David Ades is an Australian alto saxophonist renowned for his unique and distinctive style of playing. From improvisational jazz to collaborations with classical orchestras, Ades has performed worldwide for over thirty years as a soloist and has collaborated with esteemed figures such as Wynton Marsalis, Mark Helias, Tony Malaby, Gerald Cleaver, Tom Rainey, Dr John and Joe Locke as well as Australians including Phil Treloar, Paul Grabowsky, Dale Barlow, Roger Frampton, Simone De Haan, Vince Jones , The Cat Empire and the Australian Youth Orchestra
Abandoning the staid streets of Sydney – and his studies at the conservatory – Ades moved to New York in 1981 at the age of 19. Precocious and eager for visceral experience, he spent nearly every night for the next three years sitting in at The Blue Book on 145th St witnessing greats such as Jack McDuff, Sonny Stitt, Roy Haynes, Stanley Turrentine and Freddie Hubbard. Alternatively inspired and humbled by what he heard, it was Harlem that essentially taught Ades to play.
Returning to Australia in 1984, Ades toured with Kieth Stirling and Serge Ermoll, earning a name for himself as an artist of exceptional talent. The Sydney Morning Herald’s John Clare notably described him as: “Distinctive as the masters, a unique and original voice. David’s presence is as large and luminous as life itself, a rare talent indeed.”
In 1987 Ades met the composer Phil Treloar, who was to become one of the most influential figures in his life. Treloar invited him to join his ensemble Feeling To Thought (featuring Treloar on drums, Mark Simmonds on tenor saxophone and Steve Elphic on bass) giving him the opportunity to play with the Tasmania University String Orchestra, Christian Wojtowicz, Pipeline Contemporary Music Project and Simone DeHaan. Treloar instilled in Ades the importance of trust, authenticity and the willingness to take risks, even if it means playing on “the edge of the abyss”.
It’s an attitude Ades has carried with him and one that is evident throughout his work. It had already been instilled in him from a young age by his father, the infamous Joe Ades who sold potato peelers on the streets of New York, who lived his life on the edge and thrived in doing so. That the unknown is nothing to be afraid of – instead, it’s the ultimate freedom because you can go anywhere.
In 1991 he released his debut album Bird on a Head, which was acclaimed as “groundbreaking new music”. Living in Asia for much of the 90s with his wife, the Australian painter Melissa Thompson, Ades appeared regularly at jazz clubs and festivals in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand with such luminaries as Arturo Sandoval, Mike Stern and Indra Lesmana.
Returning to Australia in 1998, he relocated to Bangalow, a small town in the hills of Byron Bay, where he formed the band FATS with Scott Tinkler, Greg Sheehan and Thierry Fosmalle. Together they’ve released two albums, FATS and Juicy Shoots, and have performed at the Wangaratta International Jazz Festival, The Brisbane Biennial and The Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival. From 1999 to 2004 Ades also taught saxophone and jazz studies at Southern Cross University.
In 2000 Ades teamed up with his old mentor Treloar to perform SHADES: In Memoriam Roger Frampton at the Sydney Opera House and later at the Wangarratta International Jazz Festival, which was also recorded for ABC’s Listening Room. It was at the 2000 Wangarratta Festival that he was invited to perform with New York bassist and composer Mark Helias and his trio Open Loose. Playing informally with Helias and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby during his yearly pilgrimages to New York, in May 2011 Ades decided to record his second album, titled A Glorious Uncertainty, with Helias, Malaby and drummer Gerald Cleaver.
In 2008 Ades recorded an album with saxophonist Dale Barlow, formerly of Art Blakey Jazz Messengers, and bassist Essiet Essiet, along with Joe Locke on vibraphone and Sean Wayland on piano. Along with yearly stints in New York, Ades also regularly visits Europe, recently performing in Paris, Amsterdam, Italy and London.
Following another recent performance in Italy in 2011 Ades toured with Sydney composer and tenor saxophonist Matt Keegan in support of their celebrated album The Matt Keegan Trio Meets David Ades. He also regularly performs with the popular Australian group the Cat Empire in Australia and in 2007 he was invited to be the featured soloist with The Cat Empire and the Australia Youth Orchestra at an event staged at the Iwaki Auditorium at Melbourne’s South Bank. He also helped facilitate the improvisation workshops with the orchestra.
Alternatively ferocious and tender, Ades approaches his instrument with a fervour and abandon as beautiful as it is shocking. Still willingly teetering on the edge of the musical abyss, he shows no signs of slowing down.