Press

Reviews of, and feedback for, The Street Is Making Music

I liked it! — Sonny Rollins

Zan, I listened to your record and I liked it. I didn't know you were so accomplished . -- Sonny Rollins

Swinging and unpretentious — Larry Hollis

A respected jazz journalist (I hate the term critic) of several decades, Zan Stewart proves he knows what he is talking about with his debut disc as a tenor saxophonist. Here he heads up a standardized trio of piano, bass and drums for a set of fairly evenly split originals and tunes from outside sources such as Jimmy Van Heusen & Johnny Burke, Bud Powell, Matt Dennis, Victor Young & Edward Heyman and a pair from Charlie Parker. Stewart describes and comments on all the selections in his self-penned liner annotation so I won't go into detail on any of them other than say it is a nice mix of what he writes is 'a lineup of the old as well as the new'. Pianist Keith Saunders is a standout in the rhythm section and although Stewart lists 'mentors, teachers and advocates' such as fellow saxmen Rollins, Frank Morgan, Lew Tabackin, Jim Snidero, Pat Britt, Lou Donaldson & Bob Mintzer the major influence this writer hears is the unmentioned Dexter Gordon. Just like his writing, this date is unpretentious and swinging. -- Larry Hollis, Cadence Jazz

Impressive! — George W. Harris

If you've ever read any jazz articles, I can guarantee you've seen Zan Stewart's name on reviews in publications such as the LA Times and Downbeat. Now I see why he's been such an astute judge of talent, as he's been a closet tenor sax player all these years, and lo and behold, here's his debut disc! His middle heavy weight and bluesy tone show his allegiance to the likes of Hank Mobley and Sonny Rollins, with rich sub tones, and old school breathiness blowing in like a fresh breeze on boppers such as his own Daddy's Blue Song or Charlie Parker's Diverse. He teams up with a group of kindred spirits in Keith Saunders/p, Adam Gay/b and Ron Marabuto/dr, and they all sound like they're having the time of their lives on the playful take of Pat Boone's signature Love Letters and the Latin Lover Gal's 'Round The Hood. Saunders is a 52nd Street orphan, snapping on a standard like Polka Dots and Moonbeams and Bud Powell's Webb City. Stewart shows some moxie by going it all alone on Mobe's Symphony/Everything Happens to Me and he sounds like in tenor heaven. Impressive! -- George Harris, jazzweekly.com

Those that can, play! From journalist to jazz musician Zan Stewart completes the circle with a marvelous debut recording! Brent Black / www.criticaljazz.com

From the L.A. Times to Down Beat to performing artist, Zan Stewart has all the basses covered. Five solid originals are mixed in with some standards along with some Bud Powell and Charlie Parker to allow for a revealing look at an artist whose first release comes at seventy!

Stewart is not a new comer in the traditional sense having continuously played on the side. A decision to leave journalism finds Zan Stewart taking a more hands on approach to not only his career but his passion. A highly lyrical player with a warm open sound that may best be described as that musical happy place somewhere between Coleman Hawkins and Stan Getz shows off Stewart as a prolific ballad performer with his own tune "Mobes' Symphony" which meticulously morphs into "Everything Happens To Me." Showing off an inspiring command of his horn, the minor key Charlie Parker "Diverse" is an old school burner that takes no prisoners.

This aptly titled release runs the sonic spectrum from samba grooves to lyrical ballads. The mix is eclectic, the execution is tight on and the band can swing. Were it not for the acknowledgment that this is a debut release, this working band has a sound that other bands that have been working together for decades are still searching for. Perfect? Uh, no...But Coleman Hawkins once said, "If you don't make mistakes you aren't really trying."

★★★★ - 4 Stars!

