Artist Update: Greg Ward
Saxophonist and composer Greg Ward is set to release Touch My Beloved’s Thought, his debut album for Greenleaf Music. The record is receiving some great press and Greg is getting ready for a New York City album release show on July 8 at the Jazz Gallery.
For this artist update, Greg discusses the making of the album, Friday’s album release show, and lessons learned from band leading.
This is your third album as a leader and with a ten piece band and fifteen dancers, this project has been a large undertaking. How was the process of making this record different than previous albums?
There are two important factors that made this project different from other recordings I’ve made. First, Touch My Beloved’s Thought began as a commission from the city of Chicago’s Made In Chicago: World Class Jazz series, which was facilitated by the Jazz Institute of Chicago. Mike Reed approached me with the idea of creating a piece that would be inspired by Mingus’ Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, which would incorporate dance. Second, I was paired with an amazing choreographer, Onye Ozuzu. Together we created an artistic voice that bridged dance and music equally. Throughout the entire process we had about six months to work through different ideas. Onye would make videos of herself and her colleagues dancing to excerpts of Mingus’ music or to my original music. This process continued and the piece came together quickly. Usually, composing is such a solitary thing and that’s why this was so exciting for me.
You’ve done performances with and without dancers. What does the dance element bring to the performances? And with those experiences, what do you notice when you perform the material without dancers?
Well, this will actually be the first performance without dancers, besides a radio performance we did in Chicago. The dancers become a part of the music and I feel that when you see their bodies moving with the different melodies and rhythms that something new is created. For example, in an orchestra, when two instruments play a melody in unison and blend their timbres perfectly, a new instrument is created. That was our goal from the beginning. We will miss the dancers on the performance but I’m confident that the music will still be very exciting.
Friday’s album release show will feature some of the musicians who played on the album, as well as some New York musicians. Can you tell us a bit about the musicians in this ensemble and what we can expect at the Jazz Gallery performance?
The band on the recording features a cast of super-creative musicians that I’ve had the pleasure of playing with for years. For example bassist Jason Roebke and tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman have been long-collaborators in Mike Reed’s People Places and Things. This is one of the rare playing situations that I’ve been in for over a decade and the rapport we have from all of the tours, recordings, and hangs is very special. Likewise, for drummer, Marcus Evans, and trombonist, Norman Palm. Both of these musicians have been in my early bands in Chicago and we’ve known each other for almost 20 years. In 2012, I had the pleasure of touring Africa with pianist Dennis Luxion, who is incredible in whatever situation you put him in.
I did get to include a few musicians that I haven’t played with but was eager to create a situation for us to make music together including trumpeter Russ Johnson, cornetist Ben LaMar Gay, bass trombonist Christopher Davis, and saxophonist Keefe Jackson. All of these folks have added so much to this project.
For the NYC show, tenor saxophonist Lucas Pino, trombonist Willie Applewhite, bass trombonist Max Seigel, and drummer Kenneth Salters, will join us. I’ve had the pleasure of making music with most all of these musicians in other settings during my stay in NYC and I’m looking forward to what happens on the stage on Friday.
You are busy with various projects as a performer and educator. How does your work as a leader impact your work in other situations?
When you lead a project it’s important to have the clearest idea of what you’re trying to create so you can relay this information to your collaborators easily. From this, I always try to understand what other bandleaders are trying to execute so that I can be the best teammate. The same goes for education; meeting students where they are and helping them reach their goals is very important to me.
You’ve recently made the move back to Chicago after spending some time living in New York City. What is like to be part of the thriving Chicago music scene?
Being back in Chicago is really amazing. Since I left in 2009, the scene has developed quite a bit. There are new clubs, a lot of new amazing musicians and new music. I’m excited to be apart of a scene that has so many interesting voices. Folks are trying things and this is inspiring!
Greg Ward & 10 Tongues play the Jazz Gallery on Friday, July 8th with sets at 7:30pm and 9:30pm. Tickets can be reserved online in advance or purchased at the door.
The Chicago album release shows will take place on July 29 and 30 at the Green Mill. More details here.