Avant-garde jazz bassist Luke Stewart leads a life that’s as complex as his music. He calls New York City and Washington, DC home, while immersing himself in the creative communities of both. He’s a former radio host and journalist with a résumé that includes performing and lecturing at institutions such as Harvard University, the University of Montana, New Mexico State University, and the University of South Carolina, among others. Stewart is the kind of artist who is making his own journey while being aware of the communities to which he belongs. It’s something he cherishes, and he continuously makes an effort to make it evolve.
New York City is a cultural mecca while Washington, DC is the political hub of the United States. When it comes to the music of both places, Stewart views them with a regional perspective that branches out into a global perception.
“I think that they’re different in their own ways, but they’re also part of the same community and continuum that exists in the cities in the Mid-Atlantic region,” he says. “These interchanges between people of all types and in all industries, have been going on for many, many decades. I’d like to think of the entire East Coast, at least from DC to New York City, as sort of one big city with sort of different districts that are distinctive in their own ways.”
He points out that, “within a four-hour timeframe, you’re hitting most of the major cities in the country so there’s a natural interchange of people between DC, Baltimore, Philly, and New York City. With the music, in the way that I’ve experienced it, there’s a constant flow of musicians playing shows and collaboration amongst individuals. This leads to an international and national network of musicians, promoters, and the greater community. It’s something that if you can tap into it, then you can recognize it and sort of see the vastness of the community and how it has no borders. I see a lot of power in that while being geographically privileged in terms of culture.”
Regarding his former radio and journalism career, Stewart was involved in the DC-based radio station WPFW 89.3, while also writing for the jazz website CapitalBop.com. “I’d like to think of it as naturally and organically developing an interest along similar lines to me developing as a musician,” he says about joining WPFW. “I came to the radio station first when I was still in college at American University and I started working there as a musician and as a person who is politically minded and socially minded. At that time in my life, it felt to me like I was going to continue my education and my passion in my pursuit of music.”
He elaborates that the “radio station in particular is extremely unique in a lot of ways in both community and the music while reflecting the diverse cultural legacy of Washington DC. After going there and getting involved, I was embraced by the DC community, and it allowed me to give back in my own way while interacting with the people in the city in terms of things like CapitalBop.”
Stewart has been a prolific collaborator in his career, with associations that include Arts For Art, as a member of the ensembles Irreversible Entanglements, Heroes Are Gang Leaders, Ancestral Duo, and Six Six, and the rock duo Blacks’ Myths, with Warren G. “Trae” Crudup III on drums. He enjoys these collaborations due to the conversations they foster and the bonds they create.
“Each situation presents its own opportunities and challenges with each person bringing their own spirit. The interaction of vibrations among people feeding off each other in creating a musical conversation or a musical meditation, while working out emotions or more specific pieces of music, is kind of like figuring out a puzzle together. All of these things are things that I enjoy about working with people.”
As for 2021, Stewart is gearing up for a prolific year. “I have a number of new releases coming out, both solo and otherwise,” he mentions. “I also have a business deal with Pioneer Works, which essentially is a recording residency, so I’ve been there working on various projects. Hopefully, with the vaccine being put out, there are plans for actual performances in some form so actual art is happening.”
He’s hopeful that “this year people are starting to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel with the pandemic and start to feel some excitement happening, and I feel that things are bubbling among society in general. People are feeling antsy, along with the effects of COVID-19, so I hope there’s a burst of amazing activity once this all winds down.”