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Catching Up With

Grant Stewart: The Sound of Hard Bop Today

By Published: August 8, 2012
GS: I think ... What I see happen a lot is people that go to extremes—like they are really traditional or the opposite side, very obsessed with being original. The way I look at it is that there is so much to learn. I have been listening to Charlie Parker for 31 years, and I'm still hearing new things. There is so much music out there that's new to me, and there's a lifetime to study. If you start with your goal of being to be original and not imitating anyone and just being yourself, you lose the knowledge and the wisdom of years and years of jazz. So you could have all that information in you. And nothing comes from nothing. There is nothing new under the sun; everything is influenced by things. So the best we can do is to take it. Because of that, I don't understand guys that say that they don't want to hear something because they want to do their own thing. That's foolish.

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 jazz—there 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 time—it'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
Harry Allen
Harry Allen
b.1966
saxophone
. It's four saxophones: Harry, Eric Alexander
Eric Alexander
Eric Alexander
b.1968
sax, tenor
, myself and Gary Smulyan
Gary Smulyan
Gary Smulyan
b.1956
sax, baritone
on baritone with Dado Moroni
Dado Moroni
Dado Moroni
b.1962
piano
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.


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