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Alexander Stewart


Alexander Stewart first came to our attention when we heard him sing at the City Inn during the 2009 London Jazz Festival. He was backed by Geoff Gascoine (bass) and Sebastian De Krom (drums) with Alex Webb at the piano. At the time we said that we Alexander Stewartthought although he had shades of other singers, his voice was very much his own, and we were sure that we would hear more of him in the future. That appears to be the case. Since November 2009, Alexander has been appearing at a number of prestigious venues and singing with some top class jazz musicians.

Alexander was born in Salford just outside of Manchester in 1987, so at the age of just 23 in 2010 he is doing well.

'I was brought up in a little town called Walkden,' he says. 'I went to school there, have friends around that area and my parents still live there. My mum and dad have an eclectic taste in music but aren’t players or performers. That said, they do love the old jazz and swing era. I would say I am as influenced by their taste in music as they were by their parents, growing up listening to the sounds of Ella and Billie, Tony Bennett and of course Sinatra. I have an older sister and brother too who are real 80’s kids, so artists from Duran Duran and Blondie mixed with my brother's aptitude for playing electric guitar had a profound effect on me too!'

Although he has never had any formal vocal training, Alexander has been told that he used to sing when he was quite small. He did have some guitar lessons when he studied music at high school, but at the time never considered singing as a career prospect. 'During school and high school, I was at an age where most of my friends were listening to things like Oasis, Blur and probably the Spice Girls so anything else people liked, especially ’that jazz stuff’ seemed slightly odd I suppose. I knew I likedAlexander Stewart playing guitar and did enjoy accompanying myself while I played, but while most of your mates are off playing football, aspiring to be a singer wasn’t perhaps the coolest thing for a 14 year old to be!'

So what happened? Alexander explains: 'Listening to the greats not just sing songs, but convey their meanings and emotions, really struck me even then. It was just something that I wasn’t hearing so much of amongst the music that was being released when I was growing up. While I do love jazz music, I still do appreciate a great song and artist, no-matter the genre and I think that’s important. To pigeonhole yourself and solely listen to one specific style would be a terribly naïve way to develop a musical taste. I think listening to such a broad spectrum of genres and artists has helped me develop the way I sing, write and take on songs.'

As his interest developed, Alexander became interested in the approach of particular singers. 'I really love both Chet Baker and Mel Tormé. Baker's innocence and almost uncertainty in the voice is both charming and intriguing. His version of It’s Always You is a wonderfully melancholic and reminiscing alternative to the Sy Oliver arrangement of Sinatra's brash and bold take. It’s like listening to a different song entirely.'

'In stark contrast to Chet Baker, the more sure-voiced Mel Tormé has a playful quality and a depth which may not match Sinatra's timbre, but Tormé manages to articulate the lyrics and play with them in a way in which Sinatra sometimes would not, certainly with his scatting ability.'

One of the highlights of the past year was when Alexander appeared on BBC Radio 2's Friday Night Is Music Night. 'What an absolute treat!' he says. 'By far the biggest thing I've done to date, and yet the most enjoyable! PerfoAlexander Stewartrming with such an amazing orchestra was incredible! The buzz you get from such a rich, enveloping sound is overwhelming, it somehow lifts you as a performer. Meeting Sir Michael Parkinson (the show's host that evening) was also brilliant. The other performers on the gig, if I can call it that, were also great to work with and learn from! Curtis Stigers and Buddy Greco, a member of the legendary rat pack, offered so much to a young performer like me. It truly was an invaluable experience! It was also great that my parents were able to come and see the show too! They’re both incredibly proud!'

We wondered whether living in Manchester was a problem for Alexander and how important London is for an up-and-coming musician?

'It is difficult being based in Manchester. A large majority of the smaller venues here cater for a younger crowd and therefore tend to opt into rock and Indie band nights rather than putting on a jazz gig. There are the odd exceptions, but we simply aren’t as sprawling and vast as London nor do we have as many venues catering for this genre of music. Playing 'wallpaper music' in hotel lobbies, bars and restaurants are great little nights as far as they go and they do help to spread the word, but I find it more difficult to secure gigs here where people pay to come and see you as an artist.'

