Fans of jazz and improvised music are mourning with the unexpected loss of saxophonist David S. Ware, who died Thursday night as a result of complications from a 2009 kidney transplant. He was 62 years old.
A free-blowing, modern-day titan of the saxophone, Ware was not the kind of player who could’ve been heard at a mainstream event like the Playboy Jazz Festival. In fact it’s difficult to find just about any record of the New York-based artist playing L.A. apart from a couple of ‘70s dates as part of Cecil Taylor’s band -- and perhaps Ware’s health contributed to Taylor’s recent decision to cancel an upcoming L.A. performance.
But Ware was a favorite among music fans of all kinds looking for an heir to the explorations of late-period John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Albert Ayler. His reach was broad enough that two of his albums were reviewed on the indie king-making website Pitchfork in the early 2000s.
Critic and author Garry Giddins hailed Ware’s group as “the best small jazz band working today” in the Village Voice, and in a memorable 2006 essay by Howard Hampton in McSweeney’s The Believer, Howard Hampton called him “the last of the saxophone colossi.”
It’s the kind of talk that can send the curious running for a listen, and fortunately his work is easy to find thanks in no small part to being signed to Columbia Records in the ‘90s, a somewhat startling reality to consider given the current jazz marketplace but a reality thanks to Ware being championed by Branford Marsalis, who at the time was a creative consultant for the label.
For those looking to get to know what was lost in Ware, the best place to begin could be where I also started, with the sprawling but breathtaking “Live in the World” (Thirsty Ear). Over three discs and nearly four hours of music, you can hear Ware’s expressive voice over three live recordings from Europe, one taken in 1998, the other two in 2003.
The 1998 recording showcases a remarkable ensemble that features Ware with pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker and Susie Ibarra on drums (the other sets swap out drummers Hamid Drake and Guillermo E. Brown on drums). Watch a video below to hear the first 10 minutes (!) of the recording’s immersive half-hour-plus opener, “Aquarian Sound.”