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Profile:

Alexander Stewart

 

 

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 thought 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 then, 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 was 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 Alexander Stewartsounds 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 liked 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 highlight 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 Stewart on Parkinsonrming 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 normally 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.'

 

Here is Alexander singing One For My Baby in 2013

 

 

 

When we first spoke with Alexander he had not been in the recording studio. '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.'

That is not quite how it turned out.

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

'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 live gigs at that time included alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey who had come to everybody's attention composing Alexander Stewart All Or Nothing At Alland playing with Empirical and we thought Nathaniel's pairing with Alexander Stewart and pianist arranger Alex Webb was inspired.

When Alexander's debut album did come out, it was not just an EP. All Or Nothing At All ws released on 5th September 201. If you wondered what had happened 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.

 

Here is a video of Call Me from the album.

 

 

Alexander has taken his music abroad and established quite a following on the Continent. He also performs with Alex Webb's Jazz At Café Society / Café Society Swing show - the story of the legendary New York nightclub which promoted racial equality and where from 1938 to 1949, club owner Barney Josephson hosted legendary names including Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan and Count Basie.

 

Here is is singing Billy Strayhorn's Lush Life in the show.

 

 

 

In 2016, Alexander released his second album, I Thought About You. Here is our review:

When singer Alexander Stewart released his first album, All Or Nothing At All, five years ago I was impressed. I went to the album's release gig at Pizza Express in Soho and found a freshness to his voice and performance and a rapport with an equally Alexander Stewart I Thought About Youimpressive band.

Although Alexander performs occasionally in the UK (he sings with Alex Webb's Jazz At Café Society shows, for example), I wonder why he seems to have a lower profile here than elsewhere. I get the impression that this might be partly because he is very popular in Europe and plays there regularly and also perhaps because his publicity / agency activity is widely spread across a number of countries.

Now Alexander has released his second album, I Thought About You, a well-chosen set of Standards and contemporary songs. The personnel varies as the album was recorded between London and Prague, with the City Of Prague Philarmonic Orchestra on seven of the twelve tracks. It includes Alexander's regular collaborator Freddie Gavita (trumpet), Rob Barron (piano), Rob Anstey (bass) and Andy Chapman (drums) with contributions from Alastair White and Callum Au (trombones) and Andy Panayi (alto sax).

The album opens with a fully orchestrated, swinging version of Stevie Wonder's Part Time Lover with trombone solo. Freddie Gavita has made many of the arrangements and in doing so he has a nice touch which shows his understanding of Alexander's style.

 

 

 

 

Listen to Part Time Lover.

 

 

 

Freddie Gavita

 

Willie Dixon's I Just Want To Make Love To You picks up and continues the swinging intro with Alexander trading lines with the band. The title track is Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Mercer's Standard I Thought About You and starts slowlywith percussion over the orchestra. Sinatra's recording is best known to me, but this is a great arrangement that shows Alexander Stewart's timing and clarity and opens to a pleasing solo from Freddie Gavita.

 

Freddie Gavita

 

 

 

Click here for a video about the making of the album.

 

 

 

Slowing down again, Brother Can You Spare A Dime starts with voice and bass and gives us a saxophone solo, presumably by Andy Panayi (solos aren't specified on the sleeve notes).

 

 

Listen to Brother Can You Spare A Dime.

 

 

 

Human, at track 5, is one of four compositions by the singer, a slow romantic ballad, with the excellent Freddie Gavita again soloing on flugelhorn. Bacharach and David's The Look Of Love follows at its usual steady pace. I was waiting for the trumpet / flugelhorn solo but in this version it is handed to the saxophone. How Glad Am I, gets off at a cracking, funky tempo with a piano solo 'in the middle' and (Moving at) The Speed Of Darkness at track 8 is a catchy song by Alexander Stewart and Alex Webb with a short guitar solo from Tommy Emmerton.

 

Listen to Speed Of Darkness.

 

 

 

The Sweetest Feeling is arranged by Rob Barron adapted for big band by Callum Au. It is one of those swinging numbers that suits Alexander's style well, and this time the solo is presumably from Callum Au'strombone. Fragments at track 10 and Suitcase Of Dreams which follows are both ballads composed by Alexander Stewart. My personal preference is Suitcase Of Dreams which has catchy lyrics and a twenties / thirties old-fashioned, simple style. The album closes with the beautiful Bacharach and David song A House Is Not A Home, an example of classic songwriting and it is given due respect in the emotion captured in Alexander's interpretation.

 

 

Listen to A House Is Not A Home.

 

 

 

I Thought About You is a fitting follow up to Alexander Stewart's first album. Second albums are often chancy after a well-received debut release, but he has achieved it here. If I have any reservation, it is that for a jazz album I would have liked more, and more extended, instrumental solos, but that said, Freddie Gavita and Rob Barron have achieved fine arrangements for a Philarmonic Orchestra. The album was released with two concerts in September at London's Hippodrome and the Casino in Manchester. Alexander Stewart will be touring Germany in November, let's hope we get to see and hear more of him in the UK.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Click here for Alexander's website.

Images by Tim Dickenson courtesy of Alexander Stewart

© Sandy Brown Jazz and Alexander Stewart 2010 - 2016

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