Playing great, man! — Grant Stewart

Congrats, playing great man. Band is killing it, nice tunes, too. "The Street is Making Music" is a good one. Glad you're doing it man. -- Grant Stewart

Beautiful CD — Maucha Adnet

I am sure happy with your beautiful CD. Congrats! It sounds good, live, happy! There is a great feeling in it. -- Maucha Adnet (sang with Jobim)

I like it! — GA Rusell

It could have been recorded sixty years ago. If these guys played in a neighborhood bar, I'd go there all the time. — GA Russell, Organissimo.org

Keep swingin'! — Dave Stryker

Man, you're really coming along since I heard you last. Nice tunes and playing. Keep swingin'.-- Dave Stryker

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Nice job, Zan. CD — Jim Snidero

I've always dug your sound, and now your chops are coming together. Must feel good. Nice job, Zansky. Something to be proud of. Congratulations. -- Jim Snidero

ZAN STEWART/The Street is Making Music by Guido Rosetti, Midwestern Record

It might have taken him until he was 70, but YAY!, one of us has done it. Long time, award winning, jazz journalist Stewart is making his debut as a sax man with a more than credible, tasty straight ahead jazz outing that doesn't have to make any apologies or excuses for anything. Filled with the wonderfully swinging sounds that probably got him to chase all forms of this muse in the first place, this record is such a gasser that he probably should have thought about putting the first batch out under a nom de Rowling just to see how it would have been received. Our antenna gets great reception. Stewart really knew what he was writing about all along. Killer stuff throughout.

It's great, just great!

I really, really like it. The tunes are very cool and you and the band sound terrific.--NYC-based music pro

Past articles about Zan Stewart

Zan Stewart: Music writer turned musician plays home

June 14, 2012 7:00 am by Andrew Gilbert

Seekers and dreamers have been finding their way to Berkeley for more than a century, but I doubt anyone’s arrived with a quest quite like Zan Stewart’s. After four decades as one of the nation’s most prolific and respected jazz writers, he’s exchanged his pen for a horn, devoting himself to honing his craft as an improviser and interpreter of jazz standards.

Since settling in Berkeley about a year ago, he’s found a home base at Nick’s Lounge on Adeline near the Ashby BART station, an unpretentious neighborhood joint where bebop blends perfectly with the posters of Herman Leonard’s classic black and white photos capturing Billie Holiday, Dexter Gordon, and Dizzy Gillespie in all their 52nd Street glory. Starting on June 16th, the tenor saxophonist performs at Nick’s every third Saturday this summer with a responsive quartet featuring bassist Adam Gay, veteran drummer Ron Marabuto, and New York HardBop Quintet pianist Keith Saunders, who recently settled in Albany.

A Los Angeles native, Stewart has harbored musical ambitious ever since a teenage epiphany in 1960 hearing Count Basie’s swaggering “New Testament” Orchestra. “I ended up standing up shouting and screaming,” Stewart says. “The roof opened up and the light shone on me and I was never the same.”

A respectable saxophonist, he shared the bandstand with some world-class players before he started writing, including one night with pianist Albert Dailey, who was working with Stan Getz at the time, and a four-month stint with drummer Gary Frommer, whose credits included Getz, Barney Kessel, Art Pepper, and Van Morrison. He started writing for the Santa Barbara News and Review in the mid-1970s, and by the early 1980s Stewart was contributing regularly to the Los Angeles Times during the paper’s heyday. In 2002, he moved to the East Coast to take a staff position at the Newark Star-Ledger, a gig he retired from in 2010 in order to pursue his musical dream.

Over the years, Stewart wrote more than a thousand profiles, including numerous cover stories for Downbeatmagazine. He contributed liner notes to several hundred albums, and won a coveted ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for his biographical essay for the nine-CD box set “Eric Dolphy: The Complete Prestige Recordings.” As a budding jazz fan growing up in LA in the early 1980s, I remember reading Stewart’s reviews, which were always distinguished by his musical insight and sympathetic stance.

“I started writing really because I didn’t know how to practice,” says Stewart, 68. “I couldn’t get the horn together, and if you’re going to work as a musician you have to know how to develop. The writing thing gave me a chance to be expressive, to help out. But as it went along, the interviews with musicians were like lessons and I got information about what people did and how they played. I was around these guys working all the time. They were inspiring to me, and I kept working on the music.”

A fat, rounded tone

At a recent Nick’s performance Stewart’s diligence is evident. He possesses a fat, rounded tone that owes more to Don Byas and Coleman Hawkins than latter day tenor icons like John Coltrane and Michael Brecker.

