David S. Ware: Planetary Musician
Music is Ware's dharma. "It is what I do. Playing music is what I have to do in the world. It's connected to being released from all this...all this materiality. It's my duty to do this. For myself. Whoever can benefit from it...that's fine. But, first of all, it's for me. It's for my own salvation...If I don't do this, I cannot get to what I want to achieve spiritually."
Ware has a long recording history beginning in 1968, the year after he graduated from high school. But within the last two decades, Ware has become well-known for his pioneering quartet. Except for a change in drummers from Marc Edwards, to Whit Dickey, to Susie Ibarra, to Guillermo E. Brown, the Ware quartet was filled out with pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker through the '90s, over a period of seventeen years to the summer of 2006, when it disbanded after its final performance at the Vision Festival in New York City. This quartet was extremely successful. It recorded for the Japanese label, DIW; was picked up by Columbia Records, at the suggestion of Branford Marsalis, who was at that time, associated with the label, but dropped when Marsalis left. AUM Fidelity and Thirsty Ear have faithfully documented Ware's music since Columbia stepped out of the picture. The 2008 AUM Fidelity release, Shakti, reshapes the grouping in the quartet with guitarist/bassist Joe Morris and drummer Warren I Smith joining Shipp and Ware.
One musician, who has worked with Ware steadfastly, is William Parker. When asked to comment on his association with Ware, he said, in his own poetic, story-telling way: "One day we [Ware and Parker] were playing a song. After two minutes, I could feel this overwhelming feeling of JOY [Parker's capitalization]. That this music and this being, David S.Ware, were special. It was an old feeling, like a church or many churches filled with light. Light cascading and swirling above the heads of the seers, who are closer to the sky. I was not afraid or involved with ego. It was the acknowledgement that the magic that processed John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders had also manifested itself in the music of David S. Ware. Now, I didn't say their music was the same; I said the Magic [Parker's capitalization] and power of the cosmos was present in all these musics. When David blew into the horn, things began to happen and it was/is like nothing else beyond, below and on the surface."
Also a loyal advocate for Ware, and one who believes that not enough limelight has been shed on the saxophonist, Matthew Shipp understands his music in the same terms as he understands his own: "basically a way of organizing cells in compositions that relate specifically to a genetic type of code..." Although Shipp asserts that their methodologies differ, he claims that ..."seeing his [Ware's] way did stretch options within my own language." Shipp's deference to Ware is extraordinary. "What can you say about David S. Ware?" Shipp says. "First of all, he is unique. There is no one quite like him on the scene." The pianist expands on Parker's observations: "As a tenor player, Ware brings together the spirituality of Trane and Aylerthe stance, rigor and unpredictability of Rollins and the blues essence of Rahsaan Roland Kirk- -all filtered and synthesized through the original brain of David S. Ware." Shipp continues to unveil his perceptions of how he responds to Ware's musicianship: "He is also a composer of exquisite beauty and of tunes and structures that are platforms for his virtuosity. So he brings together the tradition of the virtuoso improviser with being a composer who is capable of constructing vehicles for himself and his sidemen....To think of him as a free jazz musician is to miss the point of exactly what the phenomenon of the David S. Ware aesthetic is. David is truly one of the last of the Mohicans."
The drummer, who stayed with the quartet for its last eight years, Guillermo E. Brown, is imbued with the energy and vibrancy he gleaned from his mentor: "David's music has always challenged me spiritually, physically, and emotionally, contributing to who I am as an artist and musician. He took me under his wing and transformed me. David is not the only musician who has mentored me, but he is one of the most consistent, steady influences on my life. It could be frustrating to work with him at times. He is a man so intensely gifted with his instrument...and often confoundedly nebulous with his direction. But his creative actions helped to redefine for me the role of leader. One can direct the energy of a group, not always with words or texts, but also with pure sound."
As it was first to come from Shipp for this article, "unique" is a word common to musicians called upon to talk about Ware. A longtime colleague and author of liner notes for Ware's first Columbia release,Go See the World (1998), Joe Morris shared the music space with him from 2006 through 2008. Morris comments on the specifics of Ware's musicality: "David has another thing in his playing. It has parts of Unit Structures (Blue Note, 1990), from Cecil Taylor [with whom Ware played early in his career] and parts that are modal, as from Coltrane, but there is another thing that is the core of it and grows purely out of David's imagination, his melodic, compositional and playing style, and, I would say, out of his intuition. He is so strong on tenor and is such a focused player that the experience of being on stage with him is quite deep and powerful in a unique way."
Only recently, has Warren Smith grown to know Ware's music. Finally performing with him within the last couple of years, Smith first noticed Ware's "stamina and energy. He reminded me of saxophone players like John Gilmore and Marshall Allen and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who seem to gather force and power as they continue to play. David's style is unique and easily identifiable. The energy source comes from deep within. You have to be physically prepared to deal with it. To enter into this kind of musical relationship, you can afford to hold nothing back, because David never does."
Ware, himself, encapsulates his music-making historically with one fact. He learned to improvise by listening to Sonny Rollins. But he did not absorb Rollins' music literally, nor that of Coltrane or "any of those guys." By being aware that "no musician is an island," he is pointing out that "everyone has to build on something." The way Ware did it, however, "is very subtle." The incorporation of Rollins into his playing was based in creating the same kind of context, rather than copying the musical form, such as chord changes. An example he gives of context is the way in which a saxophone cadenza builds a separate structure at the end of the music. Ware's cadenzas were intended to create "atmosphere and a rhythmic ambiance;" yet, he notes, few people can understand how that happens in the form of the music he plays, which is not the norm.
Ware simply had no choice except to develop his voice: "The voice is shaped by a certain experience. And it's shaped by the spiritual work we have done on ourselves. From the past, in the present and on into the future. We are vehicles for a certain intelligence to come through. It makes a big difference in the music whether you realize that or not. Whether it's just an intellectual concept with you or you've actualized this [intelligence]..."
The music he makes extends beyond the conventional notions of jazz. The music he makes is full of intention. "Intention is very powerful." The process required to have "his intention actually happen is beyond human comprehension. How his intentions move to the music is subtle and evasive." Ware shies away from talking about this phenomenon. But he does go on to say: "In my formative years, as both a person and a musician, when hearing Rollins, Coltrane or Coleman, I realized at this juncture that this is about the expansion of consciousness. This is about human evolution, which is very my-ster-i-ous. A lot has been done on the saxophone...[there's] Still a lot more room for things to expand." This is perhaps one reason why he has begun, in concert and recording, to improvise spontaneously. This is the way he practices. "That's me from the beginning."