it musically, but I guess they had never heard violin, but that was the reason that I did it because I knew there wasn’t a lot of live players on a lot of music when hip hop really started blowing up, you know? So, I wanted to be one of those people. Um, I know Michael Urbaniak had shot for it. He had done it. I had heard some stuff. Uh, Sonya Robinson’s another person. I was always listening. I was looking for them because I needed that validation and I received quite a bit of it, uh, over the years from all the different players that I did manage to find material on or find out about prior to the wide world web, uh, it was a little more difficult, but I did find a few at the times.
Chris: That’s uh, that’s, that’s gold right there. Everything is shared. That’s ,that’s amazing. Um, how did you get your career going in Los Angeles?
Karen: You know, I just went out there. I would walk up the bands. I didn’t care what the genre was. If I thought I could hang with them, I wanted to, so I would just kind of sit around and I got real cute, and uh, now I would just sit there and then I they’d take their breaks. I’d be like, hi, how are you? Hi, I’m a musician. I was wondering if I could sit down with you, you know, I’d ask over and over and over again. They like, sure. What do you play? I would say violin. VThey would be like violin, you know, that might be a reggae band or something like that. But I knew I could find a role in the music. Usually, it would be the guitar part or something in my range that I could do. So, you know, I remember this one guy I had met him, uh, this bass player named Cornelius Mills. He was playing at a club time. Yeah. He was playing at a club downtown LA that was owned by Prince and he had this band and he an amazing musician, amazing MD, had this band there and I, when I asked her, you know, and actually my friend, my roommate at the time asked him, can she sit in with you? Sure. What does she play? Violin? He’s looking at me. He’s doing all his classic R& B James Brown, you know, violin, like? we don’t have any string parts. I’m like, no, it’s just let her play. And she said, if she, if she doesn’t rock the house, I’ll give my daughter to you. That’s what this roommate said. That’s a lot of pressure, right? And when I got up there, I didn’t know what they were going to play, but he called this James Brown to call “Papa Don’t Take No Mess. They landed on a groove. And I took a solo and everybody was shocked, I made it fit. You know, it was, it was grooving. It was different. Yeah. I made it fit. I knew some of the horn lines, you know, I grew up on this music, you know, so yeah, it just hadn’t been done on violin. I don’t think it was anything genius, it’s just, it was just on a different sound than people were used to hearing it wasn’t a horn and boy after that and that guy, we became very good friends. We played a lot of music together. He’s on some of my records. He’s got me up for gigs with, with Mary, Mary and other artists in the gospel genre, that was another genre that I spent a lot of time with also, uh, especially because of my grandfather. He was the pastor of our family church and I grew up in Virginia. So I played a lot of churches. Lot of weddings. I think I, there was a time in my life. I, I couldn’t go anywhere without playing Amazing Grace, my rendition of it , but the way I heard Amazing Grace was from people like Mahalia Jackson or Aretha Franklin.
So my interpretation on the violin was a little different than the standard three, four version and have a lot of melisma. And I thought nothing of it, I didn’t the first time my teacher heard me do it. She said, no, you can’t do that. She, she almost ended my career for about 10 minutes and then thought about it. And she came back. She said, nevermind, you just play it. Like how, how however you feel it. Because she hadn’t said that I probably wouldn’t be playing to this day. I just lived on anything. She said to me, she said it was good, it was good, if she said it was bad because I was very young, of course, very impressionable.
And I had a great deal of respect for this woman. So, you know, uh, you know, she, she came back later and she said, you know, I just interpreted the way you feel it. And, and from that point on, I did, but as you probably know, I did run up against quite a bit of resistance about trying to pursue this direction on this instrument. It’s just, uh, wasn’t widely accepted. It’s so much better now, it has evolved and it was going to evolve, but I don’t know why so much resistance it was going to do- every instrument evolves through history and violin was going to do it too, and be included in some other genres. And now it is, and a lot more people are doing it and into it and open to it.
And, you know, Hopefully, not that it has to be the standard of what is, but just a standard of acceptance is it’s all we’re asking for. It will be nice to be able to call an orchestra in Europe to play on your project and not have their nose up in the air about, uh, you know, and have them take it serious, and, you know, really play well and, you know, not see it as less than, you know, those kinds of attitudes I think, are what we’ve been up against for a lot of years. But I think what’s happening now is amazing. Uh, each new generation is coming up and, and doing just that. They all seem to think they’re doing it for the first time.
