"At once old-timey and avant-garde": the innovation and influence of Wilbur Ware
Seigfried, Karl Erik Haddock
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A Chicago-born, African-American bassist whose career as a performer reached from the 1930s into the 1970s, Wilbur Ware (1923-1979) had a percussive tone and an advanced rhythmic concept that set him apart from other leading bassists of his time. His playing was extremely bass-oriented; he did not emulate the phrasing of wind players, as did many other bass innovators in jazz, but created a very idiosyncratic and recognizable style that built on the acoustic properties and strengths of the instrument. This treatise addresses the lack of a comprehensive study of Ware by compiling a comprehensive biography, examining the roots of his playing in relation to earlier players (Page, Blanton, Crosby), situating him amongst his contemporaries (Chambers, LaFaro, Davis), analyzing his style as both accompanist and soloist (including work with Coltrane, Monk, and Rollins), looking at his influence on the next generation of bassists (Favors, Haden, Garrison), and gathering together and annotating his recorded performances. Specific issues addressed center around Ware’s relationship to the music of earlier generations, his own, and the next. Ware himself acknowledges his debt to the bassists who came before him; the philosophy and work of these players is examined in light of Ware’s own. Ware clearly stands in opposition to the general trends in bass playing evident during his first years in New York City; the question addressed here is how his approach worked with the musicians he performed with and how his playing affected the end result. Many writers posit a bass lineage following Ware that begins in the subsequent generation, and the players themselves have attested to their indebtedness to the older musician in one form or another; what this treatise examines is why his musical language fit so readily with the new music that was being developed by these younger bassists.