Chi-Town Native Tackles Originals and Remakes, Each With His Own Distinct Style Credit: Courtesy image
Chi-Town Native Tackles Originals and Remakes, Each With His Own Distinct Style Credit: Courtesy image

Contemporary jazz saxophonist Andre Ward, born and raised on Chicago’s Westside, said he first knew that music would be the cornerstone of his life when he began playing the drums in a thriving arts department and afterschool program at his Chicago-based public school. In short order he picked up the trumpet and then moved on to the saxophone. At that point, he knew he was hooked. 

“I felt like I was at home and really took a keen interest in my instrument,” he said. “I simply continued to learn and to get better and doors were opened for me. The encouragement I received back then has led me to be an ardent supporter for keeping the arts in public schools so that future generations will have similar opportunities.” 

Ward, 57, recently released his fifth CD, “Africa Rising,” on the Gallery Entertainment/Orpheus Enterprises label. It serves as a contemporary version of the old school “concept album,” with each selection carefully chosen – collectively delivering a simple message about the beauties of Africa in a salute to the unique sounds first created and heard on the shores of the Motherland. 

“I used the soprano, alto and tenor saxophones to replicate certain voices and sounds,” he said. “As for the songs I chose for the CD, I wanted to take people on a musical journey and sequenced the songs accordingly.”  

With a blend of originals and remakes, each with his own distinct flavor – from the hip-hop flavored single, “Casualty Of Love” (with vocalist K’Jon), to the upbeat, brassy remake of Stevie Wonder’s “Do I Do,” Andre covers a plethora of musical palates.

Ward has made a name for himself after his earlier releases, “Feelin’ You”, “Steppin’ Up” and “Crystal City” each secured a spot on the Top 10 Contemporary Jazz Albums listing, followed by “Caution,” which rose to #1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts. 

With his latest, “Africa Rising,” there’s no doubt that it too will be equally well-received with songs that include a tribute to the sound of Earth Wind & Fire with “Secret Place” (with Chantel Hampton on vocals), a remake of Sade’s “Kiss of Life,” and a salute to his sisters from Chicago, The Emotions, with his spectacular version of “Don’t Ask My Neighbors (again, with Chantel Hampton on vocals).

Make no mistake, Ward delivers on this CD. In fact, this writer could not get enough! 

 Ward, who attended Tennessee State in Nashville and then the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston where Lalah Hathaway counted among his classmates. Hathaway opened the door for him after inviting him to be part of her touring band in 1990. That led to his backing hit makers such as Will Downing, then Freddie Jackson for nine years – four of which he served as Jackson’s touring band’s musical director. 

As for “Africa Rising,” Ward said he hopes listeners will both enjoy it and find hope and inspiration. 

“Africa is a force in the world which inspires those to have a vision and belief in positive things to come, to have hope for the future generations – not only economically but as far as how driven folks from the Motherland are in business and life,” he said. “As we as a people are still emerging from the pandemic, through my music we can look to Africa as a driving force to keep us moving forward in life.”

So, how does he create, compose and deliver his soulfully smooth sound?  

“My approach is to make music that feels good. It’s got to move you and take you on a journey. I don’t really care which category you put my music in – smooth jazz, contemporary jazz, whatever. I just want to create music that ‘feels.’ That’s my job and the mission to which I’m committed.” 

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