Odyssey of a Jazz Tuba Master
by Sérgio Carolino
Bob Stewart is a free-lance concert artist, studio musician and educator. Mr. Stewart has received his Bachelor of Music Education from the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts and his Masters in Education at Lehman College Graduate School. He also teaches privately and has been involved with public education for over twenty years.
As a concert artist and studio musician Bob has toured and recorded with such artists as Charles Mingus, Gil Evans, Carla Bley, David Murray, Taj Mahal, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Arthur Blythe, Freddie Hubbard, Don Cherry, Nicholas Payton, Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Haden and many others both in the United States, Europe and the Far East. “The Tuba, as you know, was phased out of most ensembles around 1923 with the introduction of the “walking” upright bass. Since then it has only been in the last 20 years that composers and arrangers have begun hearing the instrument. As a result, there are more instances in which the Tuba appears in ensemble work.”
Included with this interview is a compiled discography of recordings that Stewart has performed on as either a soloist or sideman or both. His own headlining recordings include Then & Now, Goin’ Home (reissued), First Line Band,and the latest two, Heavy Metal Duo (duets with trombonist Ray Anderson) and Exalted Conversation(duets with saxophonist Arthur Blythe). Each recording is well worth including in a brass or jazz enthusiast’s library, however the two latter duo recordings are something special and very unique in their “intimacy.” Few recordings exist that feature our instrument in such an exposed and creative setting as that found on these two, which feature Stewart in “live” improvised concerts with Anderson and Blythe, respectively, alone with no percussion or percussion-just tuba and trombone and tuba and saxophone.
ITEA members were fortunate to witness Bob Stewart in action as a performer and clinician at ITEC 2006 in Denver, Colorado. He performed with one of his newest creative ventures, Trio Akimbo, soloed at the ending concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, and presented a pedagogy session based on his text, “The Breathing Bassline.” The session was highly informative and with a capacity audience, Stewart revealed that his artistry is as high as a teacher as it is on stage. Recently recognized for his achievements in various educational venues, namely his work with the jazz studies program at LaGuardia High School in New York, Bob Stewart continues to be one of the most influential musicians in the international tuba and euphonium community.
ITEA members were fortunate to see Bob Stewart in action at the ITEC 2006 in Denver, Colorado with performances by his newest creative venture, Trio Akimbo, and an pedagogical session presented on his text, The Breathing Bassline.
SC: When did you start to get into the Jazz scene?
BS:In 1967 I was teaching music in the Philadelphia public schools and performing at a club chain called Your Father’s Mustache, we performed Dixieland music with tuba, 2 banjos, washboard, and trombone. During that winter I was asked to work in the New York club located in Manhattan’s west village. So, after teaching all week I would drive into New York and work Friday and Saturday at the club. One weekend I met Howard Johnson who was also working at the club. We hung out together during that winter and he introduced me to the possibilities of improvisation.
Howard soon formed “Sub-Structure,” now called “Gravity,” a jazz tuba sextet with rhythm section. I started rehearsing with them that same winter. So, now I’m driving to and from N.Y. twice a week as well as teaching 5 days a week. As you can probably tell I really wanted to be in New York. By July of 1968 I moved to New York and continued to work at the Mustache, and, by September, I also started teaching. It was during this period that I accompanied Howard to the band rehearsals of Carla Bley, Gil Evans, and McCoy Tyner. There were times when Howard couldn’t make some gigs or rehearsals with these groups so he would send me in to sub for him. I call these bands the “new big bands” due to their size. The instrumentation was usually one or two trumpets, trombone, french horn, tuba, two saxophones, and rhythm. They were all about 9 or 10 pieces and a lot more financially mobile than the 18-piece formula.
At this time the Mustache and the Red Garter, another Dixieland club, were the only steady tuba gigs in N.Y. Matter of fact Dave Bargeron was working at the Red Garter on tuba and trombone and teaching public school. His life was about to be forever altered when he accepts the Blood Sweat and Tears gig. By 1971 Howard, Joe Daley, Earl McIntyre, and myself joined Taj Mahal’s blues/rock band, he had 4 tubas plus rhythm in the band. All the horn players doubled either on trombone, flugelhorn, and baritone sax, my double was flugelhorn. We toured for about 4 months hitting such spots as the Filmore East in New York, Filmore West in San Francisco, and everything in between. We also recorded 2 albums for Columbia called The Real Thing and Stealin.
(In January 2006 there was a reunion of this band on a “Blues Cruise,” leaving from Florida for 7 days in the Caribbean).
