David S. Ware: Gravitation

Martin Longley By

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It wasn't the kidney transplant that brought saxophonist David S. Ware very close to wheelchair confinement. Last September (2009), there were early signs of organ rejection, so he was placed on a course of steroids. These came with side effects that were more debilitating than last year's operation itself. Since then, Ware has been in a state of recuperation, although his definition of resting is nowhere near the same as that understood by most folks.

Even in healthier times, David Spencer Ware had always been particularly prolific, incessantly touring and recording with his quartet from 1989 until 2007. Before that, in 1973, he'd arrived in New York City with drummer Marc Edwards and multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore. They were roosting at 501 Canal Street, the renowned loft studio/living space of that period. The three had been studying in Boston, where they'd formed the Apogee band. Before long, Ware and Edwards had joined pianist Cecil Taylor's Unit. Ware followed this with spells in the outfits of drummers Andrew Cyrille and Beaver Harris. The bulk of Ware's career, though, has been dominated by his own combos, whether in trio or quartet form.

It was Ware's meeting with pianist Matthew Shipp that prompted the expansion from trio to quartet around 1989. Shipp and bassist William Parker remained constants, but Ware worked his way through a run of drummers over the decades, moving from Edwards to Whit Dickey, then Susie Ibarra to Guillermo E. Brown.

In the ten years prior to his transplant Ware was undergoing kidney dialysis on a daily basis, even whilst touring. He'd arrange his equipment in advance, for delivery at that day's hotel room. Ware's condition eventually reached a point where finding a donor was an immediate requirement.

Since last October, Ware has played two gigs, both recorded for album release. Defiantly, he chose to make these solo performances, clearly unafraid of the extra stresses and physical demands. Ware has also recorded an album with his new trio featuring Parker and drummer Warren Smith, set for September, 2010 release by AUM Fidelity. In May, 2010, he'll be performing at the Vision festival and in October there will be a one-nighter at the Blue Note club, both featuring said trio. Also, in November, Ware will be leaving the immediate area to give a solo performance in Chicago. It's clear that this will mark a return to the touring life, even if on a much lighter level.

Now, with the aid of a physical therapist, Ware is walking, even if with some difficulty. For the moment, he's not leaving the area where he grew up, tranquil Westville, New Jersey, but the mobility situation is constantly improving and Ware clearly envisions a return to playing more frequently in public.

Sitting in his music room, Ware is surrounded by horns. For an improviser who's always been primarily identified with the tenor, his enforced domesticity has been leading to an increased regard for other members of the saxophone family. Ware's latest acquisition is a sopranino, which has made him visibly excited about flying to the upper ranges.

"Before the transplant," he says. "I was thinking that I'd really like to get involved with some solo playing. I love to play solo. I always have. This is not new for me. It's just that I haven't done it much in public. I was thinking I'd like to bring some of my other horns. After the transplant, I really got the chance to focus on practicing alone."

Ware was advised to avoid public contact in the post-operative stages, as his immune system was at a low ebb. He found that he had no problem with playing, not being affected by any muscular pain. "After all, I've been playing the horn for 50 years. There was no problem with my lungs. Everything was fine. This is like second nature. As a matter of fact, the doctor asked me about that yesterday."

It's not merely a practice routine for Ware. "I feel a completeness," he explains. "I don't miss any other instruments. My concept of practicing, from the very beginning, has always been that what I'm playing alone should be complete. It's a piece of music. I've always heard that."

Ware wasn't listening to any solo saxophone albums by other players. He was discovering his own path. The recent Saturnian (Solo Saxophones, Vol. One) (AUM Fidelity, 2009) was recorded in October, 2008 at the Abrons Arts Center. Its three pieces find Ware playing different horns: saxello, stritch and tenor saxophone. The planned second volume (for release early in 2011) was recorded at a private residence in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The gig itself was open to the public, but in a very low-key fashion. Here, Ware debuted his newest horn, the sopranino, which he'd acquired only three months earlier. Such ambitious confidence and risk-taking comes naturally to Ware.

"This horn is made for me. I love the clarity of it, the high pitch, the sound of this particular horn. They've [each horn] all got a different sound." At the moment, Ware is concentrating mostly on the sopranino. "I have to get into the horn, to learn. It takes some practice. You've got to stay on it every day. I did that on the flute. On Great Bliss (Silkheart, 1990), I had only been playing for three months when I recorded the flute on those albums. At some point, you have to say it's ready enough. You always continue to progress. Right now, I feel that my sopranino playing is twice as good as it was in March. That's what you get when you practice."

The new trio lineup, with Parker and Smith, marks a return to the format that Ware used when he first started his own band, before expanding to his more familiar quartet shape. "It's powerful; it's totally spontaneous. There are nine pieces and the longest is maybe 15 minutes. I'm playing three horns. We went in the studio and hit it, because we all know this language. We don't need a rehearsal. We've been rehearsing forever. The time for rehearsal has passed. I hadn't played in a trio since the late '80s. Warren's playing tympani and trap drums. That's a little different. Every time I make a record, there should be something different. It should not be a repeat of what you've done before."

Even so, Ware prefers a stable band lineup. "I've done a few things in the past, with cats that I didn't know and I hated it. On the surface it's working, but it's not working for me. It's a music thing."

He also views his work as a definite part of the jazz continuum. "When I started getting interested in jazz, it came from the radio. I had my Bozo The Clown radio and I'd turn it down real low after midnight and I'd hear Lester Young and all those cats. I started listening to Cannonball Adderley and here comes Sonny Rollins. An older guy in the neighborhood gave me a foot stack of records and one of those was [John Coltrane's] Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1960). When I heard that, I don't know if I listened to any of the rest. Here comes Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and Ornette On Tenor (Atlantic, 1962) and all these cats that I gravitated towards..."

Selected Discography

David S. Ware, Saturnian (Solo Saxophones, Vol. One) (AUM Fidelity, 2009)

David S. Ware Quartet, Live in Vilnius (No Business, 2007)

David S. Ware Quartets, Live In The World (Thirsty Ear, 2006)

David S. Ware, flight of i (DIW, 1991)

David S. Ware, Great Bliss, Vol. 1-2 (Silkheart, 1990)

Andrew Cyrille/Maono, Metamusicians' Stomp (Black Saint, 1978)

Photo Credit

Page 1: Luca D'Agostino

Page 2: Claudio Casinova

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