Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Summer Reflections and Fall Hustle Preparations: Post #2 (09/01/10)

Hello Everyone,
Welcome to the second edition of This Is My Life, the blog that gives you an in-depth look into my adventures in the world of music. In this edition, I’d like to share some of my favorite moments of the summer, talk about the impact legendary-saxophonist Fred Anderson had on my life, and to share some of my plans for the fall.

I’m writing to you all from an airplane that’s heading to Rome, finally. We had almost a three-hour delay out of JFK due to the weather. It’s nice and quiet on board now, with the lights low, and I find myself thinking about all of the amazing summer experiences I had. The first project I’ll talk about relates directly to the ever-changing music business. While playing in Central Park in NYC with Sam Trapchak and Christian Coleman, we were discussing production plans for our individual recording projects. My first record, Greg Ward’s Fitted Shards: South Side Story, was in the final stages of production and only needed to be pressed and then released and promoted. The cost of promoting a recording can be very expensive, especially in today’s music business world where you’re most likely covering all of the costs on your own. Christian recommended that I look into the RocketHub organization. RocketHub helps facilitate crowd-funding campaigns. They helped put together an amazing website, which had my mission statement, biography, sound and video clips, and a link to FUEL my project directly through PayPal. We also came up with great prizes for folks who got involved such as autographed CD’s, song commissions, and even a trip to one of my favorite NYC restaurants, Jacob’s. One of the best parts of a RocketHub campaign is that it’s all-or-nothing. That means I had to reach or surpass my goal of $3000 or else I wouldn’t get anything. With a little hustle and a lot of faith from friends, family, fans, and strangers, I’m proud to say that I surpassed my goal. People from all over the world supported my cause. I’m still blown away by this strong global community that came together to invest in my art. I will forever be grateful! This music is for all of you! Another highlight of the summer has been having the opportunity to work with one of the most incredible singers of African music, Samba Mapangala. For the past year, Samba has been touring with the Occidental Brothers, an African dance band that I’ve been a member of since it started in 2005. Working beside such a powerhouse of energy has pushed me in many ways. Samba patiently taught me many things, including how to sing in Swahili and French, his own dance moves, and the importance of bringing the energy to the people every time you go out on stage. My interaction with Mr. Mapangala has affected every aspect of performance for me. Every time I play I will give nothing less than 100 percent. There were many more spectacular moments that I’ll share in the future but I’m interested in the highlights of your summer. Send me an email and share your adventures.

Although there were many exciting times this summer, the music world suffered a great loss. On June 24th, Fred Anderson passed away due to the affects of a heart attack. Fred was a giant of the tenor saxophone and improvisation. His performances, recordings, and ownership of the renowned jazz club, The Velvet Lounge, have and will continue to make great contributions to the future of jazz and improvised music. I had a personal relationship with Fred and want to share some of my favorite moments in the next few editions of my blog. We’ll start at the beginning. I first met Mr. Anderson at the Velvet Lounge because one of my closest friends, Josh Ramos, was the bass player for the Sunday night jam session, which was hosted by Dennis Winslett at the time. I had never been to or heard of The Velvet Lounge until this night. When the session ended, Fred came up to me and said, “I can tell you listen to Bird.” Charlie “Bird” Parker is and will always be my hero. Fred, too, was a huge fan of Bird so we had much to talk about. We discussed Bird’s sound, concept, and rhythm and listened to recordings all in that first night. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and one of the most important periods of growth in my life. What are some of your favorite Fred moments and interactions?

Lots of exciting projects are getting ready to kick off this fall. One of them is my first recording as a leader, South Side Story, which features my band Fitted Shards. We began this process in December of 2008 at the I.V. Lab in Chicago, IL. Since then, I’ve had such a hands-on journey through many aspects of the music industry in order to get this amazing record to the people. While finishing the production of the CD, I learned so much about the mixing and mastering processes. It’s truly the little details that you capture in every moment that make a great recording. Manny Sanchez patiently led me through this entire process to ensure that our ideas were clearly presented. After meeting some initial opposition from several record labels, we found a good fit in 19-8 Records and will release South Side Story on Sep. 28th. Check it out! I’ve been working with Jason Byrne at Red Cat Publicity to make sure this music reaches as many people as possible! Another project that I’m looking forward to getting off the ground is the Greg Ward Quartet, which is my New York-based band. We’ll be playing our first show at the Jazz Gallery in NYC on Sep. 16th. This band features David Bryant (piano), Joe Sanders (bass), and Damion Reid (drums). In the composition world, I’m still working on my commission from the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra. The piece will feature a 40-piece string orchestra and Fitted Shards and will be performed on Feb. 20th in Texas. As the due date of November 1st approaches, many ideas for this work are flowing out of my mind and on to the page. I just have to craft them into something that best represents me. I’ve been listening and studying a lot of orchestral works lately that have been influencing the development of this piece. Some of my new favorites are R. Strauss’ Tod Und Verklarung, Bruckner’s Symphony 7, 2nd movement, and Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole. I highly recommend that you check these out if you haven’t already.
That’s all for now but I’ll continue to keep you posted on new developments as they come up. If you’d like to get in touch with me, please email me at Until then, let’s keep digging!