But, but, uh, it’s cool though, I mean, I’m enjoying, you know, the different players I’ve been hearing, you know, who aredoing the music of their time, just like I did.
Chris: Yeah. That’s so beautiful. Well, and I, and I mean, you’re a big part of the reason that it has changed and that it is evolving and that the, that the younger generations are doing it. You know, I know because I looked up to you from early on because there was, it was hard for me to find anybody. And so, I mean, at least from, from what I was aware of, you were one of the only, the only people that I could find to get that validation, as you said. Um, and, uh, aside from some of the other folks you mentioned, but you’re really a pioneer, you’re a truly a legend and a pioneer. And just hearing everything that you just said just resonates is so deep. Like, like I just hanging on to every word that you just said so, if everybody’s listening to this, I encourage you to rewind it. Just listen to everything. Karen just said again. uh, I would, I mean, speaking of pioneers and, you know, I mean, I think hopefully it’s a good time to segue and talk about this, this pioneer that we’re here also to celebrate Edgar Redmond, um, which is Michael’s father. And I understand also that your grandfather, Michael, was a pioneer as well. I wonder if you could start by telling us and just to clarify for the listeners again, the piece that we heard earlier and what we’ll be hearing some more of, of Karen’s marvelous playing is, was composed by Edgar Redmond, which is Michael Redmond’s father, And, uh, Michael is, um, getting these works performed by his father that his father composed many, many years ago. Um, so could you tell us a little bit about your grandfather and your father and the projects that are, that are happening? Cause it’s just, it’s such a great, um, I guess dovetail from what Karen was talking about, as far as being a pioneer.
Michael: Oh, yes. Uh, basically I didn’t, I never really met my grandfather. Cause, uh, when, when I was young, my dad was in the service. He spent 12 years as a composer and arranger for army bands on the east coast. So I was born in surely, Massachusetts. I had another brother that was born in, uh, Fort Hamilton in New York, which was actually at Fort Hamilton, which was actually in Brooklyn, New York. And then I had an older brother that was born at Fort Dix, New Jersey. So we were up and down the East Coast. And then for a couple of years, my dad, uh, went over to Korea- the Korean war was going on at the time. But my grandfather, from what I’m told by family members, was a very accomplished violinist. And, um, that’s how my dad got started as, uh, he basically tried to play violin, but he wanted to play the clarinet and the saxophone. But my grandfather from, uh, a dad who was telling me, basically a sit down with him on a Sunday night and they listened to the New York Philharmonic, you know, big radio, patroller radio, and they’d get, uh, music piped in, like I said, from New York, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Symphony, which was one of the premier symphonies, you know, back in the thirties and forties, and then also the like Boston Symphony, and I believe the Boston Pops as well.
So, uh, I believe that my dad always had a string of sound in his ear because of his dad and when his dad passed, um, actually got it in a small inheritance and took the money to cut an album, which was, uh, recent 1966 said he started writing music for the album in 1961 around the same time that he did the orchestral piece. So, uh, you know, and like I say, 50, 60 years ago, that concept of streams playing jazz very, very novel, I think, uh, Max Roach out in New York, his daughter was a string player and, uh, was the Harlem Quartet. I’m not really sure, but she was, she was in, uh, an ensemble or quartet, I think it was the Harlem Quartet. Uh, and Max had his rhythm section played with his daughter thing and they called it a double symphony and stuff. I think that’s the only other concept around that time, back in the sixties and the seventies that I was aware of that was trying to do anything closer or similar the jazz with strings and stuff. So that’s basically, well, yeah.
Chris: And Akua Dixon comes to mind, I don’t know if you’re familiar with, uh, her work, but, um, she comes to mind as, as, as one other, uh, composer from around that time. But yeah, your father’s work, uh, Edgar Redmond. He was a saxophonist and a clarinetist who also was writing music that heavily featured strings, jazz music that heavily featured strings in prominent roles as Karen, uh, clarified earlier. Right. You know, in soloist roles playing like the lines, the horn lines, this kind of thing.
