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August 15th, 2001 Bill Smith | Music Stories
 

The Re-Education of David S. Ware

After 30 years of setting jazz on fire, the saxophonist finally knows what he wants.

     
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Brave new music rarely translates into cash. Something about sound of resplendent urgency and spirit doesn't quite sit right with John Q. Public, and so the evolution of America's most potent musical tradition is the concern of a venturesome minority.

So when David S. Ware, leader of a frenetic quartet and freedom fighter in good standing, inked his John Hancock on a deal with Columbia/Sony a few years back, startled confusion reigned in serious jazz quarters.

Ware, a tenor saxophonist whose interstellar sounds appeal just as strongly to fans of megawatt experimental rock as to bop aficionados, boasts three decades of fearless boundary-jumping on his résumé. So his position with the multinational music factory caused no little consternation among his many admirers--it was as if Sleater-Kinney had signed on to open a Britney Spears tour.

Three years and two discs of raw jazz fury later, the natural order of the universe has been restored. The 52-year-old composer and bandleader finds himself on the industry's perimeter again, a new batch of quartet mayhem slated for release in September on the tiny Brooklyn label AUM Fidelity. Ware, as the following conversation shows, couldn't be happier with this reverse-graduation from the majors back to the micros.

WW: How was the Columbia
experience?

David S. Ware: I learned a lot of things that I wasn't aware of previously--like how the major labels work. In the discs I recorded with Columbia, I saw both sides of the process, the good and the bad. The first record (1998's Go See the World), everyone did what they were supposed to do, and it showed. For the second (last year's Surrendered), they didn't, and everything fell apart.

Putting out a record involves a whole lot of people, and you learn that you don't have control over much of the process. So it's really about everyone coming together and doing his or her part. For that to happen, each person involved has to understand about you and your music. That's especially critical with this music.

The liner notes for Surrendered mention your affinity for saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who managed to find a new, younger audience for jazz in the '60s without selling his soul. Did you have something like that in mind when you signed the major-label deal?

I don't think about any of that stuff. The idea for me is to discover whatever it is inside me and make it as clear as possible. Sure, I think reaching a younger audience is very important. There aren't enough avenues for the young to access this music. Because the industry labels us "jazz," it limits the places we can play and limits where young people can see us.

But the fact is, people are going to call you something--it's just the way the music world operates. You can't determine that. But I don't see why we can't mix this music with alternative music or classical music. The music industry compartmentalizes everything so much, it's its own worst enemy. It should just be about experiencing the music.

You've played with Sonic Youth, though, so obviously you've had some success in getting around the genre barriers.

Yeah, and that worked, but promoters aren't open to the music. They don't think music. They think something else. They're not creative in their outlook or the choices they make, because nobody wants to go against the grain and try something new. So you get the same old stuff.

Some things must be changing. You just played at the normally conservative Blue Note in New York.

We were there for two nights and it went really well. We had good audiences. What you learn is that these things often come down to one person. That was the case with Columbia, where Branford Marsalis thought that's where we should be, so they signed us. Then with the second record, that original group was gone and we had a whole new group.

Previously at the Blue Note, there was no one at the club who could hear our music. The person now booking could, and he gave us a call. Yet there are so many places we may never get to play because the bookers can't hear the music.

You've played with this band now for 12 years or so.

That's the only way I can do it. I need the closeness among us to create, and I don't like to play music with people I don't know. I just think you can go a lot further with the music when that bond is strong. You develop together.

What do you know now at 50 that you wish you had known 30 years ago starting out?

Music is a wonderful thing. It's not to be taken lightly or for granted. Likewise, your inner and outer successes have to be appreciated as well. You can't worry so much about achieving that you don't notice that you've already arrived. So the key for me is to not skim over the beautiful things about being a musician. It's about living a creative life in everything you do--not just through your music.

Years back, I had a certain attitude. I didn't realize that back then it just wasn't my time yet. There's a point that comes when everything falls together. These days I don't know what the future holds. I just take it as it comes. I'm open to whatever that is.


David S. Ware Quartet
Creative Music Guild (772-0772) at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-4215. 8 pm Thursday, Aug. 16. Tickets available at the door only. $14 (CMG members)-$16
 
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