An officer and a jazz man

Who is Michael Ward? Well he works for the sheriff’s department in New Orleans. He was once a full-time member but is now a part time reserve deputy in the motor cycle division. This means he doesn’t have to go in everyday and there’s no fixed schedule except he has to be on duty at Mardi Gras time.
This flexible schedule allows him to tour with his band.

Ward is considered one of the top violinists in the Crescent City and he’s one of the top international artists who will be playing at Standard Bank Joy of Jazz which runs in Newtown from August 26 to 28.

Explains Michael: ‘I’m a jazz violinist. I do smooth jazz and R&B-type funk. I can play anything. I’m on over 200 CDs from jazz to blues, country and western to Cajon and I’ve played all styles in my career. But as a recording artist with my own band, I do smooth jazz.”

Ward has played with symphony orchestras and played on the Wynton Marsalis CD, Blood on the Field, which was the winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize in Music. It was also the first jazz CD to win the award.

Other artists he has appeared with include Kirk Whalum, BB King, Marion Meadows, Najee and Norman Brown. He has played for two American Presidents, George Bush Sr., and Bill Clinton, as well as playing at a fundraiser for Barack Obama.

Ward is bringing with him to Johannesburg pianist and musical director Darrell Lavine, bassist Jelando Johnson, guitarist Kerry Wilkins and drummer Shannon Hamilton.

He calls Lavine a phenomenal musician and producer who has produced over 300 CDs in his career: ‘Some of these guys have been with me for almost 20 years and others for over 10 years. The vocals are handled by me, Darrell and Shannon.”

So how did he get started on violin?

‘I started in sixth grade. I took a string class that my mother told me to take and I had to choose an instrument so I took the violin up, and I just never left it alone. I played with the youth symphony. I’m originally from San Antonio, Texas and I’ve been in New Orleans for 28 years now. I played in symphony orchestras and then I went to Southern University in Louisiana and studied with clarinetist Alvin Batiste who got me into jazz.”

At Joy of Jazz the band will play original music plus some covers as well: ‘I love Michael Jackson. I’m a big fan so you’ll hear his music, some Stevie Wonder, some Grover Washington junior and a lot of Michael Ward and some blues too.

‘It’s the first time I’ll be in that part of the world and I’m looking forward to it. I’m hoping that the music I’m going to play will be pleasing to the ear for the audience, so we’re being very careful in the music we are going to pick. My show is a high energy show so we are going to keep them on their feet.”

So prepare for the sheriff of smooth jazz to ride into town with a fully-loaded violin in his holster and a posse of four at his side. They intend to move and groove. The only arrest that will be made is if you don’t get into the spirit of his high energy music.

- Michael Ward performs at the Bassline on August 27 & 28.

—Information supplied by Standard Bank Joy of Jazz