The Greg Ward Trio performs at NIU

By Kevin Bartelt

Saxophonist Greg Ward inspired several musicians on Friday in a powerful performance.

The Greg Ward Trio’s concert 4 p.m. Friday in the Recital Hall raised the bar for musicians. Makaya McCraven on drums and Matt Ulery on bass joined Ward for Friday’s performance.

The trio played some originals by Ward, like “Above Ground,” “Leanin’ In” and “Velvet Lounge Shut-In.”

“Above Ground”’s slow and colorful melody, as played by Ward and Ulery, was accompanied by a fast and erratic drum set. The clear difference between the melody and the beat was reciprocated well by the audience. Audience members weren’t tapping their feet, but rather studying this intricate song.

Unlike with “Above Ground,” audience members nodded their heads to the beat of “Leanin’ In.” This song began with a solo by Ulery followed by a fascinating groove. McCraven joined him with another impressively fast beat.

You didn’t need to be a musician to know the notes Ward played were not easy. The audience and the trio really connected throughout this song.

Before the performance, Ward said “Velvet Lounge Shut-In” was written as a tribute to Fred Anderson. Anderson, a legendary saxophone player, was one of Ward’s greatest mentors. The Velvet Lounge, a live music venue in Chicago, is where Anderson and Ward played for several years.

“The first three songs were definitely freer in nature…I also thought that all of the questions asked were really good,” said Matt Poulos, graduate trombone performance major.

After his performance of these songs, Ward, a 2004 NIU alumnus, broke into a riveting Q&A, explaining his use of emotion, his inspirations and his philosophies on musicianship.

“I’m up here because I love this and I don’t want to be anywhere else,” Ward said. “You have to play and work with that kind of intensity. No half-steppin’.”

McCraven and Ulery also shared their thoughts on musicianship.

“Why would I play without emotion?” McCraven said. “When I’m behind the drum set, I should put my entire being into it. I can’t tell you to be happy, sad or angry, but I do intend that whatever I’m playing to be filled with my emotion at the time. Often, that trumps the notes on the page.”

The concert ended with the trio covering “If I Were a Bell,” made famous by the Miles Davis Quintet.

“In my opinion, these guys are some of the best musicians in the world as far as I have come across,” said Ulery about Ward and McCraven.