Grant Stewart: The Sound of Hard Bop Today
AAJ: Is there any kind of tension between musicians that just think of jazz in a traditional way and the ones that think of it in a modern one?
GS: No ... I mostly see that stuff happening between weaker players, but the good players, generally, have respect for other genres and styles. Because it's not about a style, it's about good music.
AAJ: You learned by yourself and by taking private lessons with musicians. What do you think about music schools?
GS: Well, they can be good for some things, but the best things that I learned were on records that I listened to. My answer is the recordings: transcribing and listening, working on songs. It's a very elusive thing to learn to play jazzthere is a lot of stuff that can't be taught, that can't be put to a formula. It's very elusive in that way. Sometimes the only way to learn is to have a good teacher that sits down with you to play. He leads you personally, but it's hard to teach a lot of students. For example, I can teach one person at a time. It's a very hard thing, how to teach jazz to many people at once.
AAJ: Do you think jazz schools are essentially just production lines?
GS: No, I just think that if someone is gonna be original, they are gonna be original. It's up to the individual. I know a lot of good players that went to school and other ones that came up as copies. You know, it's a very hard thing to play jazz, and some people learn it, and some people don't. It's a difficult thing to do, takes a lot of timeit's a lot of study. As I said, it's elusive. But yeah, they can be like factories because, as I said, it's very hard to teach, and the tendency is to want to put it on a formula and teach people with the formula, and that produces a kind of people that sound the same.
AAJ: So they are good for getting the control of the instrument, and then it's up to you to develop your own voice?
GS: Yes, I think so. The one thing that I have seen most is people that don't have the basic stuff done, like arpeggios, scales. I mean, when I was a kid, I learned those things, and I had them running on my head. So when I teach, what I see a lot of times is that guys don't have the basic things.
AAJ: Now, talking about you, how do you compose your music?
GS: I don't really write that much. You know, I write once in a while. Sometimes if I do a record, I write the tunes. But I don't have focused time writing because when I play, I make stuff up. I make melodies up all the time, and that's how I feel it, so because of that I don't write that much.
AAJ: Lots of musicians say that you have "the sound." How did you find it?
GS: [Laughs.] I just try to get a pretty good sound. I worked on having a big sound. Actually, I did it when somebody, when I first came to New York, made a very mean comment. It was a friend of mine, and he said that my sound was really shitty, and that really angered me. [Laughs.] And it helped me to improve my sound. And yes, there is a lot of work thinking about the sound, a lot of long tones. I mean, my favorite player is Dexter Gordon, followed by Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins. So I listened to them, and I imitated them to work on my sound until I found my own voice.
AAJ: How was your tour in Spain?
GS: My tour in Spain was great: several gigs with my good friend and great pianist Fabio Miano in Valencia, Almeria, Alicante, and then the final gig was a really fun concert in Santander with a group led by Harry Allen. It's four saxophones: Harry, Eric Alexander, myself and Gary Smulyan on baritone with Dado Moroni piano, Daryl Hall bass and Mario Gonzi on drums. It was a great concert, and the audience was fantastic. I found that, despite whatever crisis is happening, people seemed to come out to listen and were really enthusiastic.
AAJ: What projects are you running nowadays?
GS: Currently, I'm doing some writing and just working around with my quartet. I have a tour of Japan next month with my group. I'm looking forward to that, and later in the summer I should be back to Europe for some stuff.