And, but he was also a, um, orchestral composer, I guess, for lack of a better word, a classical composer, wherever you want to call it, he did it all. And, and it sounds like what you’re saying is that he also had this deep attachment to his own father who was a violinist and that influenced him, which, it really ties what you’re doing all the way back to your grandfather. Edgar T Redmond, who, if it’s okay for me to read what you wrote here, he was an accomplished violinist who used to play in community and church orchestras. And I presume this was in the early 1900s. And you said that he used to play in community and church orchestras due to opportunities for Blacks in classical music being very limited to non-existing in the early part of the century. Which is… that’s deep, that’s very deep to me. So how do you know anything about how your grandfather, uh, received an education in the violin?
Michael: To be very truthful with you, I don’t. Uh, that information was very scarce. Like I said, we moved from Brooklyn, New York to Los Angeles, California when I was like five years old, but I never really had much interaction with my grandfather. I just, you know, the conversation with my dad of them sitting around this Victrola on Sunday nights and listening to the Philadelphia Symphony and New York Philharmonic and the Boston stuff, and then stuff like that. He would pick out things like, oh, well this is the tuba, this is the, you know, a bassoon, you know, and again, it’s funny when I look back on it now, because when I was young coming up, I mean, Motown was breaking and we wanted to hear all the R&B and shake our butts and all that. So, uh, it took me into, um, probably college years for me to really dial into his, nearly, I mean, I always knew that he was an excellent musician and, you know, uh, when I was young, he would go off to sessions and stuff, but I didn’t know he was going, you know, writing and conducting the stuff for like Sam Cooke’s record label, for example, you know, they had The Womack Brothers, which was Bobby Womack and his brother, uh Sam’s brother L.C. Cook uh, Mel Carter signed to that label, Billy Preston’s first recording with on the label. And my dad did the conducting and the arranging on his first album, 16 years old, going to Dorsey high school in Los Angeles. Uh, Johnny Taylor ended up, signing into that label. They had about seven or eight groups, The Simms twins, Johnie Morisette. I mean, it was just, you had two people, Renee Hall and my dad, basically doing all, but all the music for a record label of like eight or nine artists. And, uh, it was just incredible when I look back on kind of the work he did. I always did tease him about burning the midnight oil because he’d work all day during the day, type of session work and then come home at night and he has a little tape recorder and playing, you know, little bits of the song and then rewinding it and playing it back, working, doing the notation of the music. And, uh, that’s how I got exposed to artists like, uh, Jimmy Hendrix and, uh, Little Richard and Sly Stone and people like that. A father working on notating music and stuff.
Karen: A great artist
Michael: He did everything from lead sheets to orchestral scores because when he was in the service, a father, uh, basically took courses from, uh, Berkeley School of Music, which was originally called the Schillinger House of Music. Then it became Berkeley School of Music, now it’s Berkeley College of Music
Karen: How about that, you said, Schillinger?
Michael: Schillinger, uh huh
Karen: Wow, that was the only school in the world that had a jazz violin major when I was looking at those options and I should have gone, but I really didn’t have the funds to go, and I didn’t think I was good enough to get a scholarship. Always try, I guess that’s why I love what you’re doing with your father’s stuff, because you know, you always try and you do a great job with it, but I want my kids through that for me. I really do.
Chris: Amen. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s incredible. I mean, Michael, I’ve known you for a few years now and just, you know, from the conversations where you’ve been reaching out to promote your father’s work and, and it’s, it’s incredible. Cause you’re not in the music industry as far as I know, that’s not,
Michael: no, I’m not a musician actually. I tried to take piano lessons when I was young, but my father was such a, a disciplinary and I had an older brother who took lessons. And when he’d messed up, he’d cracked his knuckles with a ruler or drumstick. I said, no, no, that’s not for me. And I heard the same thing from Bradford Marsalis, I said the same thing happened to him. That’s why he picked up the saxophone.
