Music for Music: Greg Ward

Greg Ward; photo by Mikel Patrick Avery

Greg Ward: Noble Quest

By Dan Ursini


Dion’s Quest by Greg Ward’s Rogue Parade contains nearly an hour of brilliantly layered music by a quintet that has developed into a magnificent jazz ensemble. Leader Ward wrote every song. He is also an exceptionally gifted alto sax player. There is an intense musicality in his playing, with a deep imprint of the human voice. The warm strength of his tone is both shared and balanced by the guitarists in the band—Dave Miller and Matt Gold. Both play electric guitars and employ an arsenal of effects. Ward regards them as “daring sonic explorers.” The rhythm section includes Matt Ulery on double bass and Quin Kirchner on drums. Each member of the band has a songwriting background, which allows them to think compositionally while exploring the songs.

Ward explains the process: “I compose all the material for these incredible artists that I have the pleasure of working with. Before these compositions are complete, I take the scores to rehearsal so that the guys can add the final touches. They all bring so much to everything that they do. This collaborative element in this band is the most important part of our group sound.”

Though the album was released in 2023, it was recorded during July of 2021—a critical point of transition in the COVID era. Ward explains, “We were all slowly returning to some semblance of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just being together again was so cathartic. The music we made is a representation of the joy that we all felt, having just experienced such a challenging time.” The whole album is suffused with buoyant energy—particularly the opening song, “Crimson Clay.” Like many of the eight compositions on Quest, it is strong enough to anchor an entire album. There is a strong African presence in the breezy melody and strolling rhythms. Ward and guitarist Miller trade off performing inventive and speedy solos.

Ward explains that, in 2005, he had his first “opportunity to travel to South Africa with my father. The music I heard while traveling through the townships around Johannesburg was incredible. One of the ensembles I heard was a gospel choir that sang songs in Zulu … Their soloist would riff over top of the choir in an improvisatory way. This sound struck me!” He tried to integrate what he learned into his music, and it paid off: “Chicago-based African musicians accepted me and included me in many different performance and recording opportunities. The interactions with all these incredible musicians have had a major impact on the music that I create, and I am forever grateful for all the information that they all have given to me so freely.”

Along with African music, the songs on Dion’s Quest also reflect a heavy blues influence. Ward explains, “The blues is a part of all the music that I love, and I feel fortunate to have been surrounded by great practitioners of this foundational sound. Whether it was through my uncle or my father, who are great Hammond B-3 players, I lean into this great tradition that has been passed on to me through mentors and experiences throughout the world. The blues is an element that I feel must be present in all my work somehow.”

“Blues of the Earth” is a fascinating song, with a wiry and angular melody, supported by the slow deep rhythmic conviction of Ulery and Kirchner. Following a spirited intro by Ward and drummer Kirchner, Miller and Ward explore the hard-edged humor and anger central to the blues. The song concludes with   guitarists Gold and Miller playing together with Ward – with the sax evoking a raw scream.

A rough edge of another sort characterizes “Beware of the Oh EEEs.” Miller does a long intro with guitar and effects, creating sonic details alluding to everything from early guitar feedback to brutal UK prog rock. Against this background of hard ambient menace is an arched nervous melody played by Ward and Gold. Anxious energy reigns as a demented horn arrangement materializes. It is wonderful.  

The music of Dion’s Quest offers remarkable stylistic and emotional range. At the other end of the spectrum is “Dashing Towards First Light.” It is an exceptional composition, divided into several different parts with deft transitions and time shifts. It has a captivating melody, played with much grace by Ward and by Gold.

Even more affecting is “Bravo Constantine,” in which Ward’s yearning melody soars above complex polyrhythms. Throughout, Gold’s guitar builds on the inherent lyricism of the music. It is a completely achieved marvel.

Bassist Matt Ulery plays with great economy and superb timing throughout the album. The thoughtful, bluesy “Noir Nouveau” brings these strengths forward. A moody vibe is gradually deepened by Ward and the guitarists, closing with a smoking solo by Miller.

The album’s closer, “Ocean of Faith,” is marked by an ineluctable stillness, through which a haunting serpentine melody circles, picked up by the various musicians. This piece underscores the artistic and spiritual strengths that make Dion’s Quest such a powerful album.


Greg Ward at Sugah Hoof Records

Greg Ward at Bandcamp

Greg Ward at Apple

Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983). His play, Sandbar Flatland, directed by John Malkovich, was produced in 1978 during the dawn of the legendary Off-Loop Theater scene in Chicago. In 1990 Chicago Magazine selected it as one of the ten best shows of the preceding 25 years. Beyond this, Ursini worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine; he wrote performance art pieces presented at such Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication. In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, has had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at:


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.