Greg Ward

Saxophonist I Composer I Producer

Official website for saxophonist, composer, & producer Greg Ward II.

On To Year Two In Chicago!

            Today is the one-year mark of our relocation to Chicago.  I can’t believe that it’s gone by so fast.  What an incredible year this has been!  We can’t be more thankful for how warmly our communities in Chicago have treated us during my return and Diana’s relocation. 

             Let’s talk about our community for a minute.  Chicago’s artist community is so incredibly vibrant right now.  Folks are really producing very beautiful and extremely personal work that is connecting with people in every part of the city.  It’s very encouraging to see various performers taking advantage of opportunities to share their art and to develop their audience at some venues like Constellation, The Green Mill, Hungry Brain, Salon-a-Thon, Elastic, The Hide Out, The Stony Island Arts Bank, The Whistler and many more.     

            For me, personally, this year has been special.  Some highlights include, putting together a new quintet that features Dave Miller, Matt Gold, Matt Ulery, and Quin Kirchner and having the opportunity to develop our ideas at a the Jazz Attack Residency that The Whistler hosts.  Next, I joined the Greenleaf Music family and released Touch My Beloved’s Thought, which is a collaboration between choreographer Onye Ozuzu and my ten-tet, 10 Tongues, inspired by Charles Mingus’ monumental work The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.  My heart is full from all of the support we received from Roell Schmidt and Linx Hall, from Mike Reed and Constellation, from Dave Douglas and Greenleaf Music, and from everyone around the world who has listened to the recording or attended a show.  By the way, I have to mention that “TMBT” made the first-round ballot of the Grammy Awards in a few categories.  Also, getting the chance to be a part of a few projects that have done some amazing things this year was pretty awesome.  My brother, Makaya McCraven, is soaring now!  I couldn’t be more excited for him.  Fortunately, I was able to go on his first tour in support of the In The Moment recording and to witness the impact that good music can have across the world.  What an amazing experience!  Lines around the block wherever we went!  That was unbelievable and very encouraging!  Another project that is quite exciting is Mike Reed’s Flesh and Bone.  Mike debuted his multi-disciplinary work at the Art Institute of Chicago and it’s deep!  We can’t wait to share this new recording with you, which I believe will be out next year sometime. 

            In July, we started the Tuesday Night Fellowship at the Hungry Brain, which is “a jam session for those who don't hate, but appreciate.”  In just four months, I’ve seen a strong gathering of musicians from all of the various jazz scenes in Chicago and we hope to keep this going for as long as we can!  I’ve missed hosting a session.  Takes me back to my days at the Velvet Lounge. 

            I could go on and on about the beautiful experiences we’ve had since moving to Chicago but I’ll hold those thoughts for another post, which should be happening more often.  It’s my hope that, through our art, we can make a positive impact and contribution to our community.  Especially in these turbulent times we seem to continually be in.   See you all soon! 

Touch My Beloved's Thought OUT July 8th on Greenleaf Music





A Commissioned Work for “10 Tongues”, A Large Ensemble of First-Call Chicago Improvisers, Along with A Choreographed Dance Company


Charles Mingus’ The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady is one of the most lauded records in jazz history – its lush orchestration, its breadth of territory, its uncompromising integrity and vision all contribute to its enduring allure. Recorded in 1963 with an 11 piece band, the 39 minute, continuous composition was described by Mingus as "ethnic folk-dance music", as it was originally scored and conceived as a six-part ballet.

In 2014, Roell Schmidt–executive director of the Chicago performing arts center Link’s Hall–heard Black Saint and was floored. Schmidt quickly went to Chicago jazz impresario Mike Reed about the possibility of staging something at Link’s Hall with Mingus’ music and dancers, as the composer had envisioned. Reed’s instincts led him immediately to contact his trusted collaborator of over 13 years, alto saxophonist and composer Greg Ward. Reed asked Ward simply to listen to The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady, a work he had never heard before.