'I think the boundaries of jazz need to be stretched for some people. I feel whilst I perform music which is jazz and yes, we have an upright fretless bass as opposed to an electric bass, some people can be put off by that ‘jazz' word'. With the songs we perform as a band and the response of our audiences so far, things are working well. It’s not just jazz a gig, it’s a show. It’s something that’s taken us a few years to get right and I think the balance is there now. The audience is responding and more importantly, they’re coming back and bringing friends with them, who wouldn’t Alexander Stewartnormally listen to this genre of music! It’s a case now of getting more recognition, more gigs and making that transition from the smaller into larger venues.'

So far, Alexander has not been in the recording studio, but that is on the cards. 'I think that starting with a really good EP is the next step. I feel we have a broad enough spectrum of material, both original and covers, to be able to select the ones we feel are our strongest numbers and really convey colour and depth. I’m lucky enough to be working with a brilliant songwriter and pianist, Alex Webb, and a fantastic group of musicians who really know their stuff and also happen to be amazing individuals. It’s certainly been an exciting journey this far for a twenty-something kid from Salford.'

Alexander's support band usually includes Alex Webb (piano), Gary Crosby (bass) and Andy Chapman (drums) and saxophonist Nathanial facey has joined them in recent gigs

Look out for him in the autumn at the Imperial Wharf Jazz Festival and at this year's London Jazz Festival.

To hear Alexander sing, click here for his MySpace site, and there are also videos on YouTube if you click here.

 

Jonathan Bell went to see Alexander at Ronnie Scott's club in the summer of 2010 and writes:

'Thought I would drop you a line regarding Alexander Stewart.  I saw him perform at Ronnie Scott's on the 1st August and what a performance.  I had heard Alex before on television and thought he was good then, however, his performance on Sunday was exceptional, faultless and effortless for someone of his age.  He performed a great selection of songs and delivered them with unique style.  His pianist and musical director - Alex Webb has carefully selected his choice of songs and has done a great job with the arrangements.  So much so that he has even converted me to liking Paul Simon!!  I think that song choice and arrangements will be key to Alex's success in the future as he needs to stear clear of being labelled a 'Bublé' sound-alike.  If you have not already done so, and the opportunity comes along, then I would recommend trying to see Alex live.'

 

Alexander's recent live gigs have included alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey who came to everybody's attention composing and playing with Empirical and Nathaniel's pairing with Alexander Stewart and pianist arranger Alex Webb is inspired.

We have been anticipating Alexander's first album for a while, and that is always risky as you could be faced with an anti-climax, but not so here. His debut album All Or Nothing At All is released on 5th September 2011 and it is a real pleasure. If you wondered what had Alexander Stewart All Or Nothing At Allhappened to the legacy of the classic band singers - try this one. We find that his music is more intimate somehow than that of Michael Bublé or Michael Feinstein, and he certainly knows how to swing. The mix of standards and re-workings of pop songs and the space that is given to solos by Nathaniel Facey and others keeps hold of that swing feeling but brings it right up to date.

Tracks include the standards No Moon At All, Young At Heart, Easy To Love, Too Marvellous For Words and All The Way alongside songs like Paul Simon's Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover, Blondie's Call Me and the duet The Hard Way with Dee Dee Bridgwater's daughter China Moses.

The rest of the line up makes sure of the sound jazz foundations and includes bassist Gary Crosby OBE (whose CV includes Courtney Pine, Jazz Jamaica, Nu Troop and Denys Baptiste), trumpeter Freddie Gavita (previously a star of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra), Andy Chapman (Rhythmica, Ayanna Witter-Johnson) and tenor saxophonist Frank Griffith.

Click here for a (not very clear) video of Alexander singing All Or Nothing At All. Although Denys Baptiste is the sax player in this video, it gives you a very good idea of how well Alexander and the rest of the band work together. Click here to listen to four preview tracks from the album. Click here for Alexander's live dates.

Alexander is currently completing a new album to be released in the summer of 2015.

Images by Tim Dickenson courtesy of Alexander Stewart

© Sandy Brown Jazz and Alexander Stewart 2010 - 2015