I was just trying to play what I felt, and I remember at one of the jam sessions I hit a note that must've sounded sour. But to me, it covered everything. I was holding that note for dear life.
Alto saxophonist and flutist Carlos Ward has worked steadily with some of improvised music's most diverse and captivating figuresmusicians like John Coltrane, Don Cherry and Abdullah Ibrahimbut despite being a well-regarded presence in their ensembles, Ward has not received quite the recognition that even a host of other sidemen have. Ward's alto tone is gritty and acerbic, but with ebullient, speech-like cadencescomparisons to Jackie McLean, Marion Brown, John Tchicai and Prince Lasha are not unwarranted. He was born in La Boca, Panama in May 1940, and raised in Panama City. "Back in Panama, when I was staying with my aunt, I would be singingI started off singing at about nine years old, washing dishes on the box and I would be singing the Hit Parade from the States (I lived in the Canal Zone)." His first instrument was the ukulele, and he took up the clarinet in 1952.
Along with the pop hits of the day, Ward's aunt's radio provided him with the music of Bob Crosby, the Dixieland clarinetist who was an early inspiration to pick up the wooden horn. "I always loved the sound of the clarinet and what the clarinet was doing in that whole mixture, improvising and harmonically as well." Ward's uncle, a pianist, also was encouraging and had radio spots on the weekends in La Boca, and his aunt was a classical pianist: "I'd spend hours looking through her libraryshe had etudes and stuff like that... and my chore of dusting the furniture included dusting the piano... growing up, I always wanted something to do with the arts, either to be a painter or a musician." Ward also spent time listening to the Panamanian calypso, a long-lasting influence on his cadences and compositions. Therefore, coupling local and familial musical traditions with the music heard on American radio broadcasts, a wide variety of musics from the Western Hemisphere made its way into Ward's young mind.
After relocating to Seattle to live with his mother and siblings in 1952-3, and in the midst of his studies on the clarinet, Ward's friend Marion Evans introduced him to the alto saxophone, by virtue of abandoning the instrument at his house in high school. Ironically, his teacher Johnny Jessen was known primarily for later teaching a young Kenny G, and "he's the one who really straightened me out." Ward's early musical associates included drummer Doug Robinson and the rock group The Playboys, in which he played clarinet, alto, baritone and bongos. The rock and roll gigs enabled Ward to make spending money as a kid, which went to the purchase of jazz records, a record changer and concerts by Jazz at the Philharmonic, among others.
In addition to Monk and Coltrane, Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic, 1959) was one of the most pivotal recordings he heard, "oh, that's the shape of jazz to come? Well, I want to find out what it's gonna be [chuckles]." It was an introduction to not only to Coleman, but to Don Cherry, who was a major factor in his later musical development. Like Coleman, Ayler and others, Ward was often disparaged for his approach to the standards on the bandstand"I was just trying to play what I felt, and I remember at one of the jam sessions, I hit a note that must've sounded sour. But to me, it covered everything. I was holding that note for dear life."
During a stint in the Army in the early 1960s, Ward relocated to Frankfurt and saw groups like that of trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff at the Domicile, who let him sit in. In Heidelberg, Ward met pianist- vibraphonist Karl Berger, who he began working with early on, and musicians from Denmark and elsewhere would come to sit in with the Berger-led rhythm section, providing a fruitful, international scope to Ward's jazz studies. Visiting musicians, especially Eric Dolphywhom he caught in Frankfurt and Stuttgart shortly before his deathalso encouraged Ward to go ahead, to play what he felt. In Copenhagen in 1965 at the Cafe Montmartre, Ward finally met Don Cherry, who was working in a quartet with South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand), bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makaya Ntshoko. This led to a visit to the schoolhouse Cherry shared near Stockholm with his wife, Mocqui, and sowed the seeds for their playing throughout the '70s and '80s. A few weeks after this, Ward returned to the United States.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.