Saxophonist David S. Ware passed away 3 days ago at the age of 62. Here is a brief transcribed radio interview to help remember him. At last check there are at least 14 of his recordings currently available for download, so play some of his music while you’re at it.
Interview: David S. Ware
My first question has to do with your new record, “Wisdom of Uncertainty.” What does that title mean to you?
Oh man, it means a whole lot of things. Basically, an artist lives a life of things that are not certain, you know? You develop your skills all your life, and you really don’t know what’s coming or how it’s coming, or if it’s coming. As far as making records or playing at festivals around the world, it’s basically a life of uncertainty.
Does that ever make you insecure?
Perhaps in very subtle kinds of ways. I mean, within one’s own self you have all these currents, if you will. Sometime they go this way, sometime they go off that way. There’s a little bit of everything in the mix, but you have to try and tap into the wisdom of things. Just because things are uncertain on the surface doesn’t mean that you can’t learn. The thing is to learn. The thing is to know that things will always work out for the best and things will happen when you’re in tune with the natural flow of things, with the forces of nature. With experience after experience, you learn to go with the flow, as they say. There’s a basic intelligence in life that I think we should all try to be intimate with. And the more intimate you are with it, the more secure you are. But from time to time, you do have your insecurities. That’s only natural. There is something in nature that wants to express itself. It needs channels of expression. And oftentimes an artist can be one of those channels of expression.
Have you always known this? Is this wisdom a sudden awakening or is it a slowly unfolding process?
Well, it’s something that I’ve always been aware of, more or less. My interest in metaphysical things, from the time I was 12 years old, has always basically kept me abreast of the mechanisms they involve, you know? The basic thing is to do what you love to do. That’s the first thing. Do what you love to do and try to be the best at it. Nature will work with you. When you talk about creativity, it has its own intelligence. It won’t abandon you, really. It wants to be expressed.
Are you born with that?
Everybody’s born with it. But we have to make a choice to want to develop this higher sense. We’re all born with it, nobody’s without this. So it’s about making the choice: like, I’m going to be intimate with this thing and I’m going to develop this thing to its utmost and let it be the guiding factor in my life. There’s no living thing without it.
The last time I saw you was in New York and Whit Dickey was your drummer. How have things changed with your new drummer, Susie Ibarra?
Susie is working out really fine. She’s been with us now for a year and a half. She’s done a couple of records and she toured Europe with us. What can I say? She understands the language that we’re dealing with, the alphabet that we’re dealing with, here. There was no transition period from one musician to another. She was just right in the flow of what we’re doing. It was an effortless transition.
So you didn’t have to explain anything at all? She just showed up and you hit and everything was cool?
I had one duet session with Susie. From that, I saw there wouldn’t be any problem. Then we got together with the quartet one time and then we had a little tour.
I know you spent your early years as a sideman with Cecil Taylor, Andrew Cyrille and others. What qualities do you think it takes to be a leader, as opposed to a sideman?
That’s a good question. First of all, I think you have to have a very deep sense of musical direction, a very deep sense of focus, not only in the music itself but how you’re going to get the music to the listening audience. You have to have some kind of plan, or some kind of thing going on inside of you that says: hey, we’re going to do this. In other words you have to have a projection of how you’re going to get this music to the world. You have to be very focused. When you present the music to the group you’re working with, it should be alive in you. There’s nothing that really exists on a piece of music paper. That’s just the outer symbol. So when you present that music to your band, it should already be alive in you to the point where’s it’s projecting itself in a mental kind of way so that the group picks up on it. I’ve always liked to have a steady band so that when we get together, the mental direction in images, in the life of the music, is so strong that there’s not a lot of wasted time and energy trying to get it together, you know?
You’re appearing in concert this Friday at the Washington Ethical Society. Is this your first time in D.C. as a leader?
Yes, my first time.
What took you so long?
[laughs]. Hey man, that’s just the way it works out, you know? What can I say? There are a whole lot of places in the United States that I haven’t been. Hopefully, in the foreseeable future, a whole lot of places will be opening up to us.
I know you record for different labels and you occasionally get written up in magazines. Is recognition important to you?
Certainly it is. These are essential parts of making people aware of you and what you’re doing. You need these things. It’s all part of the mechanism. It’s not about seeking fame or fortune or anything like that. These are all part of the scheme of things. They must be part of the picture if an artist wants to make a living.
Is your music, your concept, coming from a place of art, or a place of spirituality?
[long pause] Well, you know, I’d like to think that the music expresses things of a spiritual nature, things that go beyond what human beings can express in everything else that they do. I like to think that the music expresses some truth, some reality that we can touch upon in other ways, and those other ways are spiritual. But whatever you want to call that, that’s the way I like to think of it. We touch upon spiritual realms. We paint mental pictures. We touch upon a power, a force, a healing force. It’s a communicating force. It’s an all-knowing force. Whatever you want to call it, that’s how I like to think of what it is my music deals with.
For our listeners who don’t know much about you personally, how old are you?
I’ll be 48 in November.
I imagine a young person out there listening to this interview who is just starting to play an instrument and wondering how you do it. How do you learn to improvise and tap into energy to do what you do?
Well, first you have to choose an instrument you have a natural affinity towards. You develop the basic musical skills. You have to get some proficiency over the instrument. You make sure you know your fundamentals, your scales and your chords, or whatever. You make sure you have a firm grip on that. From there, once you have that that, you apply it to whatever area you’re interested in. At a certain point in a musician’s evolution, it’s an open sky. It’s about you trying to find your own uniqueness. It takes many years. It’s not an overnight thing. Now, you can go to music school. I’m not telling people not to go to music school. You can study with this teacher or with that teacher. All of that is good. Private lessons. I would say play in all sorts of situations. I played in dance bands, marching bands, concert bands, all-state bands, orchestras. I did that all the way through school. If you’re thinking of being a professional, by the time you get out of high school you should be ready, you should be well, well on your way.
What’s the best thing about being a musician?
The best thing about being a musician is that it puts you in touch with yourself, with your real self, with your ever-expanding self. And that’s the same self of the entire universe. It’s only one intelligence. It works in us, through us, around us, within us. It’s everywhere. The greatest thing about being a musician is coming into that awareness.
Recorded Aug. 31, 1997 at WPFW-FM