Well, so I was into sports and, uh, athletics when I was coming up. And then, uh, like I said around in high school, college days, I started why by my dad’s office, he worked at a place called a script house in Los Angeles and some of the, uh, most prominent producers who were in the music business, uh, James Carmichael, who produced the Commodores and Lionel Richie, uh, Gil Askey, who, uh, musical director for. Diana Ross and the Supremes, both the group and then when Diana Ross went on her own and it was just a hangout where a lot of the musicians, so I used to go by there or coming home from college and stuff and meet the musicians. And it always, uh, I always had a lot of jokes, cracking jokes and had a lot of, uh, in a very loudly atmosphere.
So, um, you know, but nah, I’m not a musician. I’m basically, uh, dealing with it from an executive production, I consider myself a promotor, Uh, executive producer and really what I’m really trying to do is be a music publisher, take all the music I’ve gotten, all the rights back to it and publish and record everything that he’s written well that’s, I mean.
Chris: That’s really one of the things that I would like to see as an outcome of, of getting the word out to our listeners, which is that you, you know, there’s a lot of orchestra programs, uh, school orchestra programs, for example, um, and also professional orchestras community orchestras that could be, um, finding these works and getting the sheet music. And, and there’s two options here. Um, there’s the jazz inspired works and also this, uh, orchestral work. And so, we want to make sure that we connect people with how to find the sheet music. So, I just want to make sure we, we cover that, uh, loud and clear. How do they, how can they reach out to you Michael, to ask about sheet music?
Michael: Okay. Well, I’m in the process of redoing my website, but I’m going to have the sheet music, score and the parts on the website, and you can go to ed Redmond, music dot. Ed Redmond music.com, R E D M O N D music.com. Okay.
Chris: And we’re going to link all that at the show notes as well. And if anybody wants to find, um, Michael, uh, you can always reach out to me too, and I will put you in touch. I’ll give you his phone number. If you are looking for the sheet music for his dad’s music, we will connect you with Michael Redmond.
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Chris: I would love to hear some of the orchestral score next, but before we do, if it’s okay with you, for me to just read from some of the things that you shared, because I think. Um, it’s really important. Um, you said that your father became a member of ASCAP in 1961.
And, uh, he became a music composer, a literary author, a music and literary publisher, and he had, uh, actually submitted a piece to the American String Teachers Association journal in the seventies. Your father’s writing was actually published in the American String Teachers Association journal, which is fascinating to me because he was a saxophonist and a clarinet player, but he was really writing for strings.
So, he clearly had this vision, this vision of bringing together, um, you know, many genres of music. And, uh, he was, he, he showed that he was a consummate, serious composer and arranger, and he also, he loved jazz and he also loved classical. He did it all. Um, his music was an amalgamation or is an amalgamation of jazz and blues, with classical instrumentation and, uh, it’s, it’s, it’s very rare, especially in the sixties, through the eighties, uh, when his ensemble was active, which was called the original modern string ensemble. Um, and so it’s just beautiful to me that are sharing this work of your father, this legacy of your father and of your grandfather.
What do you think Karen? Anything else you’d like to add about any of that?
Karen: Well, you know, I think that the main thing here, again, the key word here is just the legacy of it and there’s an education than this legacy that was missed because I was not aware of, of Michael’s father during the time when I was hearing a lot of this sound. Um, like I said, I heard strings and music and a lot of pop tunes that to this day, I probably could sing them if I heard them all the string parts. And they weren’t easy either. I used to be very intimidated by some of that stuff, especially when I actually started playing violin, even though I always loved the sound of the instrument, it was like when I started playing, I was like, okay, you know, the love unlimited orchestra was popular, then that was our hip hop. So, I hadn’t heard of his father. I knew there was something going on, both in jazz and also in R&B music at the time. Um, and I heard some reminiscence of that in this music, but it’s like the fact that he actually, you know, just recorded it, you know, he just, he just made the investment and just did it and documented it. And here we are in 2021. And we’re, in COVID era and it’s like, wow, he wouldn’t have dreamed that this would surface now. He wouldn’t have dreamed that. I know I wouldn’t have, if I was his father, I would have thought, okay, well, I did everything A goodness music industry is done now. And you know, and then his son comes back. I think it’s a beautiful story. Again, I, I have this envy, not a jealousy, but an envy. I hope, I hope my daughters do at least one of them. You know, it’s not promise. It’s not a guarantee. I won’t be mad at them that they don’t, but I still hope, that, you know, some of the things that the public will never know about that never got released, I have so much documentation. I saved cassette tapes, VHS’s, and, you know, I