Upon first listen, Ward’s mind began racing – he was enraptured by Mingus’ varied palette of colors, textures and the masterful orchestration that pervades the record. Ward excitedly got back in touch with Reed, who told him that Schmidt had chosen choreographer Onye Ozuzu to collaborate with Ward on this performance’s realization. The piece was pitched by Schmidt and Reed to Jazz Institute of Chicago’s Made In Chicago: World Class Jazz Series, in the summer of 2015. The proposal was accepted and the wheels were set in motion for the project that would eventually become Touch My Beloved’s Thought, which had its premiere on August 13, 2015.

Since his first time writing for dancers 10 years before, Ward’s imagination and his insatiable appetite has continued to grow – in the 10 intervening years, he’s scored music for films, choirs, orchestras and many multi-media works. He notes, “I’ve found that a lot of really beautiful things can come out of me placing myself in uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations.”  

Before Ward and Ozuzu began this work they faced a daunting decision: would they do a transcription of The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady, an arrangement of it, or do something completely original? They ultimately decided that the most fitting way to pay tribute to Mingus was to craft an original work which encompassed much of The Black Saint but seen through their modern lens and sensibility.

 Ward notes, “I began to dig through Mingus’ composition looking for the elements that stuck out or that were hidden.  A lot of big ideas for my composition came from very fleeting moments from his work, which may have gone unnoticed.  I kept questioning myself, ‘How would this idea sound today?’ and ‘How would I interpret that sound or feeling?’.” For instance, Ward’s composition “With All Your Sorrow Sing A Song of Jubilance” was taken from a quick piano run that Mingus played and expanded into a whole composition, while “The Menacing Lean” was taken from a fleeting, 4 second passage in Mingus’ trombones which Ward’s ear latched onto; and “Round 3” was inspired by a Major 7th voicing that Mingus used in the low voices during The Black Saint, yet completely re-imagined in a modern context, replete with a hip-hop beat . Touch My Beloved's Thought’s opener “Daybreak”  takes colors, feelings and even its 6/8 tempo from Mingus’ opener, yet borrows other aspects from other forgotten corners of Mingus’ piece. Ward, again like Mingus,  interspersed his suite with solo interludes – the piano solo feature appropriately titled “Singular Serenade”; the militaristic trombone battle of “Smash, Push, Pull, Crash” which had dancers holding each other back in a striking visual; and “Grit” which Ward says shows “[his] interpretation of Mingus’ love and interpretation of Duke Ellington’s music.”

Ward and Ozuzu quickly began their intense collaboration by meeting for one week stretches, every month, for 6 months.  When not together, Ozuzu would send Ward videos of her improvised dancing to Mingus’ music which began to reveal the palette that Ward had at its disposal.

For his part, Ward put together a 10 piece  band, and like Mingus comprised of some of his  longest-standing collaborators and top-shelf Chicago musicians: Tim Haldeman (tenor saxophone), Keefe Jackson (baritone and tenor saxophones), Russ Johnson (trumpet), Ben LaMar (cornet), Norman Palm (trombone), Christopher Davis (bass trombone), Jason Roebke (bass), Dennis Luxion (piano), Marcus Evans (drums). Ward chose them all for their unique voices which he utilized while crafting the piece and who brought it to life.

With Mike Reed’s insistence, Ward knew right before the performance that they were going to make a record of this project. They recorded the live show at Constellation Chicago, and went into the studio the following day. Yet the immediacy of feeling from the live show won out and it is what you hear on the record. Reed and Ward shopped Touch My Beloved’s Thought, around to many labels, but trumpeter Dave Douglas was incredibly enthusiastic about it being released on his imprint Greenleaf Music.

Ward’s striking synthesis of tradition and reverence for Mingus’ work, infused with his thoroughly modern and unique sensibilities give Touch My Beloved’s Thought a wonderment and power that is undeniable.