Stewart-isms
by Joe Jahnigen

Like all great jazz players, Bill Stewart has a unique vocabulary of original motifs that he draws from while improvising. These compositional devices work as a springboard for improvisation as well as bringing continuity and form to his playing. Let’s look at the first example to see how Stewart creates simple variations on a rhythmic idea.

The first compositional device we will look at is his use of offbeat 1/8th notes on the hi-hat with the traditional Jazz ride pattern.

This example comes from Michael Brecker’s “Half Past Late” from his record Time is of the Essence, at the 7:00 min mark, Stewart is playing a simple straight 1/8th note groove on the outro of the tune. The entire pattern is a straight 1/8th version on a traditional jazz time pattern. Stewart augments this with his left foot playing offbeats on the hi-hat, which creates an interesting twist on a traditional groove:

On a different recording, Stewart uses the same idea with a shuffle ride pattern in 3/4 to create a different feeling altogether. This comes from Larry Goldings’ composition, “Christine,” off his Moon Bird record. Half way through the tune (3:49 min) Stewart uses the offbeat hi-hat and ride pattern as an ostinato for his solo.

This simple displacement of the hi-hat creates a layered backdrop for a melodic tom statement that sounds modern and hip.

The next device is a common jazz or Afro-Cuban rhythm:

This example comes from a John Scofield Quartet album What We Do. Around the 1:36 marker on “Big Sky” Stewart simply plays the rhythm in unison with the snare drum and evolves the pattern in to a 3:4 feel.

He uses a slight variation of the same rhythmic idea as a greasy set up for the melody during the intro to “Half Past Late” from the Michael Brecker tune mentioned earlier. Starting in the fifth measure, Stewart plays the rhythm over a straight feel to give it some forward motion.

You can clearly see how a simple variation on a rhythm can be a very effective way to
improvise.

The last device is a bit more complicated but the idea remains the same. He is again using a hi-hat ostinato to improvise over top of, but this time the device is a polyrhythm that takes three bars to repeat itself:

This example comes the last set of fours from “(Go) Get It” from the great Pat Metheny record Trio 99/00, In this solo, Stewart has a number of rhythms layered at once. His left foot is playing the hi-hat ostinato (every three 1/8th notes) and his hands are playing what seems to be a simple tom and snare pattern. After further listening you can hear that the tom pattern has a very specific phrasing. Having seen him perform live and on video, I can tell he is playing paradiddles on the toms and snare, which creates a very cool sound and also is visually fantastic.

In following this same device, this final example shows Stewart using the same hi-hat ostinato but combines with the bass drum and a snare pattern phrased in five. On John Scofield’s live record En Route on the tune “Wee” Stewart is trading fours with bassist Steve Swallow. Around 6:55 on the first track he starts his creative pattern:

The backdrop created by the bass drum, hi-hat, and ride is interesting enough but he adds to it with the rim shot pattern, which creates a great rolling poly rhythmic effect.

Stewart takes simple ideas and creatively expands upon them. He treats each device like a color and uses it to set a mood with out just repeating himself. These are not licks that are plugged in when necessary, but ideas that he can rely on to help spur creativity or give a simple pattern a nice contrast. Take these examples and work them out on your own but even better take the idea and create your own unique devices.