Saxophonist and composer Greg Ward is a busy man. Already in 2017 he’s embarked on a multi-week tour of the US as a sideman, hosted a regular weekly gig in Chicago, toured with his trio and performed with innumerable Chicago musicians in a variety of different groups.
His latest project is touring the US Midwest with a new quintet that features some great Chicago musicians: guitarists Dave Miller and Matt Gold, bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Quin Kirchner. The tour takes starts tonight with shows in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. Full details here.
Before departing, Greg checked in with us and provided some insights on his recent musical activities:
The response to your 2016 Greenleaf release Touch My Beloved’s Thought has been wonderful. Now that it has been out in the world for a while, what was it like for you putting out the record? Any surprises?
The Touch My Beloved’s Thought process has been a real pleasure, from start to finish. The entire band is very happy with how the recording came together and with how the record was received. Releasing this recording took a lot of work and planning, which can be strenuous at times, but very rewarding in the end. We performed 7 concerts in support of the release, three of them with dancers included. Every show was incredible. The people who attended the concerts were all very excited and receptive, which is very encouraging. During these shows, the ensemble grew into something different. We really became a band and found all sorts of new ways to perform this music together. I was surprised at how quickly this growth took place.
Are there any future plans with the project? ( I think I heard you were trying get it Europe?)
I’ll be presenting TMBT at the North Sea Jazz Festival in July. Also, there are some future dates coming together for France, possibly. I’d love to record with this project again and have applied for some funding that I’ll hear about in the summer.
You’ve been back living in Chicago after some time in New York City and you’re really active in the thriving jazz scene there. What makes the culture of Chicago there so amenable to creative music? Who are the musicians around town that are inspiring you?
We moved back to Chicago in 2015 and it’s been wonderful. There is a lot of amazing art being created around town at places like Elastic, Constellation, Hungry Brain, California Clipper, The Green Mill and more. The affordability of concerts in Chicago gives musicians a real opportunity to develop an audience. Lately, I’m inspired by incredible artists like Caleb Willitz, Makaya McCraven, Junius Paul, Matt Ulery, Marvin Tate, Mike Reed, Ben LaMar Gay, Joshua Abrams, Rob Clearfield, and many more. There’s too many to name but I had to list a few.
You spent a large portion of the winter on the road playing educational concerts with Jazz Reach around the US. How was that experience? What are your favorite places to visit?
I’ve had the pleasure of working with JazzReach for 9 years and we usually spend January/February on the West Coast. Not bad at all! Most of what we do is presenting multi-media concerts to children of all ages about various aspects of jazz music. Having the opportunity to travel the country and to share our love of jazz with kids is incredible. Also, Hans Schuman, the founder or JazzReach, always has an amazing band put together. When we are out West, I’m always excited to be in Saratoga, CA, where we perform at the Montalvo Arts Center. That area of California amazes me every year.
You’re heading out on a tour of the US Midwest with your quintet this week. How did this group come together and what can audiences expect at these shows? Is the music all original material?
When I moved back to town, in November 2015, I waited a few months before deciding to put together a project. I received a gig from The Whistler and took that opportunity to write some new music for a double-guitar quintet. The instrumentation sounded very interesting in my mind. Our first gig was a lot of fun. That summer, we ended up participating in a residency at The Whistler where we had the opportunity to perform for a month and to explore and to develop our sound. Everyone in the band was super excited about pursuing this project so I started putting together a tour, with the help of Big Fish Booking. All but one of the tunes are originals.