“The sound is our signature,” Stewart says. “It’s how people can tell who you are. For some reason I was lucky. Over the years as much as I loved Sonny Rollins, I never tried to sound like that.”
Eager to communicate with the audience, he offers a little background on his material, talking about Bronislau Kaper’s film scores before launching into a beautiful arrangement of his moody ballad “Invitation” set to the insinuating groove perfected in Ahmad Jamal’s hit “Poinciana.” He even sings the Ellington anthem “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” name checking the great vocalist who introduced the song in 1932, Ivie Anderson.

Raised in a highly artistic household, Stewart was surrounded by actors and musicians as a child. His mother, Elizabeth Wilbur Stewart, appeared in several films in the mid 1930s (including Laurel and Hardy’s “Bonnie Scotland”), and was herself the daughter of playwright Elene Wilbur. His father, a graphic artist and amateur musician, worked as an accountant for the Hollywood studios RKO and Universal. Despite their creative backgrounds, his parents were less than supportive of his musical ambitions. It wasn’t until he started writing that he felt they got in his corner. Over the years he never abandoned the sax, leading bands at clubs around LA and sitting in regularly with saxophonists Pat Britt and Wilbur Brown, longtime fixtures at the Cat and the Fiddle pub in Hollywood.

Return to California

When he finally decided to pursue music full time, Stewart knew he wanted to return to California and initially set his sights on San Francisco. He had lived in Haight Ashbury in 1966-67 in a house with other jazz musicians, and spent a year in Marin in the early 1970s. But on a scouting trip before he left Newark he found little of the San Francisco that he remembered.

“The city didn’t speak to me any more,” he says. “I was more into the openness of the East Bay. I’ve got a boxer and he needed a place, so Pt. Isabel was a draw. And all the musicians I knew were in the East Bay.”

Andrew Gilbert, whose Berkeleyside music column appears every Thursday, also covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and KQED’s California Report. He lives in west Berkeley. 

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Zan Stewart: Jazz Advocate

December 13, 2007 by David A. Orthmann

For the last five years, Zan Stewart has been the voice of New Jersey jazz. A tenor saxophonist who occasionally plays in local clubs, Stewart, who has also written for the Los Angeles Times, appears several times a week in the Newark Star-Ledger, the Garden State’s largest newspaper. He reviews performances in a variety of Jersey and Manhattan venues, offers comprehensive artist profiles in the paper’s Friday “Ticket” section, writes brief notices of upcoming gigs, and critiques recently released compact discs. Stewart’s accessible style of writing features astute observations that appeal to the casual listener and avid fan alike.

AAJ contributor David A. Orthmann spoke to Stewart about the responsibilities of covering jazz for a daily newspaper.

All About Jazz: You refer to yourself as a jazz writer, as opposed to a jazz critic. What’s the difference?
Zan Stewart: I don’t know if there is a difference. I just never liked the idea that I’m a critic. I consider myself a jazz advocate. My main role is to expose people to the music in a way that would encourage them to participate in it.

AAJ: In an age when the print media’s coverage of jazz continues to dwindle, I’m impressed with the Star-Ledger’s ongoing commitment to the music. How did you go about getting the position?
ZS: I found about it through friends and applied. I came in and interviewed and got the position. Some of the major names in jazz journalism did not apply. The job also required living in New Jersey. Perhaps they didn’t want that.

AAJ: Do you generate your own assignments, or does an editor suggest events to cover?
ZS: Maybe five percent come from editors, like, “This is something we ought to cover. Let’s do it this way.” But generally I’m coming up with all of the ideas.

AAJ: Musicians regard media coverage as part of getting gigs, or getting more lucrative gigs. Considering how many capable players are competing for so few opportunities to work, how do you go about deciding who gets profiled or reviewed?
ZS: It’s a combination of what I feel is important that people need to know about, who is appearing when and where, proximity to a new recording, and locale. This is a New Jersey newspaper I write for. The focus is on New Jersey artists. I’m trying to cover a broad spectrum of the art, but I do focus on the music that I feel is the most important. Modern music that swings is the kind of music that communicates that best, I feel. I find that in looking at audiences, people have an emotional response to it, more so than the avant-garde. Pop jazz definitely has a tremendous rhythmic advantage. People can feel that beat. But it doesn’t have the melodic and harmonic complexity of mainstream jazz, modern mainstream, hard bop, post hard bop, or whatever names we want to call it. To me that’s the richest music out there. So that’s what I focus on.

