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Take Five with Isaiah Stewart

Isaiah Stewart By

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About Isaiah Stewart

Since the release of his debut album Life Games in 2000, Isaiah Stewart has emerged as a unique indy voice in contemporary urban jazz-funk. Seeking to carry on classic "old school" jazz/R&B traditions, the versatile drummer's hard-grooving yet fluid music has led to a total of five albums and nearly 10 million downloads and streams worldwide.

Isaiah's new album Summer Beat features multi-Grammy jazz icons Randy Brecker, Eumir Deodato and Tom Scott, along with famed fusion guitarist Jamie Glaser, in a genre-busting collection of 11 songs that fuse the worlds of jazz, funk and rock.

The album dropped only two weeks ago and the opening track on the album, "Summer Girl (featuring Randy Brecker)," has already been nominated for "best jazz composition" by the Hollywood Music in Media Awards.

Isaiah's global popularity as an artist began 2001 when "Midtown Funk," his single from "Life Games," charted to 15 on MP3.com's overall worldwide top 40, surpassing songs from popular artists including Madonna, Eminem, Mariah Carey, Faith Hill, Linkin Park, The Offspring and Sum 41. At the time, MP3.com was the world's number one digital music site, receiving more than 35 million visitors a month, and during that year, the site's jazz top 20 simultaneously contained all 14 tracks from "Life Games."

Isaiah's 2015 album Thrill Ride (featuring Jamie Glaser)" charted to number eight worldwide on ReverbNation, the popular global music platform that features more than 3.8 million musicians, including popular artists such as Eminem, Rihanna, Rick Ross, P-Diddy, Judas Priest and Public Enemy. Isaiah's highest selling album to date Thrill Ride remained in ReverbNation's top ten worldwide for eight consecutive weeks; the site's top 20 for 19 consecutive weeks; and the site's top 40 for nine consecutive months.

Instrument(s):

Like many composers, I consider myself a multi-instrumentalist but always felt it's better to excel on one instrument than to be average on many. So drums are my primary instrument where I focus the lion's share of my time, however I also play piano, hand drums, percussion, electric bass and trombone.

Teachers and/or influences?

Classic fusion and funk drummers first and foremost. Billy Cobham, Steve Gadd, Tony Williams, Alphonse Mouzon, Harvey Mason, Lenny White, Mike Clark, Dave Weckl and Vinnie Colaiuta. I've been fortunate to study personally with so many world-famous drummers, and when icons you grew up idolizing become familiar with your music and refer to you as "a master drummer," it's the greatest feeling in the world.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I first heard "Prelude" by Eumir Deodato as a six-year-old child and became obsessed with the entire album. Billy Cobham's drumming just blew my mind and weeks later I saw my brother's high school jazz band perform live—such an explosion of sound and energy! I was in a trance and could not take my eyes off the drummer. I immediately knew that was the instrument for me.

Your first paying gig

I was nine years old drumming for the family band and we had a performance at a national magician's convention. I had butterflies so bad I doubled over and almost couldn't stand or walk to the bandstand, but once I started playing the butterflies went away. I had practiced these songs so much muscle memory took over.

Your sound and approach to music

I love deep funky drum grooves with heavy fat-bottom bass. But I also adore lush sophisticated jazz chords and pretty, soulful melodies. As a composer I find myself drawn toward layering all these elements together and I never lose sight of my listeners. My goal is to create groove-oriented jazz accessible to the average person—but without dumbing down what is a beautifully complex art form. A daunting task but I always smile when a country or pop fan says to me, "You know I've never liked jazz but I really enjoy your music."

Your first musical composition

At 4 years old, I climbed on the family piano and started hitting the keys. A few hours later I had formulated a 3-minute pattern of various key strikes into a "song." I named this noisy little thing: "Rectangles." I grew up in a musical family with a father who ran his own jazz bands in Utah and Idaho and a soprano mother who sang opera locally with world-renowned maestro Maurice Abravanel. Once Mom and Dad heard "Rectangles," they decided it was imperative I get started on learning music theory for the sake of their sanity.

Your dream band

My dream band has always included Randy Brecker on trumpet, Eumir Deodato on Fender Rhodes electric piano, Tom Scott on saxophone and Jamie Glaser on guitar. Thanks for a perfectly timed question as this also happens to be the line-up on my new album.

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