David S. Ware: Planetary Musician
“ The saxophone is rooted in the tradition. We are using spontaneous form. We are coming together to accentuate the experience of transcending through the performance of playing music, bearing ourselves towards its planetary aspect. ”
On Sunday, June 27th, 2010, about a half-hour after its scheduled 9:30 pm appearance on the Abrons Art Center main performance stage in New York City, the David S. Ware Trio was setting up. The audience for this night of Vision Festival XV was its usual wandering and low-hum conversational self. William Parker stood by his upright bass way over on the left and, on the right, drummer Warren Smith settled down on a seat behind a larger than normal drum set, placed on a platform a couple of feet off the stage. Ware walked slowly to center stage to meet his tenor saxophone, which was waiting for him in its stand on the floor, an arm's length away from the chair he would sit on for the entire set. He wore no elegant robes, only a gold-colored short sleeve shirt, black pants, walking shoes and a black skull cap. With the stage not yet filled with light, Ware picked up his tenor and waited in the shadows to begin; simultaneously, one could imagine, putting his being in the place from which there is no going back...in the place where the entire world of sentient beings is unified without any differences of language, religions, culture, environment or possessions.
Ware was raised as a Baptist. By the age of eleven or twelve, he decided that "what's being presented here is not for me. There was a lack of substance." His spiritual direction began to change. His general interests began to shift. He was "going to be a great football player." Instead, he became serious about music, originally interested in being a drummer until his father told him about the saxophone. In 1959, he established the saxophone as his instrument, and later Sonny Rollins as "the one he looked to" for guidance, not only for music reasons, but also for spiritual reasons. When Rollins handed a teenage Ware a copy of The Autobiography of a Yogi (1946), by Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), Ware took the first steps into a meditative life.
Resisting the application of the word "belief" to Eastern thought as it would to Western religion, Ware declares that "Eastern thought is not about belief. It is about direct experience." In 1967, Ware was two years out of high school and just beginning to play music in the public eye. He was "finding himself as human being and as a man." Often, he has told the story about the time he was working in Boston with a group when he suddenly awoke while he was playing. The drummer, whose name escapes him, saw that outstanding moment. "The drummer caught that moment. He caught that special moment."
Ware's repeated phrases place emphasis on the meaning of what he says. Because at that moment, his musical space fell open to him, incidentally four years before he started to meditate. "It was a classical experience like you have with a meditator...where consciousness recedes back. You find yourself within that 'witness' consciousness, which is not waking...it's not dreaming...it's not sleeping. It's something other than those three worlds we're all familiar with. This is the transcendental state...the cosmic state...the state that ties us all together. It makes us all brothers and sisters. It's deeper than blood." Ware can tell the story now with more clarity, given that nearly forty years have passed since its occurrence. "This state taught him humility through his actions. This state tells you to drop your ego, to drop the me, me, me. We are not the authors of our actions. We are in the world, not of the world. That is the experience in being grounded in something other than your in-di-vid-u-al-i-ty." He pronounces each syllable of the word as he ends the sentence. "True identity," he continues, "is far beyond individuality. It's not temporal. It's universal and eternal."
Yoga comes in many forms and is a small part, Ware reflects, of the process of expanding one's consciousness. At age eighteen, Ware was attending the Berkelee College of Music in Boston. He became ill at one point from, "just being a teenager," he says. He dropped out of school, went back to New Jersey and decided to "get serious about yoga, and start another life." He first pursued Hatha Yoga and its postures. He became a vegetarian, lost eighty pounds and "put it all together." He missed ten months of school, but, finally returned and "fell in love with yoga and the teachings. I did postures all day." Sonny Rollins had also encouraged Ware to meditate.
Early on, in the late '60s and early '70s, he attended talks, in Boston and New York, given by various Swamis from India. He saw Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002), whom Alice Coltrane had followed. Three times, he saw Swami Chinmayananda (1916-1993), whom Sonny Rollins also followed. With an uplifted tone of voice, Ware describes his encounter with Swami Raghavanand, who said to him: "God has blessed you with the gift of music." "Just like that...boom," Ware says. Obviously in awe of the Swami's perception, Ware secures its significance in his life process and as a memory: "I live by things. It is just my destiny."
After Hatha Yoga, Ware explored the branch of Yoga that Master Yoginanda practiced called Kriya Yoga; it focuses on unifying the breath with the soul. Ware found this practice too reclusive. A couple of his friends recommended Transcendental Meditation. At age twenty-four in 1973, Ware was initiated into this practice at a meeting place on 46th Street in New York. "He learned about it and... boom...got into it...and...boom...I got out of that heavy emotional state [I was in]. You have to know how to read into things. I realized I was living the struggle...Reading books and listening to music, I was done. I had the practice." This was the period of time in which he was living at 501 Canal Street with a group of musicians, one of whom was Cooper-Moore, the pianist/multi-instrumentalist.
