Saturday, January 17, 2009

David S. Ware Needs a Kidney

I happened upon David S. Ware's name in the Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings as I was sitting on the john this evening. I was intrigued by the entry on his album Freedom Suite. Jazz has a pretty high status among music genres, but jazz artists have always felt a little inferior to classical musicians, and the latter had returned the favor. Jazz composition is done mostly on the fly, and doesn't have the kind of architectural planning that goes into, say, Beethoven's violin concerto.

With the obvious exception of Duke Ellington, who did approach the kind of composition that characterizes classical music, most good jazz comes in short bursts. There have been attempts to create classical-like compositions in jazz. Coltrane's A Love Supreme is a good example. But this is mostly a mistake. Good jazz songs get recorded over and over. But how many jazz artists have tried to recreate A Love Supreme? It just doesn't work that way.

Or it doesn't work that way most of the time. Sonny Rollins who, frankly, isn't known for his composing, produced Freedom Suite, a nearly twenty minute opus that plays with a number of themes and might be conceived as a concerto. But it's way too sketchy for that. It makes for a long piece on a good album.

David S. Ware decided to treat it as a classical composition and produced his own Freedom Suite. It is very worth listening to. Here is a cut:
David S. Ware/The Freedom Suite-Movement 1/The Freedom Suite
I just learned that Ware is in ill-health and needs a kidney. I hope someone comes forward. I seem to be the wrong blood type, which lets me off the hook and maybe dooms my soul. Anyway, this is a great jazzman and deserves our hope and love. Check out the clip above and, if it interests you do what I did: buy it.


  1. Funny you mention these two landmark jazz suites in your post because one of my favorite albums is Branford Marsalis's, Footsteps of our Fathers. Branford covers both Freedom Suite and A Love Supreme on the same album. A bold and ballsy thing to do, in my opinion. Branford pulls it off masterfully. I think that Branford treats these compositions with great respect by not stretching too far out from the original arrangements, yet adding his own voice and a modern vibe that makes these recordings his own. He also does a fine job covering Ornette Coleman's Giggin'.

    Check it out here:

    BTW, there are quite a few covers of A Love Supreme, some in its entirety, and many more of certain movements. The entire suite is also covered by Turtle Island Quartet, and the Lincolm Center Jazz Orchestra (the latter being the better of those two). Parts of the suite are covered dozens of times from Carlos Santana to Kenny Garrett (recomended: Pursuance: The music of John Coltrane). Hmmm maybe a good theme for a radio show.

  2. I'm not sure I'd agree that being re-recorded by other jazz artists is the best yardstick for a good jazz piece. A Love Supreme has been covered in numerous other genres (see wikipedia), if it hasn't been re-recorded by other jazz artists it may just be respect for Coltrane's version, but I don't know if this is the reason. In any case, I'd like to see more big compositions, I really don't care if no-one covers them, it's just more satisifying to listen to a larger work.

  3. Ken:

    You are certainly right and I was wrong about covers of Trane's epic work. I didn't know about the Marsalis album, but now I am longing to hear it. The David S. Ware version of Freedom Suite is much longer than Rollins' version, but Marsalis, I just checked, is about the same. I think that a cover of a song or longer composition is probably a different thing in jazz than in other genres. Jazz gives so much more freedom to the interpreter.


    Thanks for the comment. I certainly didn't mean to imply that fewer covers of ALS than, say, Naima, means that the later is better than the former. Perhaps it is the rarity of the long composition in jazz that is thought provoking. I suspect it's just harder.

    A great jazz tune like Blue in Green can be based on a very simple musical idea. What Trane and Rollins do in their suites is come up with a set of distinct musical ideas that work together. It's four times the brilliant work of writing one brilliant song. I am guessing that it doesn't contribute much to the bottom line. Rollin's "Freedom Suite" is presented as one song on the edition I have. You have to listen for the breaks. It's followed by other individual numbers.

    But I completely agree with you that the longer work is very satisfying. I urge you to get the David S. Ware recording. It's very faithful, I think, to what Sonny Rollins was up to.