Take care,
Greg Ward

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Beautiful Raging Summer: Post #1(08/13/10)

Hello Everyone,
   Welcome to my new blog, This Is My Life!  My purpose for this blog is to give folks a very honest view into my life as a saxophonist/composer.  I'll share experiences on many topics including current music projects, concerts I've played or that I'm preparing for, current events, health, hobbies, and many more aspects of life in general, which will all be open for discussion.  One thing I look for in all of my musical encounters is an exchange of ideas and I hope that you all feel comfortable sharing your thoughts with me via email or by posting your responses. 
   So, I'd like to begin by giving you a brief description of what's going on in my life now.  In less than a month I will celebrate my one year anniversary of living in New York City.  September 6th of 2009, immediately after my group Fitted Shards performed at the Chicago Jazz Festival, my father and I loaded his SUV and drove through the night from Chicago to Harlem.  This began one of the most important journeys in my life and I'm not just talking specifically about music.  Living in this city requires that you ask yourself some important questions.  For example, "What am I going to do here?".  Finding the answers to this question, along with many others, was a bit of a process and will continue to be, I'm sure, but we'll talk more about some of these life changing experiences later. 
   Now, I feel like I'm in a groove.  I've adjusted to the move but actually don't spend much time in NYC.  Fortunately, some of the bands that I'm in have been very busy this past year.  Some folks say that this is a sign that you're doing well in New York City, the fact that you're not there.  Who knows?  I'm currently a member of Mike Reed's People Places and Things, The Occidental Brothers Dance Band International, and blink.  I also run a couple bands of my own including Greg Ward's Fitted Shards and the Greg Ward Sextet.  With People Places and Things, a quartet featuring Jason Roebke, Tim Haldeman, and Mike Reed, we toured Europe twice this spring.  One week of concerts included the octet version of the group which featured the personnel from our latest release on 482 Records, Stories and Negotiations.  It was a true pleasure to be on the road with Julian Priester, Art Hoyle, and Ari Brown.  All of their playing was amazing and truly inspiring.  Art Hoyle is a living history book!  From his amazing stories, he seems to have worked with everyone in entertainment.   I'll have to share a few later on.  Also, The Occidental Brothers, an African dance band, toured Europe for the first time with concerts in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.  One of the highlights of this tour was performing for 3,000 dancing fans at the 26th Annual Music Meeting in Nijmegen, Netherlands. 
   Some other highlights of this summer included performing and recording with renowned rock-band, Tortoise, at Millennium Park in Chicago!  As soon as I received the email from Jeff Parker about this project, I was excited and anxious to see what they would compose for Ed Wilkerson, Nicole Mitchell, Fred Lonberg Holm, Jim Baker, and I.  We rehearsed for 3 days prior to the concert in order to put the music together.  The concert ROCKED 9,500 people!  On the weekend after the concert, we recorded the program in the studio and hope to release something to you all soon.  On the writing side of things, I received my first work for film.  Cauleen Smith contacted me about making marching band arrangements of Sun Ra tunes for her upcoming film.  I immediately jumped at this idea because it sounded like such an interesting project.  I've completed my arrangements and they'll be recorded on the 26th of Aug.  Stay tuned for more updates concerning her film.  Another commission that I'm excited about is the concerto from jazz quartet and string orchestra that I'm writing for the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra.  This project has been very challenging and exhilarating!  I've completed 8 minutes of the 15-20 minute piece and have until Nov. 1st to finish this work.  It's coming together so well and I'm learning so much from this process.
   I can't believe that the summer is almost over.  It really flew by.  The fall will definitely be an exciting one.  Be on the look out for my first CD release as a leader, Greg Ward's Fitted Shards: South Side Story, which will be released on 19-8 Records on Sep. 28th.  Check out the press release:

There will also be several release concerts that are listed in the press release.  The first will be at the Velvet Lounge in Chicago, IL, on Sep. 17th.  Come on out if you can.  Also, my NYC group, which features Damion Reid(drums), David Bryant(piano), and Joe Sanders(bass), will be performing at the Jazz Gallery on Sep. 16th.   There are plenty of other things going on that I'll keep you posted on in the future. 

This first post has really been an introduction to what's presently happening in my world.  Next time I'll elaborate on just a few topics.  Until then, let's keep digging!

Take care,
Greg Ward II