Butler School alum travels world performing, teaching music, composing unique sounds

Shama Gupta, Life and Arts Reporter

Editor’s Note: The article first appeared in the April 8, 2022 flipbook.

The scintillating light blared brightly on the Sahara Lounge stage. The sound of the saxophone ascended behind reverberations of a classical Pakistani singer who Lee Redfield invited up from the audience. The rest of the band quieted down, and the crowd erupted. 

The singer started singing using sargam, a scale used in classical Indian music and Redfield sang along.

“I just go, ‘ba-da-da, ba-da-da’ because I knew the sargam,” said Redfield, a saxophonist and 2015 Butler School of Music alumnus. “The crowd went nuts. This was the strangest thing they’d ever heard. All of a sudden, this white guy playing in an African band just got it. That was a lot of fun.”

Redfield said his ability to accompany a South Asian classical singer didn’t come naturally. After graduating from Washington State in 2007, Redfield traveled to India, where he immersed himself in the classical South Indian form of music, Carnatic. He continued his journey at the UT Butler School of Music in 2012. During and after his time as a UT student, Redfield traveled to more countries, such as Thailand, Peru and Pakistan, where he performed and taught at some of the most prestigious music academies.

Redfield first discovered Carnatic music through an introductory lesson at Washington State and inquired about studying under Kadri Gopalnath, the pioneer of Carnatic music on the saxophone.

After going to great lengths to get in touch with Gopalnath, Redfield said he found himself living with Gopalnath and his wife in Chennai, India a few months later.

“He was a challenging man, in a lot of ways, but his music was genius,” Redfield said. “(I would have to) slow down his music and listen to it at half speed. … I sat with him knowing he created something new.”

After a year immersed in classical South Indian culture and music, Redfield came back to America with his musical ear completely shifted. He said Western music felt completely foreign. 

“It took me a couple of weeks to even be able to hear harmony,” Redfield said. “It just didn’t make sense anymore. … I couldn’t find a way to infuse what I learned from Kadri into what I was doing.”

After about two years of reflection, Redfield began infusing aspects of the Carnatic music he learned into his own musical identity, eventually trailblazing an unconventional but remarkable next step in his music journey. 

“Before the pandemic started, I started looking at a lot of electronic music,” Redfield said. “It’s taken me a year or two to figure it out, but I’m basically looking at being a one-man band.” 

Redfield said he hopes to be ready to perform studio projects live by the end of the month. Currently, he said he also manages the live sound system for the Skylark Lounge.

Environmental science freshman Hanna Hoogendam met Redfield in the Skylark patio and said he was friendly and open to talking about his music. 

“He showed us his YouTube channel and told us his story. He was making music in a way that was out of the box,” Hoogendam said. “It was really interesting to see and hear about. He is a really creative guy.”

Psychology freshman Zarmin Shah, who met Redfield at Skylark with Hoogendam, said that she appreciated his knowledge and experience when talking about her home country, Pakistan. 

“I liked hearing him talk about what he thought about random stuff about Pakistan, like the weather,” Shah said. “(He’s) traveled to my country, my home, which is really cool because I don’t (usually) get to connect with people about that.”