Grant Stewart: From Smalls To The Big Time
GS: Yeah. [Trumpeter] Clark Terry. I was very lucky to get to hang with Al.
AAJ: Did you get to hear some good stories?
GS: He had some good stories. The best one I'll tell you later. [laughs] I don't want to work blue.
AAJ: Talk about recording your first album.
GS: The first album as a leader was for Criss Cross [Downtown Sounds (Criss Cross, 1992)] with [trumpeter] Joe Magnarelli and Brad Mehldau and [drummer] Kenny and [bassist] Peter Washington. It came from a steady gig I had with the drummer Johnny Ellis at a place called the S T Bar. This was probably in 1991. It was down in Alphabet City [in Manhattan] on 11th St. between B and C, which back then was a seriously bad neighborhood. A lot of drugs. It was kind of scary. But we had a regular Thursday night gig there, and it became the hang. It was one of those magic gigs where for a year or so it was a really good gig and everybody would come and hang out.
Peter Bernstein recommended me to [Criss Cross founder] Gerry Teekens, and I sent Gerry a tape. He liked it and called me up and we did a record. I was like twenty-one or something. I think back now and think, "yeesh." It was great for me and I'm grateful to have done it, but I had to listen to a bit of it latelyand I was really young.
AAJ: What was it like stepping into the studio for the first time?
GS: It was cool, because I knew Brad and he was a friend of mine. And Joe was on the gig, too, at the S T Bar. It was fun.
AAJ: Over the years, you've recorded a number of albums including your new one, In The Still Of The Night. It has Peter Washington and [drummer] Joe Farnsworth and [pianist] Tardo Hammer. Talk about this record.
GS: It's a date I did last October. It's my first date for Sharp Nine Records. The recording quality is great on itSystems Two [recording studio] did a great job. Joe Marciano engineered it. You can't really go wrong with Tardo Hammer and Joe Farnsworth and P-Wash. It was a relaxed date.
AAJ: Are any of these guys the regular Smalls gig that you do?
GS: No, but I work with Tardo in different groups.
AAJ: Tell us about the Smalls gig.
GS: I'm there every Tuesday night with Joe Cohn on guitar, who is unbelievable. He's just a fantastic guitarist. My brother, Philip Stewart, is on drums. He's not just my brother but he's one of my favorite drummers. Ehud Asherie, a great young pianist, and Joel Forbes, a bassist with a huge sound.
AAJ: Smalls is a real "musicians' club," right? A lot of your colleagues are in the audience.
GS: Yeah, a lot of the guys come down and hang.
AAJ: How did you get that gig?
GS: I got a callI can't remember what year, I think it opened in 1994. I got a call from a friend of mine, a guitarist. He called me and said, "I just me this guy and I'm booking the music at his club." He gave me all these dates and told me to come down and meet him. So I went down to the club. It hadn't even opened yet. It was Mitch Borden, the owner, putting up all the stuff on the walls. I just started working there.
When they opened up it was $10 to get in and they had free beer and wine. [laughs] It was open all night and they had free beer and wine for $10. And the cops put an end to that because he didn't have a liquor license so you can't even give it away. I guess if you're charging a cover you're not technically giving it away.
So then they had free food. Free rice and beans. I love Mitch, but he comes up with some crazy ideas. It was a great hang. It was open until eight in the morning. There's an early show then a middle show then a jam session.
AAJ: What does a regular gig like that do for you musically?
GS: It's just great to have a steady gig. It's great to be with your own band and go in and build up repertoire and work out. And it's great to have a place where you're always at.
Grant Stewart, In The Still Of The Night (Sharp Nine, 2007)
Reeds and Deeds (Grant Stewart & Eric Alexander), Cookin' (Criss Cross, 2006)
Grant Stewart, Estate (Video Arts Music, 2006)
Grant Stewart, Tenor And Soul (Video Arts Music, 2006)
Grant Stewart, Grant Stewart +4 (Criss Cross, 2005)
Sasha Loukachine Quintet with Clark Terry, Stars Fell On Alabama (Alexandre Loukachine, 2005)
Reeds and Deeds (Grant Stewart & Eric Alexander), Wailin' (Criss Cross, 2005)
Grant Stewart, Buen Rollo (Fresh Sound New Talent, 1999)
Grant Stewart, More Urban Tones (Criss Cross, 1996)
Grant Stewart, Downtown Sounds(Criss Cross, 1992)
Courtesy of Grant Stewart