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
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:
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
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.