Robert Stewart is a multi-instrumentalist (saxophones, piano, flute, drum, vocals, etc.), composer, producer, soldier, Scientist-Metaphysicist, theologian and author. His two major label albums (“The Force” and “In the Gutta”) were for Quincy Jones and Qwest/Warner Bros. records. He is known for his unique – personal sound and remarkably inventive improvisations declares Los Angeles Times journalist Bill Kohlhaase, as the lead tenor saxophonist on the Pulitzer Prize winning “Blood on the Fields” by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, and as the protegé of saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. Jazz critic Jason Ankeny declared Stewart to be one of the most impressive jazz saxophonists to emerge at the end of the 20th century. Drummer Billy Higgins refers to Stewart as "perhaps the most important young artist to come along in decades."
Robert Darrin Stewart was born on August 17, 1969 in Oakland, California. His biological father (Robert Stewart III) is a San Francisco Conservatory trained flutist and trumpeter who performed with the legendary R&B group "The Whispers" during the late 1960's, and musical director for the 1950's Pop vocalist Bobby Freeman during the 1970's. Stewart's mother (Jackie Mae Syas) was a computer analysts born in Lake Charles, Louisiana. His step-father (Clifton Cecil Patrick) was a truck driver and agriculturalist born in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Stewart's mother began teaching him to read from the Holy Qur'an of Islam from the time that he was 3 years old; The Bible (Judaism and Christianity) was his next reading task. After these, Stewart began his personal studies of the other 4 major religions of the world: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Consequently, Theology was his early foundation.
In the early 1980's, Oakland underwent a metamorphosis; from being the city that produced such influential musical dynasties as Sly and The Family Stone and The Tower of Power, and such radical social revolutionaries as Huey P. Newton (founder) and The Black Panther Party, to a city that is one of North America's most notorious gang war zones; riddled with crack cocaine, military assault weapons, and mass murder. In the 21st century, Oakland remains one of the top 5 most dangerous - notorious cites in the United States. Consequently, it is a genuine miracle that Stewart was able to rise from the flames of this netherworld as a Phoenix in the jazz idiom.
Were it not for Stewart's uncle (David Williams) giving him a flute that he'd acquired, Stewart may not have ever played any kind of musical instrument. Stewart's mother bought a flute method book for Stewart's new toy. He then began to teach himself to read music from this book at 11 years of age. He was the first chair flute soloist for all of his high school and junior high school band years. Playing the flute was merely a hobby for him, for his primary passion was Basketball during all of his grade school years. He's 6'4" tall, and played the shooting guard position for the Fremont High School Varsity team (coached by Michael Marcoulis and Sheridan James) during his junior and senior years. He simply played music to get the credit to graduate; no interest beyond this. In fact, he was most interested in Rap music. When not on the basketball court, he rapped under the alias "Mix Master D" and spent his time practicing mixing and scratching albums on stereo turntables. Of course, these activities attracted seedy company in his "hood" (neighborhood). He admits to having to hide his flute in his gym bag each school day, so that his murderous gangster friends wouldn't know that he played an instrument. His high school music teacher (Donald Ramsey) saw the tremendous potential of Stewart, and would harass him daily about playing jazz. However, Stewart refused to listen to his teacher, and would cut his class regularly in order to play basketball.
The summer after his graduation from Fremont High School, he was surfing his radio for his favorite Rap music station, and stumbled upon an individual playing the tenor saxophone at such a rapid pace it stunned the teenager. This saxophonist was John Coltrane playing the song "Russian Lullaby." The next song on the station was "All Too Soon" played by tenor saxophonist Ben Webster. The contrast in sound between these two men playing the same instrument fascinated Stewart. He then remembered his high school teacher's words and (from that moment in time) his jazz destiny was set into motion.
After the summer of 1986, Stewart began to frequent jam sessions in the classroom of Oakland - Bay Area piano legend Ed Kelly at Laney College. It was there that he met two Jazz saxophone titans; Pharoah Sanders and Joshua Redman. He developed a friendship with both of these giants. Pharoah passed Stewart a note during one class session that read: "come to my house tomorrow. I'll help you with your horn." Stewart accepted the offer and the two remain brothers to this day. Stewart also frequented neighborhood jam sessions in Oakland, California. He met and performed with many Jazz greats at these sessions including: John Handy (sax), Pony Poindexter (sax), Frank Morgan (sax), Eddie Moore (drums), Buddy Montgomery (piano), Donald Bailey (drums), Smiley Winters (drums), Wyatt Ruther (bass), and many others.