Soon after the Taj Mahal gig ended Howard and I both were in Charles Mingus’s big band on baritone sax and tuba respectively.
That basically was my first four years in New York, and it has continued to develop, shift, and grow to the present. The tuba jazz scene is a little more obscure now. There is no more Mustache and Garter gigs and the “new big band” I spoke about doesn’t work so much anymore. Tuba players are starting to form their own possibilities with creative ensembles.
SC: With whom else have you worked since 1971?
BS: By 1976 I went to Europe on tour for the first time with the Gil Evans band and soon after with the Carla Bley group. In the 80s I also worked with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, Globe Unity Orchestra (a European free improvisation group), Don Cherry Quartet, Dizzy Gillespie’s 71st Anniversary Big Band and last but not least Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy. Of all the groups mentioned, Lester Bowie and Don Cherry were the only groups to use the tuba in a bass role.
There were other 18-piece big bands in New York like Frank Foster’s big band, Collective Black Artists Big Band, Charlie Persips’ big band, and the Sam Rivers 10-piece band; And, I had the pleasure to work with all of these wonderful bandleaders. They taught me how to be a bandleader. By their example they would hire people they trusted musically so they never had to second-guess their musical judgment. As a result the bands I worked in all felt like my own group, which is a wonderful way to play. All the rehearsals didn’t always result in work but it helped formulate my future even though I didn’t know it at the time. There were great bass players in these bands, such as the likes of Buster Williams, John Lee (Dizzy’s bassist), and Reggie Workman (Coltrane’s last bassist). They inspired me to believe it might be possible to play the bass function on tuba in a contemporary ensemble, having worked in that capacity in a traditional band at the Mustache. The “Loft Jazz Period” in New York was very important to many young jazz musicians in the late 70s and early 80s. “Loft Jazz” (as named coined by the European Jazz Festivals) gave opportunities to musicians, artists, creative performance spaces, young record companies, and generally spawned the entrepreneur’s spirit––an independent musical and business spirit not offered by the established jazz community. Most of this “Loft” activity took place in lower Manhattan in an area now called Soho (South of Houston).
I met Arthur Blythe (alto sax), during the Loft period, while we were working with the Gil Evans band. In 1977 he asked me to play tuba bass in his new quintet with cello, guitar, and drums––an instrumentation I recently saw trumpeter Dave Douglas using. We recorded a number of albums with this instrumentation on Columbia and Indian Navigation Records. There were no bands using the tuba as the bass so I had no one to ask about breathing, how to build up my endurance, backing up the horns or piano, or many other questions that would have helped me to play constantly during an hour set. So I had to pay the “swollen lip dues,” a song that I’m sure many of you know.
SC: What advice do you have for tuba players?
BS: 1. Be as prepared as possible! Whether your interests are in playing bass lines or melody or both. Choose a number of musicians to listen to, and, as you grow, your list will change.
2. Develop an understanding of harmony through your instrument and or on the piano. It will help you play what you hear with greater ease.
3. Try to start your own ensemble from your point of view. You may want to wait and tell yourself you are not ready yet or any number of other reasons. Even if it’s a duet, try to play with others and begin to develop musical relationships, which will help you develop a point of view.
4. Be as flexible as possible (technically, musically, and scholastically) and use as many of your skills as possible. There is no one-way to get through this very circuitous career path. Analyze, identify, and establish what your skills are and use your “whole brain” to make them work your way.
I retired from the New York City Board of Education recently but my performance and tour schedule continues. My interests in jazz education vary from consultant work at Jazz At Lincoln Centerin New York, teaching a Masters-level jazz history course at the Juilliard School, and conducting jazz big bands at Lehman College and the Juilliard School. As I answer these questions I am in Japan on tour with The Juilliard School Jazz Big Band. My role is assistant conductor to Victor Goines, Director of Jazz Studies at Juilliard. All of this is a very long way from driving to and from Philadelphia/New York during the winter of 1967. How much do you really want it? It’s all about desire.
SC: Do you have any books to recommend?
BS:Everyone works differently. Some would prefer to listen to and play with recordings. This I recommend highly for everyone in order to learn jazz inflexion and phrasing. Others feel more comfortable working out of a book. I would suggest a combination of the two would give you the best results. There are many books by jazz bassist that give you the notes to help you evolve a bass line through a composition or form (blues, rhythm changes, etc.), Ron Carter or Rufus Reed for example.
