Born: August 17 Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor
Drum Legend BILLY HIGGINS: Stewart is perhaps the most important young artist to come along in decades!
Amazingly however, Robert Stewart did not even begin to play the saxophone until the age of 17. Born and raised in Oakland, California, basketball had been the primary passion of his youth. His 6ft. 4in. frame, earned him varsity shooting guard status on the Fremont High School basketball team for two years. However, Stewart was struck by divine revelation shortly after graduating from Fremont. While surfing the radio to find a Rap or R&B station, Stewart stumbled upon a traditional jazz piece being performed by a tenor saxophonist who sounded as though he were literally possessed or enraged. The intense pace of the tune was unbelievable. This piece was immediately followed by another of romantic or heavenly qualities, by a different individual; However, playing the very same instrument. These two jazz giants were John Coltrane and Ben Webster. The contrast in mood and timbre of the instrument played by the previously mentioned so overwhelmed Stewart, that he immediately asked his father to purchase a saxophone; Stewart's father happily obliged.
Though COMPLETELY SELF-TAUGHT on the saxophone and music in general (incorporating only an elementary saxophone manual for guidance), Stewart enrolled in a Jazz Jam Session class (under the persuasion of his ever insightful mother) hosted by the Bay Area piano legend, Ed Kelly. Another giant of the present day was also enrolled in this class with Stewart, Joshua Redman. As though the two previously mentioned weren't enough for a wonderful beginning, the saxophone titan Pharaoh Sanders would regularly jam in the class room with Stewart and the rest. Stewart's initial reaction to the eclectic, white bearded, tenor titan was: Mr. Kelly, who is the dude with the white beard hanging down to his stomach like Santa Claus? Kelly's response: Man, that's Pharaoh Sanders; He played with Trane (Coltrane). Consequently, the mere mention of the name (Coltrane) induced immediate respect and admiration for the bearded tenor titan. On a similar note, Pharaoh (while Stewart was playing) leaned over to Kelly and stated: Ed, I hear something in this one. Hence, Pharaoh passed Stewart a note which stated: Come over to my house tomorrow afternoon. I can help you with your horn. Stewart (living only 6 blocks from Pharaoh at that time) did as instructed. Stewart and Sanders maintain a blood brother relationship to this day.
However, it was through an elder Bay Area trumpeter (Robert Porter) that Stewart was introduced to the saxophonists and music of early America, such as Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Sidney Bechet, Lucky Thompson, etc. Consequently, it was Stewart's vast knowledge and performance of early American music styles that compelled the trumpet colossus and living legend Wynton Marsalis (whom Stewart first met and played with in a Jam Session in Oakland over a decade ago) to hire him for his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (in which Stewart served a 4 year stint), and purchased a new horn for Stewart to do so. Stewart (whom Wynton has tellingly dubbed: THE REVEREND) performs with Wynton and orchestra on the Columbia/Sony recordings: They Came To Swing, and the Pulitzer prize winning Blood On The Fields. The latter is a three-hour oratorio featuring Cassandra Wilson and John Hendricks. Stewart has also been filmed with Wynton on the award-winning television program Sessions At West 54th Street, Marsalis On Music (with legendary conductor Segi Ozawa), and the South Bank Series for Bravo Television. Stewart has toured the world with Wynton and has also performed, recorded, or toured with the following:
President Bill Clinton, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, McCoy Tyner, Doc Cheatham, Benny Golson, Jimmy Smith, Pharaoh Sanders, Eddie Harris, Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Billy Higgins, Donald Byrd, Barry Harris, George Coleman, Branford Marsalis, David Murray, Kenny Kirkland, Jeff Tain Watts, Bobby Hutcherson, Pony Poindexter, Big Jay McNeely, John Lee Hooker, John Handy, Donald Duck Bailey, Freddie Redd, Jon Faddis, Billy Mitchell, Etta Jones, Cassandra Wilson, Ernie Andrews, Eddie Moore, George Cables, Ray Drummond, Chico Freeman, Roy Hargrove, Marcus Roberts, John Hendricks, Les McCann, Cyrus Chestnut/Donald Harrison, Joshua Redman/Brian Blade, James Carter, Bobby Watson, Sonny Simmons, Lavay Smith, Jules Broussard, Greg Philingains (Michael Jackson), Terri Lynn Carrington (Arsenio Hall), Lenny Williams (Tower of Power), Felton Pilate (Confunkshun), and many others.