In 2009, when he was 65, Zan Stewart felt it was time for a major life change. He decided to leave daily journalism – where he had worked as a jazz writer for close to 30 years at The Los Angeles Times and the Newark Star-Ledger – to focus on music.
“It felt like it was time to see what might happen if I devoted myself to the horn, to writing music, and to teaching, seeing where they might take me,” says Stewart, a student clarinetist at age six and a tenor saxophonist since 1966. “I had done a ton of writing – around 2000 profiles plus many more reviews and other short pieces. I had contributed to the music that way, and now I wanted to explore another avenue.” And so he has. The multi-talented Stewart – who has also written for Down Beat, among other music magazines, and has penned liner notes to over 200 albums and multi-CD sets, earning a prestigious ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in the process – has moved to Richmond Annex in San Francisco’s East Bay after a 9-year-stretch in West Orange, N.J., and set up shop.
“My days are centered around practicing, writing music, and developing other aspects of my musical career,” says the saxophonist. “It feels great.” Since arriving in Berkeley in 2011, Stewart has been an active participant in the Bay Area’s jazz scene, sitting in at various jam sessions and fronting quartet performances at such rooms as Duende in Oakland, and the Firehouse Gallery and Nick’s Lounge in Berkeley. The band, whose members are absolutely top drawer, features two bebop-to-modern masters – drummer Ron Marabuto and pianist Keith Saunders– and the on-the-rise bass ace Adam Gay. The leader is featured on saxophone, and also offers microphone commentary.