David S. Ware personified for me one of the great players of the saxophone. I did not know the Ware’s complete discography. CORRIDORS & PARALLELS and FREEDOM SUITE (a tribute to his friend Sonny Rollins), I had written about a while back. CRYPTOLOGY and DAO of the mid 90’s preceded the latter two and were dedicated to the idea that "music that is like a river...never the same". Adam Shatz had written an extremely positive article on SURRENDERED for the NY Times when the recording first came out and I had heard tracks from it on the radio. SURRENDERED seemed to take a huge step in another direction for Ware; it is quite unlike the recordings I knew of, not in spirit, but in the sound of the music. SURRENDERED expressed a tighter melodic sense than any of the latter recordings did. The step to THREADS from SURRENDERED in hindsight now seems completely sensible.
An appointment had been made with David for me on August 22 to call him at noon. On that morning, I listened to everything, particularly THREADS, because that would be the focus of the interview. I made choices of articles about him to read from the Internet. I took a deep breath and dialed the phone.
David answered and I told him a little about how I think about doing interviews. That is, once the conversation begins, my interest is for him to talk, and although I ‘d have questions to ask, because I do not use a tape recorder, usually the questions were answered in the flow of the exchange.
The groundwork was laid.
Since THREADS is totally composed and previous recordings are improvised, my primary question focused on what is the difference for David between improvisation and composition.
The conversation began.
Given 40 years of "fine tuning" his improvisational capacities, David decided it was time to take the opportunity presented to him by Thirsty Ear, to place his devotion to his music in a recording that was entirely composed. David opened with the statement that composition is for him a form of improvisation. He contrasted improvisation with composition through the observation that the speed at which improvisation happens allows no time "to intellectualize it out." This is paralleled with his idea that when he composes, he acquires more freedom to explore the music by paradoxically keeping "intellect processes out of the music" because he applies the kind of thinking that can, when expressed, indicate a subtle realm of experience, unreachable through improvisation. He is "freezing" the notes that arise from all that has come through his musical mind ever since the moment he writes. Thus, THREADS becomes is an example how improvisation and composition are married.
David emphasized many times that he is only a channel for the source of his music. Having been acculturated to a certain mode of thinking and making music over a period of years, at one point, he recognized the importance of being in tune with the knowledge that his music emanates from a "source reservoir" where for both the composer and the improviser, music exists in pure form within a cosmic realm. "Everything is together." Harmonies and musical ideas can be molded into compositions, "symphonies", "where order has its own intelligence". This means that the act of composing is the act of witnessing oneself writing music. Even though "free music" has freedom, this is the "freedom that exists in the way that the musician moves", not the freedom that inspires consciousness. Consciousness is so pure that the musician realizes that he/she is not the source, but is always the channel. When the musician creates music, the musician extends the nervous system. The "nervous system reflects awareness and reality"; "when the mirror is clean, the reflection comes through".
The adamancy with which David speaks grows out of an isolated experience in 1969 that changed his musical life. He tells the story that when playing in a bar in Boston, suddenly he could "hear himself" playing. He had "witnessed" himself, lifted himself out of his "self". He continues by saying that the drummer was aware enough when this happened to "catch it" and the resultant energy presented a "flash" of truth. That is the exact point where David internalized that he is the channel for his playing. His consciousness awakened. "Consciousness is the witness" and the maintenance of that state is, for David, through meditation.
The same year, David found out that his health was not good. He decided that he needed to change his way of life in order to survive. Influenced not only by his childhood mentor, Sonny Rollins, and a book called "The Autobiography of a Yogi", David took the steps never to take his health for granted again. He became a vegetarian, started to do yoga and began seriously to practice formal meditation. Meditation is the "24/7" means for securing consciousness, being conscious, staying conscious---allowing the present tense to invade the body and mind, live in the body and mind, be the body and the mind to ease pain, bless joy, extinguish sorrow.
For David, THREADS initiated a "new era" for writing music. He composed for his 14-year old quartet of William Parker, bass, Matthew Shipp, piano, and drummer, Guillermo Brown. After dreaming of using strings for quite awhile, David incorporated into the group Mat Maneri on viola and Daniel Bernard Roumin on violin. Every single musician, including David, by nature, are consummate, musicians of elevated proportions, musicians who evoke a healthy "organic, free-flowing" evolution that radiates wholeness in the ways in which they interact with each other.
David wants to expand the forms in which his music is placed by composing rather than improvising and through changing instrumentation, examples being his choosing to utilize strings and not feature the saxophone as much as would be expected. Because "he is a channel for his compositions, he is spared the rules about what comes through him in the music". His many years of improvisational experience feed the seeds planted in him that permit the development of his musical intentions from improv to composition. His enlightenment, his vision of the light, preceded filtering his music into composition. According to David, his enlightenment was necessary before he could decide to compose.
David’s music reflects his nervous system. THREADS is specifically tied to a revivification of his beliefs, a resurgence of his convictions. And in this recording is revealed the exquisite beauty of the energy that David exudes. The music is thrilling, mesmerizing, reaches the gut. The recording leads the listener to a space wherein is a perspective that describes how meditation and true centering endows the practitioner with an "impenetrable overview of daily life" out of which evolution can occur.
The conversation ended.
Towards the end of it, I had wept. How David spoke affected me deeply. David and I were meant to talk on that day, just as I was meant to write this article today. David and I share a commonality. His middle name, Spencer, is the middle name of my son. It is also the same as my middle name. There is a thread, a coincidental thread.