In 1987, Stewart began leading his own band (The Robert Stewart Experience) at such world-renowned venues as Yoshi's and the San Francisco Jazz Festival due to the efforts made by his manager at the time, filmmaker D. Channsin Berry. He also became one of the most sought-after sidemen in the Bay Area. His first major sideman gig was with avant-garde sax giant Chico Freeman, pianist George Cables, and drummer Eddie Moore in 1988. His next sideman gig that year was with piano legend Freddie Redd of Jackie McLean's band. Trumpet colossus Wynton Marsalis first met and performed with Stewart on this gig. In
1989, he received a call from trumpet icon Donald Byrd to perform with his group. That same year, he made his first sojourn to New York to perform with Winard and Philip Harper of "The Harper Brothers." While there, he also performed with trumpet legend Eddie Henderson. In 1990, he went back to New York and performed with the iconic composer/arranger/saxophonist Benny Golson and trombonist Tom McIntosh. He also played with trumpet dynamo Roy Hargrove for the first of many times unto this day. Upon his return home to San Francisco, he began working with vocal sensation Mary Stallings and pianist Merrill Hoover. He also worked regularly with "The Grateful Dead" long time pianist Merl Saunders and bassist Wyatt Ruther of Errol Garner's band.
In 1991, Stewart received a phone call from drum legend Max Roach to perform (a saxophone & drums duo) at U.C. Berkeley. He performed with Max Roach's full ensemble a few months later. Stewart also performed at an award ceremony for Be-Bop founding father Dizzy Gillespie. Mr. Gillespie asked Stewart to perform with his band several months later. In 1992, Stewart performed with Jazz legends: McCoy Tyner (piano), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Milt Jackson (vibes), Billy Higgins (drums), and organ phenomenon Jimmy Smith. Stewart also joined the Los Angeles based group "Black Note" for an eight-month stint, and performed with trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and drummer Brian Blade that same year.
In 1993, Stewart was asked to tour with the New York based group "The Harper Brothers" led by drummer Winard Harper. This would be his first National band tour. Following this tour, he remained in New York and performed with vocal legend Etta Jones, saxophonist Donald Harrison, pianist Cyrus Chestnut, saxophonist Billy Mitchell, trumpeter Doc Cheatham, saxophonist George Kelly, and pianist Chris Anderson.
In 1994, Stewart's regular group in San Francisco included Bay Area piano and organ legend Ed Kelly. They would be joined by such legends as: saxophonists George Coleman, Pharoah Sanders, Teddy Edwards, David Murray, John Handy, Big Jay McNeely, Hadley Caliman, and vocalist Ernie Andrews. Stewart also performed with Blues legend John Lee Hooker often at Jack's (on Fillmore St.) in San Francisco. However, Stewart's highest profile engagement of 1994 came after receiving a phone call from trumpet titan Wynton Marsalis to join his newly formed "Wynton Marsalis Big Band" (known today as the "Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra") to perform the world-premiere of his now historic oratorio "Blood On The Fields" at The Lincoln Center in New York. The other members of this 13-piece all-star band included jazz legends: Jon Hendricks (vocal), Cassandra Wilson (vocal), Jon Faddis (trumpet), James Carter (sax), Marcus Printup (trumpet), Eric Reed (piano), Herlin Riley (drums), Wycliff Gordon (trombone), Regina Carter (violin) and several others. The two-night engagement was hosted by Ed Bradley of "60 minutes." The engagements received rave reviews, and eventually won Wynton the esteemed Pulitzer Prize; the only piece in jazz history to receive an honor of this magnitude by a living composer. Stewart remained a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra from
1994 to 1998. This band would be his first international touring experience.
By the end of 1994, Stewart began touring nationally under his own name. He also met and performed with his second great mentor (after Phaorah Sanders); sax juggernaut Eddie Harris. Stewart was like a son to Harris, so he would constantly relay information to Stewart. The two were inseparable until Eddie's untimely death in 1996.
From 1995 to 1997, Stewart performed with saxophonist Branford Marsalis, pianists Kenny Kirkland and Marcus Roberts, drum titan Jeff "Tain" Watts, bassist Ray Drummond, Kirk Hammett (lead guitarist for the iconic rock group "Metallica"), Billie Joe Armstrong (founder of legendary rock band "Green Day"), drummer Zigaboo Modeliste (founding member of the Funk band "The Meters"), and with vocal legends Jon Hendricks and Les McCann inside Alcatraz Island Penitentiary.
