William Harris "Bill" Stewart (born October 18, 1966, Des Moines, Iowa) is an American jazz drummer. Stewart is a versatile player who has performed with a broad array of musicians, from Maceo Parker to Jim Hall. He is also an active composer, whose tunes, which might be categorized as "postmodern" jazz tunes, appear on his, and others' records.
Bill Stewart's father was a trombonist, and his first and middle names are a tribute to jazz trombonist Bill Harris.
Stewart grew up in Des Moines, Iowa listening to his parents' jazz and rhythm and blues records without much exposure to live jazz in the then relatively isolated state of Iowa. The largely self-taught drummer began playing at the age of seven. While in high school, he played in a Top 40 cover band and the school orchestra, and went to a summer music camp at Stanford Jazz Workshop, where he met jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie. After high school graduation, Stewart attended the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, playing in the jazz and marching bands as well as the orchestra. He then transferred to William Paterson University (then William Paterson College), where he played in ensembles directed by Rufus Reid, studied drums with Eliot Zigmund and Horacee Arnold and took composition lessons from Dave Samuels. The young drummer met future employer Joe Lovano while still in college (the two played duets in lieu of a drum lesson when Zigmund was away). Stewart also made his first recordings, with saxophonist Scott Kreitzer, and pianist Armen Donelian, while still in school, and with pianist Franck Amsallem (and Gary Peacock on bass) shortly thereafter, in 1990.
After college, Stewart moved to New York where he quickly built his reputation, first gaining wider recognition in John Scofield's quartet and in a trio with Larry Goldings and Peter Bernstein, which has become the longest-running group Stewart has played with, having begun in 1989 and continuing to this day, however infrequently the group may be found in performance. Stewart's musical horizons expanded when funk saxophonist Maceo Parker tapped the budding drummer upon seeing him with Larry Goldings at a regular gig at a club in Manhattan. Stewart worked with Parker from 1990 to 1991, touring and recording on three of Parker's albums. The association led to Stewart's gig with James Brown, who told Stewart that there "Ain't no funk in Iowa!" upon learning the drummer's roots. Another close associate is pianist Kevin Hays, with whom he performs, along with fellow WPC graduate, bassist Doug Weiss. The Kevin Hays trio has recorded five CDs and toured internationally. Musical associations with Lee Konitz, Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny and many other notable jazz musicians have followed.
As a drummer, Bill Stewart's playing is distinguished by its melodic focus, and its polyrhythmic, or layered character. To describe someone's drumming style as "melodic" would mean there is a sense that you could "hum along" with discernible linear phrases which tell pieces of a story, akin to a vocalist, pianist, or saxophonist. Stewart's improvisations favor the development and layering of motivic ideas over the raw generation of excitement or display of technical prowess. Stewart has great touch, or dynamic precision, so that his ideas are articulated with an exactness and clarity. He has also achieved a very high degree of independence of his limbs, so that not only the ride cymbal and the snare/toms, but also the bass drum and hi-hat, are free to participate as melodic "first-class citizens." His drumming bears the influence of various melodic drummers who preceded him, including Max Roach, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette and Al Foster.
As a composer, Bill Stewart is forward-looking, and seems not to want to repeat what others have already accomplished. In other words, his tunes have a bit of an avant-garde flavor. The melodies, harmonies, phrase lengths, and measure lengths are often altered so as not to conform too closely to traditional jazz language. Some of his tunes (such as "Mayberry") also feature a built-in "free blowing" section, surrounded by a composed "head" (in the case of "Mayberry", a parody of the theme song of the Andy Griffith Show.) The concept of "Mayberry" may have been borrowed from Stewart's long-time collaborator John Scofield, who has written many tunes of the same general shape.
Stewart, for the most part, plays holding his sticks in a "matched" grip. This is in contrast to many contemporaries that prefer the "traditional" grip.
As a leader:
Stewart has a considerable output as a leader, beginning with 1989's Think Before You Think, with bassist Dave Holland, pianist Marc Copland, and saxophonist Joe Lovano, on which the drummer led a session of originals and standards, including one of his own compositions.
In his next outing as a leader, Stewart assembled trumpeter Eddie Henderson, saxophonist Lovano, pianist Bill Carrothers and bassist Larry Grenadier for an entire record of Stewart compositions, Snide Remarks, which was chosen as one of the top ten jazz CDs of the year by Peter Watrous of the New York Times.
The second Blue Note album to be released under Stewart's name was 1997's Telepathy, featuring Carrothers and Grenadier along with saxophonists Steve Wilson and Seamus Blake.
In 2005, the Bill Stewart Trio, with Kevin Hays and Larry Goldings, released Keynote Speakers. The ensemble is a twist on the usual organ-guitar-drum trio, where a second keyboard (variously piano, Fender Rhodes, and other keyboard instruments) is added to the organ-drum foundation. In December 2006 he recorded Incandescence with the same trio.
Stewart's recordings all have a certain blend of playfulness and mystery propelled by his drumming and melodic and rhythmic compositional style. Stewart has said that he thinks it very important to find an interesting combination of musicians whose abilities will complement each other and who will sound at home on the compositions slated for the given session.
Bill plays various Zildjian K cymbals and is endorsed by the Avedis Zildjian Company. A collaboration with Paul Francis from Zildjian yielded the 22" K Custom Special Dry Complex Rides (in Thin and Medium Thin weights), which are meant to replicate the sound of an old K. Zildjian cymbal Stewart has had for a long time. They were introduced in 2004. According to Bill, "The K Custom Special Dry Complex Ride has some trashy quality, but can also be articulate. The nice crash sound gets out of the way quickly while a clean stick sound or click is evident when riding. These cymbals are very pretty, yet can be very nasty.",
The cymbals were redesigned and sold as the K Custom Dry Complex II Rides since 2008 in sizes of 20, 22 and 24-inch. These custom ride cymbals feature a wider bell with a much lower profile to promote more control while offering a smooth array of rich overtones. Weight specifications are slightly heavier (medium-thin) than the first generation of Complex Rides, to make the cymbals more versatile, providing ride patterns that can be heard clearly from within an airy wash of overtones. All the sizes continue to display the unique high profile of their predecessors with the help of four extensive hammering processes that facilitate an exceptional expression of sound. Each cymbal employs traditional lathing with no tonal grooves on top, and a scratch lathing method underneath except at the outer edge to assist with a loose but easily contained set of overtones. Unlike the 24 and 22-inch models, the 20-inch Ride features full scratch lathing on the bottom. Bill commented: "These new cymbals are knocking me out! All three sizes offer multiple sound colors....from ride to crash, and many subtle types of shading in between. They have much of the trashy, wild side of the original Dry Complex line, but with a warmer and darker expression of sound, a lower pitch, heavier weight, and easier playability.",
Zildjian has also designed the Bill Stewart Artist Series Drumsticks.,
Bill usually plays a Gretsch shell setup that contains an 18 inch bass-drum, a 12 inch tom, a 14 and a 16 inch floor-tom.