hope one day, wonder if my daughter says some interest in wanting to do something similar because you know, even though Christian, uh, I humbly accept your acknowledgement of what I’ve done. You know, this is a whole another, this was like two generations later and they’re just, I’m mom, you know, you don’t, you know, Th eldest one. She, she hates going to my gigs and youngest one likes to go with all also, she always said that it was because everybody had asked her, who’s still do you play. And neither of them play, you know, the youngest one, she can remember pitchers, but it’s like just the idea that they would actually feel that what I did was significant enough that they would want to invest in preserving that as Michael has. I think that’s just amazing. I, I think, uh, it’s very honorable. And, uh, for the music community, it is also appreciated, it will be, uh, even more so once they hear it, because this was something we wouldn’t know about otherwise when he was doing it, you know, he probably had the breakthrough, a whole lot of people to get that music out there in a way that you’re doing now. And it’s gonna stand out for that reason, you know, because it’s, you know, there’s nothing going on. Like it now it’s nothing like that. So, and you put contemporary artists on there as well, the string section, string players and other musicians. So, I think it’s a wonderful cause, uh, all the way around. It’s positive, it’s good. Uh, you know, I don’t think when people listen or see the live performance of this, they’re going to be thinking about Afghanistan fucking 9-11, or any of that, you know, that that’s what our job is. That’s the reason shows in the, do what we do. Um, and so, you know, overall, I just think this is a very honorable effort at my I’m very honored to be, uh, included in it. Uh, you know, there’s a lot of players out there. You could’ve called, you know, he was starting, he was name dropping at me too, I’m like uuhh…[laughter] But in the long run. I did get to participate, even if it’s just the two songs and I I’m very, uh,
Michael: It’s going to be more than that.
Chris: Well, I just, I just want to say it again, like for all the orchestra, uh, directors out there listening, uh, all the teachers, you know, get this music, get the sheet music and perform this music, you know, uh, you know, everybody’s talking to talk about, they want to diversify, uh, the, the, the string world.
And so, here you go- go get this music-
Karen: Yeah, and this music is legit for that too. This would be great for our class of young string players to do something contemporary. It’s very similar to how I learned to play violin and it held my interest because it was hip. We did a lot of hip music. All of it was said, regardless of the genre, but it wasn’t just all one genre and that’s what made it really hip. And, uh, and I think that is the very thing that is keeping street players interested to this day. And this music will be no exception to that. I don’t believe it. It’ll be great for like the beginners, intermediate, and the advanced players, because you have, uh, the level of advancement has to do mainly I think with the soloist that’s where you get biggest you know, variation from, you know, what their level will be, but the string parts themselves, you know, they have a lot of room for expression and lilt and, you know, embellishment perhaps, cause some of that was going on in this recording in very, very minute ways. But I think that is also a sign of a contemporary string player today, you know, not from 1702, but today, today is different rules. And that’s why I say it’s okay it’s really okay. It’s just, it’s still legit. You know, we just, we just don’t know it yet, but it’s, it’s still legit. If what I did with Yanni would not have been considered respectable at the time when I was trying to come up and do stuff. And a lot of it was very boxed in, I have to say, but still in what I did, even the fact that I was dancing when I was playing, not that I haven’t seen that before, but I never thought anything different about that. You hear good music. You move. And the, at first they were going to shut me down and said, no, no, just go ahead and do it. You know, it looked good on video with all my facial expressions, you know, all that. They like all that. And so when they came out, it made an impression because they hadn’t seen it before. And so there’ll be the same thing. In this case, this will help that transition evolve even easier for a lot of players, because they’re still going to get the classical foundation. And one day we’re going to see this player, that’s going to be so bad as if it’s not you already Christian, that just will be able to improvise through anything in any genre and play the shit out some classical, just like somebody who does nothing but that there’s going to, if not already, I haven’t seen that person yet. It could be Christian because Christian can play, you know? But, um, I, in my experience in person, I haven’t seen that one player that just do every day. I can’t do everything. I do a little bit of a lot of different things, but there may be that player that’s so virtuoso also, that nobody can question their validity and I’m, I hope I’m here when that. Or I’d like to meet that person one way or the other. I just, you know, Hamilton to me is one of those phenomenal guys. He plays a lot of different instruments, really, really well. Like I felt guilty. I’m like, damn, I just play one. This guy, you know, he’s phenomenal. And he and Christian worked together and they’re friends and, uh, you know, both amazing musicians and human beings as well.
