Rising Star: Saxophonist Anthony Ware

January 1, 2023

When Anthony Ware was a fourth grader at the Hillcrest Elementary School in Somerset, NJ, he had the opportunity to select a musical instrument to learn. “We had our pick of instruments,” he recalled. “I had always seen this saxophone in my father’s closet, and I’d heard stories – ‘Your father played saxophone.’ I fell in love with it after we began.”

When he was in the eighth grade, a friend and fellow saxophonist, Irwin Hall, brought him some flyers from the Jazz Institute of New Brunswick. “Up to that point,” said Ware, “I was thinking jazz was Kenny G. I had a really cool art teacher when I was in the seventh grade, and he was always playing CD 10l.9 as we were doing printmaking. Once I got the Jazz Institute flyers, I said, ‘I think I should go to this because I wanted to get better. I brought the flyer to my father, and he said, ‘That’s probably Radam’s thing.’ Radam Schwartz was the Musical Director for the program, and my father had taken piano lessons from him.” 

The JINB was founded in the 1980s by trumpeter Leslie Ford, according to Schwartz, because Ford, who died in 2015 at the age of 68, “felt that jazz had saved his life growing up in Newark. The program preceded all the New Jersey jazz programs that exist today.

“Anthony Ware,” he continued, “was in the second generation of students who came to the program. Anthony was probably 13 or 14 when I met him, and he was a sponge for knowledge – as he is today.” Not only had Schwartz given Ware’s father jazz piano lessons but, added Ware, “To make it even weirder, my father and him were born the same day, maybe 20 miles apart. They ran in similar circles when they were younger.”

At the JINB, Ware met several people “who really helped shape my formative musical years – Marcus Miller, the saxophone player; (baritone saxophonist) Anthony Nelson, Jr. who was my first saxophone teacher; James Stewart, sax player; and (alto saxophonist) Bruce Williams, who, in many respects, is a musical father to me.”

Williams feels Ware is “one of the sleepers on the scene, in my opinion. He is equally comfortable with and extremely capable on both alto and tenor saxophone, much like Sonny Stitt was. And, he has a really interesting approach to changes, deep and soulful. He is technically fluid and is also one of the hardest working minds in jazz today, representing the current edition of younger lions.”

When Ware was studying under Williams, “the whole thing was trying to get me to sound like an alto player. He would always say, ‘Deepen your well, check out more people. Get a larger base of knowledge together.’ I worked so hard to get that for alto.” He started playing tenor on gigs in Harlem and then had an opportunity to move to China, playing on a hotel gig with trumpeter Theo Croker in Shanghai. “When I moved to China,” he said, “I was playing tenor more. It was a great experience. Without even trying, I was working seven nights a week. Then, at one point, Roy Hargrove’s band came into town; and when they came and played, I said, ‘Oh, man, this is what I’m missing – the New York scene.” So, he moved back to the U.S. after six months, “although I was flying back and forth a bit.”

Ware received his Bachelors degree in Jazz Saxophone at Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts, where, during his senior year, he studied under alto saxophonist Ralph Bowen. “That,” he said, “was one of the most productive years I’ve had. He was an amazing teacher. He helped me get to some stuff I wouldn’t have even thought to get to.”

While at Rutgers, Ware also played with Schwartz’s band, Conspiracy for Positivity. During that time, Schwartz said, “He learned a lot about music ensemble playing, grooving with a rhythm section, reading the audience, and the business of music. We also had the type of discussions band members have when on the road together, so we developed a philosophical dialog as well, sometimes pertaining to music and sometimes not. I recommended him for gigs backing up singers, and he was a regular at Skippers in Newark where I had the house gig for five years.” He has also been a frequent performer at New Brunswick Jazz Project gigs.

Now, Schwartz and Ware both teach at Jazz House Kids, “and we discuss jazz education,” Schwartz said, “plus, he teaches me about technology. I learned how to compose on the computer, thanks to his guidance, and he edits my academic writing. He has been on many of my recordings.” The 38-year-old Ware, who still lives in the Somerset area, also teaches five days a week at the Union County Charter School in Plainfield, NJ.

Last November, Ware performed as part of a quintet led by trombonist Mariel Bildsten at the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts’ Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon series in Toms River. This month he will be appearing with trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis’ Uptown Jazz Orchestra at Birdland. He also leads his own ‘coretet’ – “We can scale up and down as it needs to be. I also have a trio, which I call my Point of View Trio. First call members are Mike King on piano, Nimrod Speaks on bass, and Jerome Jennings on drums. I’ve been working on some quintet music for a band called Three Fifths Compromise, inspired by the works of African-American literature.” 

In 2018, Schwartz released an album on the Arabesque Records label called 2 Sides of the Organ Combo, featuring Schwartz playing organ with two different ensembles. The Smooth Side ensemble featured Bryan Carrott on vibes, Mike Lee on tenor saxophone, and Andrew Atkinson on drums. The Groove Side featured Marcus Printup on trumpet, Ware on alto saxophone, Charlie Sigler on guitar, and Atkinson on drums. Recalling that recording session, Printup described Ware as “the epitome of authenticity and soul. He plays who he is . . . and it’s all good!”—SANFORD JOSEPHSON


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