From 1998 to 1999, Stewart performed with piano greats Barry Harris and Horrace Tapscott, Avant-garde saxophonist Sonny Simmons, and drum legend Billy Higgins in a series of live concerts for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. His most prestigious performance was for President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton at a Democratic Fund Raiser in Woodside, California in 1998.
From 2000 to the present, Stewart has performed with luminaries of many music genres including: saxophonists Arthur Blythe, Chico Freeman, and Bobby Watson, drummers Marcus Bailor (Yellowjackets), Victor Lewis, Terri Lynn Carrington (Arsenio Hall), keyboardists Greg Philingains (Michael Jackson), Felton Pilate (Confunkshun), vocalist Lenny Williams (Tower of Power), and organists Rhoda Scott, Trudy Pitts, and Chester Thompson (Tower of Power).
In 1994, Stewart recorded the first album of his career ("Judgement") in Los Angeles for World Stage Records at the behest of drum icon Billy Higgins who owned the label. The recording featured Billy Higgins, pianist Eric Reed, and bassist Mark Shelby. The debut recording for the 24-year-old received rave reviews from the jazz world. Jazz writer Scott Yanow of All Music Guide and L.A. Jazz Scene wrote: "Tenor saxophonist Robert Stewart's debut release is quite unusual. Rarely have I heard a young player sound so laid back and relaxed. Even on the up-tempo tunes, Stewart is often content to emphasize his warm tone and to hold long notes, taking his time to get his message across. Fortunately, he does have something of his own to say, so listeners more used to young turks forcing out as many notes as possible will at first go through a bit of culture shock before warming up to this admirable effort."
In that same year, Stewart met his manager Dennis Sullivan who also managed the Los Angeles Jazz group Black-Note. Dennis asked recording industry titan Sergio Veschi (founder and owner of the prestigious Red Records label of Italy) to sign Stewart. They reached an agreement to do one recording entitled "Beautiful Love Ballads" (originally titled "Beautiful Love"). Although it was recorded in 1994, it wasn't released until 1998. This recording was also well received by jazz critics; one even described Stewart as the most lyrical and melodic saxophone improviser of his generation.
In 1995, Stewart met Jazz enthusiast Craig Morton who became his new manager. Morton convinced music industry icon Quincy Jones (and his record label president Jim Swindel) to sign Stewart to his Qwest/Warner Bros. record label. Stewart's first outing for Mr. Jones was entitled "In The Gutta." Saxophone legend Dave Liebman took a blindfold test for JazzTimes magazine. Stewart's recording was played, and Liebman swore that Stewart was the legendary R&B tenor-man Red Prysock or Sam "The Man" Taylor. When Liebman saw Stewart's album cover and learned that he was a mere 26 years old, Liebman's response was: "Well the guy's amazing. He sounds like an old cat. You put it on and I thought, this cat's got to be 60 years old. He's beautiful."
In 1996, Stewart recorded what he has referred to as his crowning achievement in the music industry. He is the first Jazz instrumentalist of the 20th century to have recorded the opening chapter of The Holy Qur'an (the sacred scripture of Islam) in music form. He has been known to state that this was his primary reason for becoming a musician and recording artist. The aforementioned track is entitled "Al-Fatihah" (English: The Opening), and the entire recording is entitled "The Force." Stewart's second outing for Quincy Jones' Qwest Records received critical acclaim in the jazz world, for it featured three of the giants of modern jazz: drum icon Jeff "Tain" Watts, bassist extraordinaire Reginald Veal, and piano elder statesman Ed Kelly. Esteemed veteran jazz critic Philip Elwood (of the San Francisco Examiner) wrote: "One doesn't just listen to Stewart's music, one absorbs it." Jazz solo drum founding father Max Roach relays an identical sentiment: "You don't just hear Robert, you FEEL him." Perhaps the most significant of that which has been stated about Stewart (as opposed to other players of his generation) is that he possesses his own unique - distinctive sound. Jazz writer Ezra Gale of the prestigious "Jazz Times Magazine" has stated that Stewart has achieved an intense and personal sound; his solos are remarkably inventive.
In 1999, following the disbanding of the Qwest/Warner Bros. record label by Quincy Jones, Stewart recorded another outing for Red Records entitled "Nat The Cat." This tribute to the vocal icon Nat "King" Cole is the most unique of its kind. Stewart has the uncanny ability to transcend mere notes and chords to create "moods" according to jazz music critic C. Michael Bailey of AllAboutJazz.com. He unconditionally recommends this perfect "mood disc" to all of his readers.