After being initiated, Ware continues "your relationship to relativity changes. It is subtle. You feel a new reason to start your day. Something has begun. Something brand new. Something you were looking for. You didn't know what you were looking for until you found it...Transcendental Meditation is quite a bit deeper and vast than it is normally perceived. It comes from Hinduism...straight out of the Vedic teachings. [In these teachings], there are forty branches of knowledge. Meditation is the key to all that knowledge. Knowledge is structured in con-scious-ness." His voice lowers and the final "ss"' hiss, as he enunciates the last word of the sentence.
Not yet completing his Yogic pursuits, Ware accentuates the implication of the next step he had to take. "You must choose one path. You have to pick one path. You have to do that one path. You can keep reading and reading and reading...That's all intellectual...This is the key now [his voice goes higher]. What this is about...What this is about...This is about something where the intellect cannot go. The intellect cannot go. The intellect cannot go to what we are looking at here. The intellect cannot go there. The intellect cannot go. Intellectual understanding will help you understand your path, but in the end, it's that one practice you are looking for...One of the big hurdles where a lot of people fail is when they start something and then continue it because it looks more exciting or more dramatic than anything else and they wind up getting lost." They are looking for the wrong things. "See, it's not the path that's the problem... It's not the technique that's the problem...it's you."
In 1974, in New York, Ware encountered Swami Muktananda, a Master of the Siddha Yoga practice. Ware explains that "the Siddha Yoga tradition is noted for the transmittal of spiritual initiation, when you receive the connection to it...It is a spark...It can happen through eye contact or even a thought of you" from a Master. At the time, although he was reading Muktananda's autobiography, Play of Consciousness (1978), Ware was skeptical; his meeting with Muktananda changed his mind. The two came into eye contact with one another. At that very moment, transmittal or what is known as "shaktipat" occurred. "It was a mystical experience," says Ware, "It was a divine intoxication...Its shade was heavy, Its color was heavy. I had no balance, which did not last long. I knew that an absolute something was happening. That experience was a very profound experience in my quest, in my journey."
His one path in the Yoga practice was chosen. August 28th, 2010, marks the 37th year of his journey. Once spiritually initiated, "You can be there forever in the place of transcendence of the material world, body and ego. Reading about it is one thing. The experience of it is another... My meditational practice is granite. It opens the way to creative intelligence which leads you where you need to go both on the astral and physical planes...Meditation is not a goal in itself. Meditation is preparing you for something else...In meditation, you are traveling down through relativity to the absolute...or cosmic con-scious-ness." He stresses that: "Meditation is not simply being quiet. It's not that... simply closing your eyes and being still. It's not that, OK? It's notthat. It's an experience where you travel...you go somewhere...You're going from somewhere to somewhere elseanother dimension. The means of travel is the mantrathat special formula that takes you there. The mantra is never said out loud. It is given to you when you are initiated. You never say it out loud. It's only kept in your mind... The mantra takes you down...through you subconscious mind down into the transcendental state. You go down and come back up. You go down and come back up. Right? Through practice, you go further down and less and less do you come back up. So you're keeping this. You are keeping more and more of this as the years go on."
Ware elucidates that the main principle of Transcendental Meditation is found in "all scriptures of Vedic knowledgewhich goes on and on and on. The knowledge gets very specific...It's all related to our body, establishing relationships from the brain to the planets. All that knowledge is within us," he says, "The whole universe is within us." The teachings, he explains, are in story form; the Vedic Gods represent the forces of nature: destruction, renewal, creation or maintenance. The Gods take on personalities, like Shiva, Brahma, Ganesh or Vishnu. Each God functions in a different way to keep life afloat. Despite the fact that Ware intensely dislikes titling the music on his records, the aforementioned characters pop up frequently in the titles of his compositions. In fact, most of Ware's recordings in some way, apart from the music, reference aspects of his spiritual existence.
Ware's meditative practice unlocks him so that he is aware. "Aware of being aware." He is witnessing himself. He will always know where he needs to go, the life path he needs to follow. Ware's music means nothing to him without its connection to spirituality. But, music does not lead to enlightenment, he cautions, meditation does. The expression of the music becomes more powerful "because you're being established in your identity through meditation." Meditation leads to "grace...an all- time permanent thing. Once you're there, you stay there. You never have to do this again."