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Bill Ward: From Jazz to Black Sabbath, Part 1-2

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Being influenced by dynamic music, I felt quite suited for blues and jazz which is pretty much what we really liked to play, especially more traditional blues.
Jazz is no longer the domain of classical purists. Renowned jazz and creative improvisational musicians Daniel Carter and Reuben Radding have both stated in interviews that jazz and creative musicians are increasingly coming out of the rock domain and looking to rock for inspiration, themselves included. The most creative of musicians are no longer content to adhere to the rules and boundaries of jazz and in recent years free jazz has become increasingly prevalent. Likewise, much of rock music has become so driven by commercialism that, like much of jazz, creativity is seen as a hindrance, not the driving force that it once was. Like jazz musicians, real creative rock musicians are no longer content to sit still and look for gigs. They want to play and express themselves seriously, and many of them are turning to free jazz and improvised music to do it. You only have to look at the work of Kinski, Ghidra, or Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore to validate that, and if you want a good album to listen to, try Moore's Live at Tonic recorded with Wally Shoup, Paul Flaherty, and Chris Corsano.

That having been said, Black Sabbath has had a serious influence not only in rock music, but increasingly in jazz as well. This can be validated in free jazz circles by highly acclaimed musicians such as pianist Gust Burns and saxophonist Gregory Reynolds who enthusiastically acknowledge Sabbath's music as "real jazz." The music on Burns' and Reynolds' Ficus Trio CD, recorded with drummer Greg Campbell, demonstrates clearly the power and integrity of real creative musicianship. Multiple reviews from BBC Radio to Amazon.com to free jazz distributor Forced Exposure state that Black Sabbath's music runs the gamut from blues to jazz to rock and is highly innovative and influential. Experiencing the music first hand by creative musicians who acknowledge and embrace their influence, this is a blatant understatement.

From their early days under the name Earth the musicians in this band—Ozzy Osbourne, vocals; Tony Iommi, guitar; Geezer Butler, bass; and Bill Ward, drums—created their music through extended improvisations based in rock, blues, and jazz. The influence that Black Sabbath has brought, not only to rock but increasingly to jazz also, has fueled the fire for musicians to play hard, take creative risks, and to color outside of the lines.

On the day prior to Black Sabbath's Seattle performance at Ozzfest in August 2005, All About Jazz writer Jack Gold was fortunate to have been invited to interview Sabbath's classic drummer Bill Ward. In part one of this two part interview, Mr. Ward talks in depth about his career playing the drums and how it felt to be influenced by the blues growing up in Birmingham, England.

All About Jazz: Who were some of your early influences as a musician?

Bill Ward: Childhood, all me influences were, say, between the time that I can remember, which would have been about three years old to the time that I was about five or six years old, all the music that I ever heard was jazz and it was American jazz, and it was big band jazz, to be more defined. Because of the time, it being in the fifties when I first heard Presley, of course I was just totally gone at that point. I was just absolutely trapped or gathered up, if you like, by rock and roll. But before that, what I consider to be traditional rock and roll would have been the Ink Spots and the Platters.

All of those bands I was extremely fond of listening to and they were very influential in my life. So, those were the combinations and I have always been attracted to the big swing bands throughout my life up to this very day. I'm 57 years old now, so I guess that's 54 years of listening to pretty much American swing, particularly big band swing. I like jazz in all the ways that it is played. I think I am probably attracted to it because of the drummers that played in those big swing bands at the time. So those were my very early influences.

AAJ: At what age did you start playing?

BW: I think I might have been about four, four or five, because my mother told me that they thought there was something wrong with me because I continually kept tapping on furniture. They thought I had something which, in Birmingham where I was born—or actually I was born in Aston which is in Birmingham—they said that I had Saint Vitus's Dance, and Saint Vitus's Dance is a common term in the midlands for somebody who can't sit still. So, apparently I was listless and discontent like I am now. [Laughs] But I couldn't stop tapping all the time, you know. I just was attracted to just wanting to make noise on different things.

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