Uh, we met in person for the first time that was in Los Angeles for your project. right?
Michael: uh huh
Karen: My kids, especially Cura the youngest one. She was so excited. Cause I had been playing the music around the house. She knows that music well. Um, and yeah, and the other thing that’s cool too, Michael, is that you will be, uh, you know, exposing, uh, the youth to, cause I always tell people, you have to play the music for the children.
If you don’t play the music for the children, how is it going to get to the next generation? You know, uh, so yeah, I can see a lot of pluses here. That’s all I’m saying. It’s like, mom, my mind is going, you know, it’s like ADD, I don’t have that, that I know of like, that this is a lot to be said here. And I think it’s going to have a wonderful impression, especially on our contemporary violin players, both old and up and coming.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I wonder, uh, I wonder if, if either of you could talk us into the other piece that, that Karen, uh, performed that, uh, recorded recently, if you could talk us into hearing a little bit of that one.
Michael: Well, uh, the title is called Blue String and, uh, I like it because it’s got a funky feel to it and, uh, Karen really stretches out on it. You know, she has her own signature on voicing and, uh, it’s just been a pleasure to work with her. On these two songs. And like I said, uh, I have a whole catalog of songs, so we’re going to get an EP, I’m shooting for an EP and then hopefully an album. And, uh, there’s so many changes in the music world and nows the NFTs are coming out and all that. So I’m exploring that as a possibility of releasing some of the music, uh, via NFTs and all that. So, uh, but yeah, Blue String, uh, you know, I look at Entree Blue as being like, uh, a good radio, uh, fit for the radio, but, uh, look at Blue String as being, uh, uh, something that, when she performed live, you know, people gonna remember that. So because she stretches out on it. All right.
Chris: So let’s listen to Blue Strings.
Chris: Awesome. Well, um, I want to thank you guys both again for coming today. This has actually been one of the most amazing, uh, interviews for me, uh, just to learn about your history, Karen, to learn more about you, and I’m sorry, by the way, for making the presumption that you were classically trained. And that’s, that’s also amazing to me that you started the violin when you were 12, ‘cause you play your ass off. I mean, it’s like,
Karen: Thank you, thank you. Well, I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve really enjoyed playing for all kinds of people everywhere. I think I’m up to about 46, 47 countries now and counting and it’s has been my pleasure. I think I’ve only gotten paid to travel, never to perform. What are the projects that you’re, that you’ve got coming up now?
Or what are the things that you’d like to point people towards if they want to connect with you, if they want to find you what’s going on with all that.
Karen: Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Um, well I have a website it’s called karenbriggsviolin.com. And I do a lot of like DIY, so I bet it’s not perfect. Forgive me, but I think it’s pretty damn good. So I built a website. I’ve produced videos. I have a YouTube, KarenBriggs Channel. And, uh, I started when this, uh, COVID thing happened. It’s something I always wanted to do, but just never had time. I play a lot of different groups. Uh, new gene, special effects here lately. And, uh, just never had time, you know, juggling the kids, the single parent things, and chauffer, laundry dishes, you get it cooking and playing gigs in between changing time zones. It was a lot. So COVID gave me a chance to actually have a lot of introspection and actually time to do things I’d never had time to do. So I got into this video production and thing where I have some pretty decent skills about editing and, you know, I just do it myself, maybe sometimes the 11 year old helped me. And what I usually do it when they’re at school or at work or just out of the house, getting in the zone and just start producing videos. So I have several of them listed, I have a concert coming up that I did awhile ago that I’m going to release, uh, probably on YouTube and, uh, you know, I’m, I’m just always working on projects. I have a stack of them that I just need to get around to releasing of songs and music stuff I’ve published, written, recorded, mastered even, and I just need to assemble it all together and get it out there. Yeah, I’ve been working on some grant stuff and I’m also working with other artists, like there’s a vocalist named Taylor Harvey, uh, that I’m doing a lot of the string arranging for, uh, these days and like right now. So I have to get with her afterwards and send her an invoice for my work, but I love her music. It’s very hip. She, I met her at a wedding that I played for an attorney, uh, during COVID and she had an interesting voice. And when she sent the material, the material, it’s very hip and very deep and mature. It has a hip hop thing, but it has kind of a Neo-soulish kind of vibe, and no one’s ever asked me to work on anything like that before. So I’m very excited about working with Taylor’s music and that’s kind of what I’m doing like the right now of like I’m really into her stuff right now. So, I mean, she’s great.