The one thing those books don’t have to deal with is the breath. A book designed specifically for tuba players to help them develop breath control and rhythm section breathing techniques is The Breathing Bass Line. I wrote the book having experienced first hand the problems, difficulties, and responsibilities of playing tuba bass in the rhythm section. The Breathing Bass Line is a guide, giving musical suggestions that describe how to prepare musically and physically for the tuba bass position but leaving room for you to create your own ideas.
[Editor’s Note: Please visit www.bobstewartuba.com for an insightful review of this text authored by NY tubist Marcus Rojas, originally published in The Brass Player.]
Bob Stewart and “Sly” Slipetsky performing at ITEC 2006 Red Rocks Amphitheater Concert
SC: What do you think are options for modern or contemporary tuba?
BS:I believe the tuba has more options in terms of function than most might imagine. All of the instruments you mentioned including tuba can work as ensemble instruments but the tuba has the option to function in a bass capacity. With adjustments by the player, in breath control techniques and musical/conceptual approach, it can be done. Our need to take a breath must not interfere with the rhythmic flow within the rhythm section (drums and piano or any other chord instrument). Conceptually listening is most important. Choose a number of bass players to listen to and figure out what’s similar and different about what they are doing. You can mix and match what pleases your taste. Be prepared for what you learn to be altered drastically upon application with a rhythm section. It’s interesting that saxophone, trumpet, piano, and other more accepted instrumentalist don’t question themselves concerning what they will play on their instruments, even though there are already innumerable performers on those instruments. They all have their own voice, whether they know it or not, and the same could be true of tuba players. Tuba players have yet to scratch the surface of what is available in jazz. I encourage and challenge you to investigate what your voice might be.
Most of all enjoy the journey.
Bob Stewart, ITEC 2006
SC: What equipment do you use?
BS:Tuba: Yamaha #621 Silver. I’ve played it since 1984 when it first became available. I believe its price has gone up tremendously since ‘84.
Microphone: Audio Tech––I suspend it in the middle of the bell with hooks, a ring, and a pair of suspenders cut in 4 pieces. The sound might be much better a bit higher than the level of the bell but you run the risk of feedback when using an amp. Mine is slightly below the level of the bell, and it never feeds back.
Amps: I prefer a cabinet with 2 or 4 10” speakers. You can always add bass EQ to it but it’s difficult to take it away from a 15” speaker. I like to push the low mids, which help give clarity to the sound.
Stewart during his ITEC 2006 session “The Breathing Bassline” Suggested Reading:
Stewart, Bob. “New Roles and Dimensions for the Contemporary Jazz Tubists,” TUBA Journal 18:3 (Spring 1991), pp. 62–69 [also published in TUBA Journal,13:2 (November 1985)]
“New York Tuba Experience,” TUBA Journal 24:4 (Summer 1997), pp. 58–59.
Wilson, John. “Bob Stewart and a Night to Bring New Glory to the Tuba,”New York Times(September 18, 1981).
For more information, visit Bob Stewart’s website at www.bobstewartuba.com. Also look for upcoming reviews of Stewart’s performances and sessions presented at ITEC 2006, which are being prepared for publication in the next issue of the ITEA Journal.
|Portuguese tubist and Yamaha artist Sérgio Carolino started his tuba studies at the early age of 11 in Lisbon’s Conservatory and continued in the prestigious Superior Conservatory of Geneva (Switzerland) with Pierre Pilloud (principal tuba in the Suisse Romande Orchestra) as well participating in Kurt Sturzenegger’s Chamber Music Class. He has played principal tuba in many orchestras including the Lisbon Metropolitan (1997–2001), Portuguese Symphonic, Gulbênkian, Remix-Ensemble, and several early honors that include the honorable Portuguese Youth Orchestra and the European Youth Wind Orchestra. He is a member of several different ensembles including the Estardalhaço da Geringonça (gadget’s fuss) Dixieland band (CD Old Tradition, New Ignition), TGB Jazz Trio alongside Mário Delgado (guitar) and Alex Frazão (drums) , a trio with Bernardo Sassetti (piano) and Jean- François Lézé (marimba) , and the Carlos Barretto Quartet. Sérgio has appeared as a featured international soloist. He is constantly on the move as a Yamaha Artist giving masterclasses and recitals throughout Europe. Recent residencies have included the Real Conservatorio Superior de Madrid, Zürich Höchschule für Musik, 2003 Vigo International Tuba Festival, Lieksa Brass Week, International Brass Masterclass in Quimper (France), and the 36th International Horn Symposium (Valencia). He present positions are Professor of Tuba and Chamber Music at the National Superior Orchestral Academy (Lisbon) and principal tuba in Oporto National Orchestra, and he also serves as an Editorial Advisor for the ITEA Journal.