I had heard the British jazz drummer Nick Ward on several compact discs before visiting the most recent Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, and looked forward to seeing him play. (He has the Kevin Dorn Seal of Approval, which counts a great deal.)
My drumming idols all were and are masterful sound-creators, varying timbres and emphases as they move from one part of their drum kit to another. It isn’t a restless, impatient varying of sound — Jo Jones could stay on his hi-hat for choruses if it felt right to him and to the band — but these drummers are great listeners, commenting on and participating in the collective musical improvisation that flows from them and around them.
Nick Ward embodies what’s best in jazz drumming, empathic, swinging, never overbearing. He’s not afraid to vary what he’s doing as the situation demands, but will explore the possibilities of one sound for a period of time, getting the beauty of it hot, as someone in a T.S. Eliot poem says. His rimshots are perfect punctuations; his snare-drum roll is smoother than the law allows; he is visually as well as aurally gratifying.
Here Nick is driving and encouraging a whole raft of clarinet players — some whose names have eluded me! — in a session, CLARINET CRESCENDO, led by the brilliant reedman Matthias Seuffert. On the bandstand are Aurelie Tropez and Stephane Gillot, of the Red Hot Reedwarmers, Janet Shaw from Canada, and a rhythm section of Brian Chester, piano; Rachel Hayward, banjo and guitar, and Henry Lemaire, bass. They romp through a nearly ten-minute heated tribute to Jimmie Noone and James P. Johnson, jamming happily on the latter’s A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID. And all this musical bliss took place on July 11, 2009. Not 1930, but now!
I read somewhere that the British monarchy awards knighthoods for “services rendered to society.” Jelly Roll Morton wrote a song in which the King made Jelly a Lord for his hot piano. I hope that the Queen sees this clip: arise, Sir Nick Ward!