AAJ: I remember speaking to your predecessor, George Kanzler, several years ago at a concert, and paying him a compliment about an article published in the paper that very day. Without any prompting he said, “That’s what I can do when I’m not under such a tight deadline.” How does deadline pressure affect the way you write?
ZS: It’s a drag. Deadlines are terrible, man. Having to get up on a Friday morning and write a lengthy review. These are not short reviews I write. They run somewhere between fifteen and seventeen inches, five hundred to six hundred words. Still, I think that almost every writer needs a deadline. Writing is a very challenging means of expression. It’s very easy to say the wrong thing, or to not say what you mean. It’s slow. It just doesn’t come bursting out. I would prefer to have a couple of days to write a review, but that generally doesn’t work. I would say the same thing about profiles. But I guess I’ve always been more of a person who wrote under close deadline than someone who wrote way ahead.

AAJ: In what ways has the necessity of continuously covering a wide range of sounds affected the way you look at the music?
ZS: I think it’s been said by several people that, in different ways, you fall in love with a sound. I fell in love with the sound as a kid, and that’s still the sound I love. For me, the music I heard early on was Basie, Parker, Monk, Miles, Sonny Rollins, and Coltrane. That’s still the music that moves me. It’s the music that has the most impact, it has tremendous creative potential, and it can be moved in many ways. To me, it has the best beat. One guy who is out here now who has a similar viewpoint, I feel, is Joe Magnarelli. I thought he was a great trumpet player when I first ran into him in the early ‘90s, and I still feel the same way today. He has a modern edge while also embracing the past.

AAJ: How does your activity as a working musician enhance or complement writing about the music?
ZS: I’m a musician who writes. I know a lot that people who don’t play music don’t know. I know what it’s like to get up there on that bandstand and the hassles you might go through. It adds depth. It gives you more of a feel of what’s going on, of what a person is going through to produce what they’re doing. It gives me a sense of what the music is supposed to sound like, and it helps me describe it sometimes. But people who don’t play can describe music just as well; they don’t have to be musicians.

AAJ: When Gary Giddins left the Village Voice a few years ago, he wrote that part of the job he would miss the most was the interaction with his readers. Do you find that contact with your readers is an important part of the job?
ZS: You want to know that people are reading your stuff. I hear from some. It’s nice to be read. Writing is an alone experience. Somebody will say, “Gee, I really loved your story,” or “I really loved that review.” So people are reading and that’s great.

AAJ: Have other journalists and scholars influenced your thinking and writing about the music?
ZS: A little bit. I liked the way that Whitney Balliett wrote. Because I liked the fact that he was a poet, and his use of metaphors was fabulous. I started reading Down Beat around 1960, and I used to read it cover-to-cover. And I used to read Metronome cover-to-cover. Some of the great names—Nat Hentoff, Dan Morgenstern, Ira Gitler, Leonard Feather—they were people I read. I don’t know if I ever thought about directly writing like somebody. I did try to write poetically when I was writing for the LA Times, at one point trying to use a lot of metaphors. That’s a difficult task because you’re asking readers to make a poetic step with you, and a lot of times that’s not the way it’s going to be. It belongs someplace else—certainly not in a daily newspaper.

AAJ: Do you sometimes feel the necessity to fill in gaps in your knowledge of the music by listening to artists at particular points in the jazz timeline?
ZS: Listening to music is very demanding. You have to be fully present or you’re not going to hear it. I’m always listening, though I don’t listen to every new CD that comes in. And I don’t go to CDs for story ideas. My “Ticket” piece on Friday is based on a performance within a seven-day period, Friday to the following Thursday. To tell you the truth, there’s too much music out there and not enough time to listen. I know it would be good to hear more new and different things, but it’s hard to do.

AAJ: Do you ever want to take a sabbatical to recharge your batteries and look at the music from a different perspective?
ZS: I would like to take a break from writing because it’s demanding. As far as my perspective, there’s never going to be a different one. I look at the music the same way I did when I was fifteen. Any other perspective would be extra musical. It would be about the scene, or about how people are making money or not making money. One of the things I’m asked each year at the paper is what’s the best trend of the year? I don’t see trends. I see people trying to play music, practicing, writing new material, trying to improve, and slowly but surely moving along. That’s the way I approach it out here. It’s just about somebody going out and doing their thing.

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