David S. Ware, Adventurous Saxophonist, Dies at 62
Joshua Bright for the New York Times
By BEN RATLIFF
Published: October 19, 2012
David S. Ware, a powerful and contemplative jazz saxophonist whose career began in the early 1970s but who did not make a significant name for himself until 20 years later when he helped lead a resurgence of free jazz in New York, died on Thursday in New Brunswick, N.J. He was 62.
The cause was complications of a kidney transplant in 2009, said Steven Joerg, Mr. Ware’s manager and record producer. The musical world in which Mr. Ware traveled has few breakout stars, but he was one. In 1995 a review of his album “Cryptology” received the lead slot in Rolling Stone, which rarely reviews jazz albums. In 2001, after the release of his album “Corridors & Parallels,” Gary Giddins of The Village Voice called Mr. Ware’s quartet “the best small band in jazz today.”
Mr. Ware was a large man with a big sound. Among his influences were the breadth of tone Sonny Rollins could invest in a single note and the ferocity John Coltrane could put into a hundred of them. He wrote his own music, performed some jazz and pop standards (“Yesterdays,” “Angel Eyes,” even “The Way We Were”) and sometimes improvised within standard harmony. But for the most part he played less conventionally, planning his strategies and diving in deeply.
“I’m not interested in chord changes,” he said in a recent interview for a short film produced by the David Lynch Foundation. “I don’t need that. I work on concepts.”
He could roar, and he could unsettle. One landmark of his recording career was “Flight of i,” from his album of the same name in 1992: the piece is one unbroken, tremulous, nearly five-minute tenor saxophone cry, a feat of circular breathing. Still, he insisted that his music not be mistaken for aggression or pain. He practiced yoga and meditation from his early 20s on and said he sought a state of balance from which he could observe intense emotional states.
David Spencer Ware was born in Plainfield, N.J., on Nov. 7, 1949, and grew up in nearby Scotch Plains. He started playing alto saxophone at the age of 10, and music soon became his primary focus. By 14 he was making trips with friends into Manhattan to hear jazz in nightclubs.
After he introduced himself to Mr. Rollins at a gig, the two practiced together in Mr. Rollins’s Brooklyn apartment. The two developed a bond. Mr. Rollins taught Mr. Ware circular breathing techniques, and later talked with him about Eastern religion.
“We were close,” Mr. Rollins said in a telephone interview on Friday. “He was a very conscientious young fellow.”After graduating, Mr. Ware switched to tenor saxophone, his main instrument thereafter. He studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in the late 1960s, and during that period met the pianist Cooper-Moore and the drummer Marc Edwards, with whom he performed through much of the 1970s in the free-jazz group Apogee.
He later looked back on that time and described himself as an “avant-garde purist”; instead of building solos, he said in 1991: “I’d come out just blasting. I’d come out like I was coming out of a cannon.”
In 1973 Mr. Rollins invited Apogee to open for him at the Village Vanguard. “I got a lot of mean looks from my fans in the club,” Mr. Rollins said in on Friday.
By 1973 Mr. Ware had moved to New York, where he became part of the SoHo loft-jazz scene. He performed and recorded with the pianist and composer Cecil Taylor and also collaborated with some of the new jazz’s better drummers, including Andrew Cyrille, Beaver Harris and Milford Graves.
By the late 1980s Mr. Ware was recording as a leader, but he was still not well known outside certain small circles. Through that period and into the 1990s, while living in Scotch Plains with his wife, Setsuko S. Ware, who survives him, he drove a cab in New York to make ends meet.
Mr. Ware is also survived by his sister, Corliss Olivia Farrar.
In 1991 Mr. Ware began recording for the Japanese label DIW. Through a temporary licensing arrangement in the 1990s, his DIW album “Flight of i” was released in the United States by Columbia Records. In 1997 he was signed outright to Columbia by the saxophonist Branford Marsalis, then working for the label, for two more records, “Go See the World” and “Surrendered.”
All that, as well as the start of the annual Vision Festival in 1996, brought new attention to the culture around the free jazz scene in New York and to Mr. Ware’s music. His headlining gigs in New York became more frequent, and the documentation of his changing bands kept pace. From 2001 onward he recorded 10 records for Aum Fidelity, the label owned by Mr. Joerg, including an album-length version of Mr. Rollins’s 1958 “Freedom Suite.”
Mr. Ware developed kidney failure in the late 1990s and underwent self-administered dialysis for almost a decade; by 2009 a transplant was required to save his life. Mr. Joerg made a plea to Mr. Ware’s fans and friends, and one, Laura Mehr, offered hers.
The operation was that May, and Mr. Ware performed again in October, unaccompanied, at the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side. That concert was recorded and quickly released by Aum Fidelity as “Saturnian (Solo Saxophones, Vol. 1).” Four more albums followed before his death, ending with “Live at Jazzfestival Saalfelden 2011,” from his final performance, in Austria in August of last year.
La nature du premier disque qu’il acquiert – The Bridge, de Sonny Rollins – finit de convaincre le jeune David Spencer Ware de négliger les instruments auxquels il a d’abord été initié (flûte, saxophones alto et baryton) au profit du ténor. Étudiant à la Berklee School of Music de Boston, il monte au début des années soixante-dix le groupe Apogee en compagnie du pianiste Gene Ashton – rebaptisé depuis Cooper-Moore – et du batteurMark Edwards, avant de s’installer à New York où il côtoie Rollins et commence à fréquenter les figures charismatiques d’une avantgarde musicale alors dispensée en lofts :Andrew Cyrille, Milford Graves, David Murray, Hamiet Bluiett ou Bill Dixon. Fait membre d’un grand orchestre que Cecil Taylor emmène en 1974 sur la scène du Carnegie Hall, le saxophoniste intègre ensuite l’Unit du pianiste, avec lequel il part donner concerts en Europe et enregistre le disque Dark to Themselves en 1976. S’il signe les années suivantes les premières références de sa discographie personnelle (Birth of a Being et From Silence to Music), il lui faudra attendre une dizaine d’années – pendant laquelle il trouvera quelque occupation auprès de Cyrille, Graves ou Peter Brötzmann – pour étoffer celle-ci : enregistrement de Passage to Music en 1988 en compagnie de William Parker et Mark Edwards. La même année, le trio accueille le pianiste Matthew Shipp pour devenir David S. Ware Quartet, formation réunie une première fois en studio en 1990 et avec laquelle le saxophoniste a délivré depuis l’essentiel de son message. Si ce n’est lorsqu’il s’essaye à une musique électroacoustique maladroite, Ware n’en finit plus de personnaliser sa sonorité singulière dans une confidentialité difficile à justifier. Guillaume Belhomme, Giant Steps. Jazz en 100 figures, Le mot et le reste, 2009.