Saxophonist Andre Ward is an artist who has gone through a lot of hoops to get to where he is today. Going through the school system in Chicago, he got an interest in music, which followed to Boston, where he learned his trade through the education process. However, he learned very quickly that in order to get youself noticed, you have to get attention any way you can. Then once you establish yourself, you can make the giant step to show why you're different than others in your craft.
Not missing school was important to Ward and those who might be thinking about leaving school are missing out on a well rounded musical education. He says when he was 12, I was very lucky. The Chicago area was real big with the middle school and high school band. They had competitions and it just wasn't just one or two schools. It was the citywide Chicago Public Schools system. Unfortunately now with budget problems, a lot of those programs have been taken away. It really introduced me to the love of music and the love of jazz. It just kind of spark my interest and I kept going from there.
Ward says during his childhood, he did have a lot of choices. He says, not only did I have a lot of choices when I went through music instrument wise, but just the music that was there in Chicago. I had a choice of listening to gospel, R&B, the blues and, of course, jazz. Instrumentation wise, I tried trumpet, I tried drums, I nibbled on clarinet for a minute. Every year I would change instruments, but it really wasn't until I grabbed the sax. It just felt part of me. It felt naturally something where I wanted to express myself and this was the instrument that I want to do it with. It helped listening to people like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and "Cannonball" Adderly, who just blew me away, that made me have a love of just wanting to play the sax.
When he graduated, Andre Ward went to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. He says, Berklee and the Boston area is a very great educational institutional place because you got Berklee College of Music, you got New England Conservatory, you got Boston Conservatory. For me to come to Berklee and to be around so many other musicians and just to learn from them. I had a chance to take my sound, refine it, fine tune it and then come up with a voice.
Ward says that finding his own voice helps him find where he is and helps people recognize him musically. He says, that's the one thing we want as musicians. We want people to listen to our sound and say "Hey, that's Andre Ward." I don't need to look at the CD cover and say "Who is that?" because if you have a very good, distinctive sound, I think that is what separates us from all the other great musicians around. There's tons of great sax players, but what separates you from the other good sax players is your sound, your tone and your approach. That is what Berklee has helped me with tremendously.
In his first two CDs Feelin' You and Steppin' Up, Andre Ward mixed original material with covers of other songs. He says, unfortunately for a lot of us instrumentalists, sometimes it takes that one song that is already recognized by radio and retail and then we go and redo it. It's a kind of formula that has worked and we kind of jumped on that bandwagon. At that particular time, "Fallin'" by Alicia Keyes was already a huge hit, but it hadn't been done instrumentally yet. We jumped on it. We had so much success with that, we went back in to do the second CD "Steppin' Up," I looked at the then popular "Step In the Name of Love," which was a very huge R&B hit for R. Kelly.
Ward says his third CD Crystal City was a turning point for him. He says, my whole focus and theme is that I wanted to be very crystal clear on who Andre Ward was, where I was going musically. I wanted to show my growth as far as a musician, as far as a song writer, as far as a producer. I chose to somewhat try to stay away from the covers and just show people that we can do all original songs and hopefully I achieved that. What I wanted to do with "Crystal City" is to make sure that there was something on there for everyone. So there was no targeting just one age group or targeting women or targeting men and hopefully we have accomplished that.
In Crystal City, Andre Ward wanted to also salute the jazz history of New Orleans. He says, New Orleans has always been one of the birthplaces of jazz. With the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and having been a musician who has been in New Orleans and played in New Orleans, I just felt that I was writing a song and I wanted what the New Orleans that I remembered in my mind. Something lost, something found, but it was a place of pain, magic, love and I think it's going to be a place that's going to be musically reborn. Those are the things that I felt when writing and recording the song "New Orleans Lights."
Ward says Crystal City is a moving ahead release for Ward. He says, in order to move forward, we absolutely we have to look back. There's not a day that goes by where I don't put in some kind of "Cannonball" Adderly or Charlie Parker. I just love them, but I also know that inside of me is something that I want to say, too. I don't think that there is any day when none of us musicians are playing that's new because Byrd and Train and Lester Young and all the greats have played it already. What we have done is taken what we learned from them and enhance on it. That's what I want to do. I want to take a lot of this knowledge that I got from the masters, but I want to put it in my own words and I want to interpret it the way that I want to interpret it. If that means adding the elements of traditional jazz with gospel and then throwing a little R&B on there, that's how I want it to serve that. That's my menu for that recipe and that's what I want to say. Some people will get offended when you try to mix those elements together, but this is what I want to say and my extension of me and that's how I approach it.
When the masters like "Cannonball" Adderly, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane set the standards for their place in jazz, they were considered revolutionary. Andre Ward has that capability today to bring today's sensibility into the realm of jazz and do it his way. Isn't that what jazz is all about? Making your own stand and improvising your own way.