Chris: So, you’re producing strings, uh, for, for other people’s works, you’re making your own videos, performances working on other people’s projects for, so you’re just hustling, like crazy.
Karen: Like I’ve been doing for the last four and a half decades. That’s what this is. This is a spirit it’s also, but a fun one, you know, I met so many people. I’ve enjoyed it. And, uh, you know, I’m not crazy about the business. I can tell you that the music business is the devil sometimes, but, uh, you know, it’s the music and the musicians the comradery, uh, I fit right there. I just enjoy it. I fit right in. I’m most comfortable there. And I really believe this is what I was meant to do, even though I didn’t plan on it, cause everybody say you can’t make a living doing this. I was like, okay. So I’m just going to get married and have kids and cooking. That’s what I was thinking, and then the marriage fell and then it was like, you better practice. And I did. And I went and sat in with people in one thing, just literally led to another, to another. When I heard what a tour was and what they were getting paid. I told everybody I want to do a tour. I didn’t care what I want to do the tour. Can I do it for say, somebody needs a violin for too. I got Sold to Soul. Can you believe that money? $300 a week to go “bip bip bip bip” I was like, oh, this is, this is very cool. Yeah. I enjoyed that. You know, and I, when I saw the roster, the first time I really, really left the country, like I went to Australia, I was like, wow. Okay. I went to Japan. I was in Japan for like two weeks. Uh, it’s a great tour, a great experience. And any, any everything I had done leading up to that was utilized. All the dancing, I learned how to do playing salsa. Hey, it came into play here. That was my education leading up to Sold to Soul. Well, it’s great. It’s uh, everything I’ve done, it seemed like it was just meant to be, it just kind of lined up without my even planning it. And if there is anybody who’s making plans, it’s not going your way, please don’t get mad at me. There’s a reason. I don’t know why, but there is a reason why things go like they do, and this is the way it worked out for me. I’m very grateful for it. And all the people that I’ve met and the experiences that I’ve had for it. Yeah, absolutely.
Chris: That is so inspiring. I could just hear you. Like every word you speak is just inspiring to me. Karen. That’s just, I don’t even want to try to reframe it or say anything about it, cause I’m just going to, it’s not going to help because it’s all there. Everybody needs to rewind and just listen to Karen Briggs talk because there’s like, that’s like a, a college education just to, just to hear your story and how you did it. I mean, I love the stuff about like, uh, you just ask him to sit in. Wow. That’s so deep. That’s what it is.
Karen: Yeah, then they might have some compromises that come with that stuff. You know, there’ve been some compromises in order for me to fit in some of the bands cause you all, most of the time, the only girl and you learned that as a tool, you know, there’s a certain compromise you have to make on your femininity, make sure they focus on your playing and the fact that, or a real musician, not just a chick, you know, looking for a musician, you know, it’s kind of an occupational hazard that can happen when you’re a girl musician.
Guys, it’s not that it doesn’t happen, but what I found is my reasons for pursuing this, and a lot of guys I’ve worked with, we have two different motives in mind and, uh, you know, it, it’s just a known fact. It cracks me up for the things that I’ve observed about it. But somehow I’ve just learned. And I went through my ups and downs but within I’d say 95% of the situations they respected me. They treated me well. And, uh, you know, I didn’t have to go through an ism. It was just good can she play. Can she play the music? You know, that sort of thing. And, and not, you know, can, can I date her so much, you know, and I’m talking about my younger years, but, uh, you know, it was something I had to work my way through, but it seems like I got there.
