Jazz Drummer Bill Stewart
Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at 4:00pm
Stewart grew up in Des Moines, Iowa listening to his parents’ jazz and rhythm and blues records without much exposure to live jazz in the then relatively isolated state of Iowa. The largely self-taught drummer began playing at the age of seven. While in high school, he played in a Top 40 cover band and the school orchestra, and went to a summer music camp at Stanford Jazz Workshop where he met jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie. After high school graduation, Stewart attended the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, playing in the jazz and marching bands as well as the orchestra. He then transferred to William Paterson University (then William Paterson College), where he played in ensembles directed by Rufus Reid, studied drums with Eliot Zigmund and Horacee Arnold and took composition lessons from Dave Samuels. The young drummer met future employer Joe Lovano while still in college (the two played duets in lieu of a drum lesson when Zigmund was away). He also made his first recordings, with saxophonist Scott Kreitzer, pianist Armen Donelian, while still in school, and with pianist Franck Amsallem (with Gary Peacock on bass) in 1990.
After college, Stewart moved to New York where he quickly built his reputation, first gaining wider recognition in John Scofield’s quartet and in a trio with Larry Goldings and Peter Bernstein, which has become the longest running group Stewart has played with, having begun in 1989 and continuing to this day, however infrequently the group may be found in performance. Stewart’s musical horizons expanded when legendary funk saxophonist Maceo Parker tapped the budding drummer upon seeing him with Larry Goldings at a regular gig at a club in Manhattan. Stewart worked with Parker from 1990 to 1991, touring and recording on three of Parker’s albums. The association led to Stewart’s memorable gig with the great James Brown, who told Stewart that there “Ain’t no funk in Iowa!” upon learning the drummer’s roots. Musical associations with Lee Konitz, Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny and many other notable jazz musicians have followed.
As a drummer, Bill Stewart’s playing is distinguished by its melodic focus, and its polyrhythmic, or layered, character. To say his playing is “melodic” means there is a sense in which one can “hum along” to his solos, as there is a clear sense of melodic construction. His improvisations favor the development and layering of motivic ideas over the raw generation of excitement or display of technical prowess. Stewart has great touch, or dynamic precision, so that his ideas are articulated with a pleasing exactness and clarity. He has also achieved a very high degree of independence of his limbs, so that not only the ride and the snare/toms, but also the bass drum and hi-hat, are free to participate as melodic “first-class citizens.” His drumming bears the influence of various melodic drummers who preceded him, including Max Roach, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette and Al Foster.
“Consistently inventive… completely engaging.”
– All About Jazz
“First and foremost, Hazeltine is an excellent jazz pianist. …his improvisations abound with well-developed ideas.”
– David Orthmann, All About Jazz