The Right Reverand Robert Stewart
The latest Journey through Jazz concert featured Sherman, Paul, and Chris Lewis reflecting on their hometowns and individual and collective efforts that laid groundwork for this music and it’s culture to continue. The stories were riveting and highlighted the symbiotic relationships between invested individuals and supporting communities. It got me to thinking about fantastic musicians I have known. I went back to the time (before the cell phone) when you would hear from the grapevine that a young person who could play was spotted in St. Louis or Portland or….could be anywhere. Thing was…you had to go there to hear ‘em.
Sometimes in the mid-eighties I heard there was a youngster playing a lot of horn in the Bay Area. When we got out there in 1987, I was directed to where he was playing and there was there! Wasn’t but 17 years old, 6 foot 4 or 5, skinny as a rail and just holding sway over a late night club with a big expressive sound and a soulful personality that filled the room. His name was Robert Stewart and he had a scene of people excited about hearing such wisdom coming from a young horn.
When writing Blood on the Fields, I had to have Robert’s sound on that piece. He brought his unique voice and vibe to it and also played the tour. When cats heard him preaching on his tenor, we started calling him “the Reverend.” He played with us from ‘94 to ‘98 and always brought 100 percent of himself to every gig. Down through the years has remained a beloved and respected member of our musical family sitting in with us whenever the spirit moves him. Soul walks in the door with him. Oh, he has a game too!
I remember doing a gig with the great Elvin Jones some 20 years ago at “Kimball’s East” in Emeryville. Some fellas started talking a pile of stuff about their games at about 1 am. We were bluffing, but they were serious. It got so heated that The Rev drove to East Oakland to get his shoes and they drove to San Francisco to get their gear. We actually reconvened on a random playground in West Oakland at about 2:30 am. (Shocking because most over-loud talking never leads to any real playing). We turned the car lights onto the playground and commenced to playing ball. That night, Robert Stewart couldn’t miss. We won 3 straight games and all I had to do was pass and count. The Rev was on fire.
Well, he’s still keeping young folks inspired and teaching them the meaning of life through the spirit of this music. I bet that big sound can still set a room aglow.