Bassist-saxophonist-composer Luke Stewart has firmly established his artistic pursuits on the world stage. As one of DC’s best & brightest musicians, Luke collaborated with many of the DMV’s finest, particularly if they exhibited the kind of forward motion and progressive attitude by which he himself addresses the precincts of his jazz & beyond musical pursuits. His stint as a vital component of rising tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis‘ rangy trio has propelled Luke forward on the world stage as a leader himself. More recently Luke has joined NEA Jazz Master tenor saxophonist David Murray‘s new band.
In addition to his musical aspirations, Luke has actively engaged in activities bent on expanding the DMV musical universe, including co-founding the exceptional music news, presenting and preservation organization known as CapitalBop (www.capitalbop.com), and hosting programs on the DMV’s “Jazz & Justice” radio station WPFW. Let’s catch up with Luke Stewart…
How do you balance all of your different projects and affiliations?
That’s an interesting question, that I get all the time. I’ve always had many interests and musical/artistic pursuits, from starting off musically as a saxophonist, then as a bass guitarist, then a DJ/producer, then a Jazz musician, then a Creative Musician. There’s a lot of inspiration and ideas that I’ve always had, that have been put off delayed or otherwise impossible until they have been allowed to manifest naturally. I believe in the way things have happened in an organic fashion. The balance comes from the passion and dedication I give to each project. With each, I am 110% present and involved, as if none other exist at the moment. For better or worse, this is the case for me. It is also a statement of what i’ve learned from so many of the elders, that it is important to “fire on all cylinders” and to create as much as you can. It is an expression and practice in Freedom, as well as Tolerance, to be involved in so many different projects. I’ve worked very hard, and still a long way to go, to practice Freedom in my work. That is, not to limit myself due to what society or the community or circumstance tells me. Rather, it is through the example of the elders, that you have to chart your own path in the world of Creativity, not being tied down to any dogma. That’s to say also about Tolerance, that I have to have tolerance for myself and allow myself the room to interact with respect and dedication in the community.
With your solo bass record “Works For Upright Bass And Amplifier Vol. 2” why did you choose to place emphasis on your amplifier, and how might that have been a different experience had you chosen to record that record sans amplifier?
As I’ve stated in other interviews, and in other performances and explanations, the title and the works are Literal. I am treating both as instruments, the Upright Bass AND the Amplifier. The amplifier in this case is an electronic instrument. Without the Amplifier, it would be just another solo bass record. I’ve made acoustic solo bass recordings, but I prefer to work through this setup for now.
Would it be fair to say that “Black’s Myths” is a project based in thematic principles of social justice? Talk about your collaborators on that record.
[Blacks’ Myths] is indeed a thematic project, dealing with referential history of Black Americans, in particular. The song names and the vibe are meant to invoke and to stoke these memories, for those who can understand the references. Otherwise, it is a project that continues parts of my background in rock/punk-based music. This one is a duo of Warren Crudup, III and I. We’ve been performing together almost since the beginning of my time in the DC jazz community. We’ve gone through many formative experiences in the Music and otherwise. We’ve played as a duo also for many years, the first one put on by artist Nate Lewis after he saw us perform with Ernest Dawkins/Joe Bowie/Flip Barnes/Adam Rudolph. At this particular performance, the band left the stage and left us to create together. It was a musical rite of passage that spawned the duo that would later become Blacks’ Myths.
What’s the guiding force behind your “Irreversible Entanglements” project?
Interesting question. There have been many things written and said about this project. We are first and foremost a Band, something that has increasingly become rare in what is recognized as mainstream jazz. It doesn’t have the focus of an individual leader, even though there is a “front person” in the form of Moor Mother. Rather, it is a true collective that is clearly making vital music at the moment that speaks to many people. We are able to tour quite a bit around the world for large audiences consistently, which is sometimes rare for jazz, let alone “Liberation-oriented Free Jazz” as we’ve been called. Our guiding force is thus each other in Irreversible Entanglements. Each of us come from very different backgrounds, with varying levels of experience in the world of Creative Music. We also give each other the room for the aforementioned Freedom and Tolerance. In the “IE Universe” we encompass all of our individual and collective projects, much like the examples of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, New York Art Quartet, World Saxophone Quartet, and others. It is in these examples where each individual members were Free to their own musical and creative pursuits. When we come together, the experience gained from those pursuits combine into a truly amazing flow of energy and creation. It is palpable and important in this current moment and for the future.
Including “Bi Ba Doom” recording, how do you see each of these projects intersecting?
Bi Ba Doom was the result of getting together with musical friends Chris Pitsiokos and Jason Nazary while in New York. Being also a “New York Musician” it was an opportunity to explore with other Creative Musicians who also use electronics. This project was specific to this mindset. We were able to tour in EU and Canada upon the release of this album, and added trumpeter and electronic musician Chris Williams to the fold. Hopefully the proper Quartet version of this band will be able to perform again soon.
Talk about your still fairly new affiliation with David Murray and what that means for your solo and bandleading efforts.
David and I first played in 2018, soon after he returned to New York. The first time we actually met properly was during the concert after the inauguration of Donald Trump in January of 2017. It was a Transparent Productions concert that featured Murray in rare solo format, telling stories only he can tell, displaying a unique mastery of his instruments. I had seen David play a number of times before then, but it was here where I noticed truly his virtuosity. For instance, he almost constantly circular breathes in the horn, yet employs solo phrasing as if he were breathing normally. I hear in this question, will I still be able to play solo and lead bands? Interesting perspective in this question.
As in the example of Irreversible Entanglements, as well as so many of David’s bands over the years, there is always creative Freedom to do whatever we want to do, as long as I show up dedicated, focused, and ready to play, which I do at all times with all projects. The brand new Quartet featuring Marta Sanchez and Kassa Overall is a great example of this. He purposely chose band members who are also leaders in their own right. In this he encourages that we pursue our own projects, though of course demands showing up for him, which I am very proud to do. —
Musician, Cultural Organizer
“Free Your Mind…”