And I think the Yanni thing helped that. And then when I started touring with Stanley, with Stanley Clarke and the Vertú project that put it over, it was like, okay, cool. She’s a musician. We’re clear about that. And that’s why she’s here. And, you know, from there, you know, so many more opportunities came, uh, and Stanley was one of them.
They really Yanni thing was what exposed me to everybody. It was that whole PBS special, which was shocking to me. I did not expect that to blow up. I didn’t even find help for all of that, I was just trying to make a living touring and playing music, but it turned out like a good, it did my grateful for.
Yeah, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t take it back. I met some great people that I’m still friends with now because of that, we will always have these stories to share, uh, going all over the world and play music and all the other things that happen on the road. Just amazing. It was a good quality. Get an, uh, I’m just grateful that for whatever reason, the seed was open for me and a little girl from Portsmouth, Virginia, by way of New York.
Chris: That’s beautiful. Um, Michael, is there any, is there anything, uh, any final thing where you like to have to, to share with people?
Michael: Well, I just trying to get the music out there trying to get it exposed. Um, like I said, it’s been a 60-year work in progress between my dad’s efforts and my efforts. I probably have stopped, and arrested three or four times out of frustration, didn’t feel like it was moving fast enough and everything, but, uh, always got back to it, you know. I had a stepdad who had a saying rest of you must, but don’t quit. And I rested probably three or four times over the last 40 years, but uh, God is good and has worked it out where I’ve been able to go in and, uh, not only do the ensemble recordings, but I’m blessed to be able to do the, uh, recording the orchestral recording with the Budapest scoring orchestra 72-piece orchestra back in February.
And, uh, I mean, it was like a dream come true. I mean, you know, I cried like a baby. Yes. Being able to bring that to fruition as I hadn’t been seeking for years, gotta get somebody to play it. And it was, seemed to be unfortunate that I had to go receive. You know, we’ll make that happen, but, uh, got it done.
Got it performed in its entirety because, uh, it had been performed three fourths of the movement. Three of the four movements have been formed by the LA Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta back in the seventies. And, uh, Zubin was really, uh, ahead of his time, Gerald Wilson had music performed by him and Margaret Harris, a bunch of people that weren’t known in the classical, uh, genre or classical realm he gave exposure to, so I’m very thankful. Everything that has happened. The good. The bad, the disappointments, the rejections, this makes you stronger. And, uh, you know, I’m committed to it. I’m passionate about I’m committed to it and want to share it with the world.
Chris: That’s beautiful. And we’re going to listen to the orchestral work on the, on our way out.
And, uh, uh, we’re going to make sure we, we cue that up. Uh, thank you so much. Uh, Karen Briggs and Michael Redmond for joining me today on the creative strengths podcast. I appreciate you both.
Karen: My pleasure. T
Michael: his has been a pleasure to work with both of you guys.
I hope you enjoyed the episode today with Karen Briggs and Michael Redmond. Two fabulous guests. This is definitely been a highlight for me in turn. Interviews that I’ve done. If you’re not already make sure to subscribe to the creative strings podcast, share review, and reach out to me with any firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About Our Guests...
Karen Briggs is a fantastic multi-genre violinist and my personal hero. Most famous for her “Lady in Red” solo debut on the PBS Broadcast of “Live at the Acropolis”, she has performed in over 40 different countries and has played everything from salsa to hip-hop. Currently regarded by many as one of the greatest violinists of our time, she serves as both an inspiring role model for many violinists and musicians and has continuously proven to be an asset to any projects that she’s participated in.
Her official website is: https://www.karenbriggsviolin.com/ She also has a youtube channel, the KarenBriggs Channel.
Michael Redmond is a non-musician who has taken upon himself the task of preserving and promoting his father, Edgar Redmond’s, musical legacy. Although his father was a prolific composer, arranger, and conductor, his work is not well-known today- something that Michael hopes to change.
He is currently working with musicians like Karen Briggs to record his father’s works for both string groups with a jazz rhythm section and full orchestra.
You can contact him to learn more, ask about getting his father’s sheet music, or listening to more samples of his work at https://www.edredmondmusic.com/