In 2002, Stewart signed for one recording with Exodus Records of Los Angeles entitled "The Movement." The recording is historic for the fact that it was the first reuniting of John Coltrane's original band members (drum legend Billy Higgins and bass legend Dr. Art Davis) since the early 1960's. This live recording also featured bass founding father Al Mckibbon (of Dizzy Gillespie's band) and drum legend Larance Marable (of Charlie Parker's band). This record is also the final band recording of the most recorded drummer in jazz history, Billy Higgins. Billy wrote in the liner notes that Robert Stewart (dubbed "The Reverend" by Wynton Marsalis and his peers) reminded him of John Coltrane himself, and Dexter Gordon. He went on to say that The Reverend (Robert) is "one of the most important artists of his generation and a leader of the new revolution in Jazz."
In 2003, Stewart signed for one recording with the prestigious Nagel-Heyer Records of Germany entitled "Heaven and Earth." This was essentially a "Smooth Jazz" record, and five of the thirteen songs feature Stewart's lyric writing ability. He also makes his debut as a drummer on the final track entitled "Peace Within." The music and lyrics on this album invite one to an elevated spiritual consciousness which is revolutionary in the "Smooth Jazz" idiom. Jazz writer Ronnie D. Lankford Jr. of Allmusic.com eloquently relays this sentiment by stating that there is a positive social message that runs through the songs ("Resolution" and "Peace Within"), and Stewart has found a way to combine new age politics with new age music, creating a hybrid.
In 2006, Stewart released a series of live recordings on Armageddon Records; a label which he co-owned with producer Faheem Al-Azeem. These recordings feature Stewart in live performance with some of the giants of jazz: Pharoah Sanders, Etta Jones, Winard Harper, Mary Stallings, Sonny Simmons, Marcus Printup, Ed Kelly, and others.
Stewart elected to retire from recording and performing (December of 2016) in order to write religious books and pursue his interest in archaeology.
- Judgement / World Stage Records (1994)
- In The Gutta / Qwest-Warner Bros. Records (1996)
- The Force / Qwest-Warner Bros. Records (1998)
- Beautiful Love Ballads / Red Records (1998)
- Nat The Cat / Red Records (2000)
- The Movement / Exodus Records (2002) featuring Billy Higgins, Dr. Art Davis, Larance Marable, Al McKibbon
- Heaven And Earth / Nagel-Heyer Records (2004)
- Happy Birthday Trane / Armageddon Records (2006) featuring Sonny Simmons
- Invitation / Armageddon Records (2006) featuring Marcus Printup
- Evolution / Armageddon Records (2006) featuring Pharoah Sanders, Etta Jones, Mary Stallings, Winard Harper
- Don't Move The Groove! (Volume 1 - Organ Funk) / Armageddon Records (2006) featuring Ed Kelly
- Don't Move The Groove! (Volume 2 - Organ Blues) / Armageddon Records (2006) featuring Ed Kelly
- Ed Kelly & Pharoah Sanders / Evidence Records (1992) Pharoah Sanders, Eddie Marshall
- They Came To Swing / Columbia Records (1994) Wynton, Jon Faddis, Joshua Redman, James Carter, Billy - Higgins, Marcus Roberts, Nicholas Payton, Eric Reed
- Blood On The Fields / Columbia Records (1997) Wynton, Cassandra Wilson, Jon Hendricks, James Carter, Eric Reed, Herlin Riley
- The Music Of America: Wynton Marsalis / Sony Records (2012) Wynton, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Marion Williams
- Can't Hide Love / Seaside Records(1996) Buddy Conner, Wilton Felder, John Handy, Gaylord Birch, Carl Lockett.
- Full Swing Ahead / Deluxe Records (1998) Jay Johnson Mark Shelby Ed Kelly
- Expressions Of A Legacy / Effania Brown Records (2001) Lady Memfis
- Live At Lo Spuntino / Music In The Vines Records (2002) David Leshare Watson
- David Leshare Watson Loves Swining Soft & The Ballads / Music In The Vines Records (2003) David Leshare Watson
- 25th Red Records Anniversary - Un Filo Rosso Nel Jazz / Red Records (2003)
- Red Records : The Color of Jazz / Red Records (2009)
- 30 Jazz Love Standards / Red Records (2010)
- Relaxin Jazz / Red Records (2010)
- Red Records 35th Anniversary / Red Records (2011)
- Ballads 2004 / Nagel-Heyer (2004)
- Marsalis On Music Video Series / Columbia Films (1995)
- Sessions At West 54th / PBS Television (1997)
- South Bank Show (Blood On The Fields) / Bravo Television (1995)