David S. Ware, the saxophonist known for a free jazz style that could be traced back to his association with pianist Cecil Taylor in the mid ’70s, died Thursday in New Brunswick, New Jersey at the age of 62, according to the musician’s website.
Ware had a history of kidney disease, and benefited from a successful kidney transplant two years ago after an email message sent out to nearly 1,000 of his fans resulted in an organ donation.
Ware, who recorded close to 30 albums as a leader and sideman over his 40-year career, is best known for his work with a quartet formed in the early ’90s composed of pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker and a succession of drummers. In 2001, Gary Giddens, the longtime jazz critic for the Village Voice, called Ware’s quartet “the best small band in jazz today.”
Born in Plainfield, New Jersey, Ware grew up in nearby Scotch Plains, and attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music before eventually settling in New York City, where he worked as a cab driver for 14 years. He would later relocate to Scotch Plains.
Ware began his saxophone career on alto, and then switched to baritone, before finally settling on the tenor.
An ardent admirer of Sonny Rollins as a teen, Ware struck up a relationship with the legendary sax player after seeing him countless times in the mid-’60s. It was Rollins who taught Ware the art of circular breathing.
His recording debut, “Third World Awareness” on alto saxophonist Abdul Hannah’s label, was in 1971. Ware would record mostly on small indie labels until saxophonist Branford Marsalis signed Ware to two-album deal with Columbia Records in the late ’90s. His acclaimed quartet’s last recording was “Renunciation” (2007). He later recorded albums for solo saxophone, and with several different supporting bands.
Ware was the subject of Amine Kouider’s short documentary “David S. Ware: A World of Sound” in which he tells an interviewer that he’s not interested in playing chord changes. “I work on concepts — very subtle ideas,” he said, “the sound that you’re getting on the horn and the manner in which you’re playing it. The music equals a spiritual reality.”