James Ward (‘72)—jazz legend, church musician, and servant of the Creator—has blessed many through his music. To celebrate his music ministry over the years, New City Fellowship, Covenant College, and Chattanooga Christian School (CCS) collaborated to host the Morning Sun Concert on September 15, 2018.
A prominent composer and performer, Ward has toured throughout North America and Europe, spreading the gospel news through his music. Ward retired last year from his position as full-time music director at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, a position he held since 2002. He’s served in music ministry at New City since his time as a Covenant student. Ward graduated from Covenant in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts in Music and received his Master’s Degree in jazz performance from the University of Tennessee.
“The legacy James Ward has built for himself, and ultimately for the Kingdom of God, is a testimony to hard work and faithfulness,” Nabil Ince (‘18), a leader of Expression Engine and former student under Ward said. “To see the many kinds of different people impacted by his music all come to celebrate him was a moment.”
This vibrant concert was a worshipful experience. It combined work from many musical ensembles in and around Chattanooga, including East Lake Expression Engine, The Distribution, along with a massive combined choral ensemble to recognize and honor Ward’s work and its impact on many.
“I think the concert was a glorious tribute to one of the most remarkable and faithful men that Chattanooga has ever seen,” Sammie Brown (‘18), a leader of Expression Engine, said.
The Covenant College choral ensembles, consisting of both current students and alumni, were privileged to join the New City Choir and the CCS choir in this concert.
This choral ensemble, under the direction of Scott Finch, associate professor of Music at Covenant, kicked off the concert with three of Ward’s original jazz pieces including “Death is Ended!” and “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” The jazz band that accompanied the choir consisted of Covenant alumnus Nabil Ince (‘18) on keys, Given Arnold on the bass, Lashaun Porter on the drums, and Steve Smallman on the piano.
The reaction from the audience to the first three pieces was electric. Many members of the audience participated with the music by singing along, clapping, standing up, and other forms of worship.
A few Covenant students glimpsed Ward sitting in the second row of the nearly packed auditorium at CCS.
“He looked so overwhelmed and so happy,” Hannah Pulliam (‘20), a junior music major who saw him during the concert said. “He seemed humbled and honored, and also was having a really good time listening to the music that he wrote being loved and performed by over 100 people on stage at the same time. And that was just the opening of the concert.”
The East Lake Expression Engine ensemble performed two of Ward’s pieces: “Hold Me Jesus” and “Holy Books.” Karen Ellis, the emcee of the concert, introduced the group and praised Ward for being an inspiration to the minds of those who started this music ministry.
“It was incredibly honoring to have the kids be able to be a part of it,” Brown said. “I think it was a cool testament to the breadth of James Ward’s influence.”
Ward continues to teach jazz piano and ensemble at Covenant and Lee University, spreading his love of jazz music to students. His tutelage has encouraged musicians such as Ince to use his gifts faithfully for God’s kingdom.
“James Ward taught me learning and developing as an artist and as a human being is a never ending journey,” Ince said. “Faithful attention to the use of those skills for the advancement of God’s work is not easy, but necessary.”