Stewart, Rex (William Jr.)

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Stewart, Rex (William Jr.)

Stewart, Rex (William Jr.), jazz cornetist, master of the “half-valve” technique (pushing the cornet and/or trumpet valves halfway down to create a wealth of expressive sounds); b. Philadelphia, Feb. 22, 1907; d. Los Angeles, Sept. 7, 1967. His father played violin; his mother was a pianist. The family moved to Georgetown, near Washington, D.C., in 1914. Stewart began on piano and violin, then after two years on alto horn switched to cornet. He played regularly in Danny Doyle’s Boys’ Band and received tuition from the leader. At 14 he began doing gigs on Potomac riverboats. He left home to do a six-week tour with Ollie Blackwell and his Jazz Clowns; when this band folded he became a member of the Musical Spillers and made his first trip to N.Y. with this act in October 1921. Stewart remained with the Musical Spillers for over a year, playing cornet, trombone, tenor and soprano saxes, and xylophone. He quit the act to do gigs around N.Y., from 1923–25; he then joined Elmer Snowden’s Band. Stewart left during the following year to join Fletcher Henderson, with whom he would work, on and off, through early 1933. During this period, he also played with Horace Henderson’s Collegians (1927) and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers (summer 1931; again early 1932). He performed briefly with Fess Williams in N.Y. in spring 1933, then led his own big band at the Empire Ballroom, N.Y, from c. June 1933 until autumn 1934. He spent a few months in Luis Russell’s Band, then joined Duke Ellington in late December 1934. Except for short interludes, he stayed with Duke until April 1943. He played in N.Mex. in Dick Ballou Band (June 1943), gigged with Benny Carter in Calif. (July 1943), then led his own band in Los Angeles until rejoining Duke Ellington from October 1943 until December 1945. He formed his own “Rextet” early in 1946; the band worked mainly in N.Y. until leaving for Europe in October 1947. They disbanded in Europe and he remained to do extensive work as a soloist, and in that capacity appeared in Australia during summer of 1949. He returned to the U.S. in the spring 1950, gigged around N.Y, and then moved to Troy, N.J. to run his own farm. He led his own band in Boston during the early 1950s, and also worked regularly as a disc jockey on station WROW in Albany, N.Y. Stewart organized and recorded with Fletcher Henderson Reunion Bands in 1957 and 1958. From February 1958 until July 1959 he played at Eddie Condon’s Club, and subsequently moved to Calif. He continued disc jockey work on local radio stations and began lecturing and writing on jazz history. He did occasional spells of gigging in the 1960s and appeared at several jazz festivals. He toured Europe as a soloist twice in 1966, returned to play a few concerts in Calif., but by then was devoting most of his time to journalism. Stewart died suddenly from a brain hemorrhage in 1967.

Discography

Finesse (1934); Americans in Sweden (1947); Ellingto-nia (1953); Dixieland Free-For-All (1953); Big Jazz (1956); Big Reunion (1957); Big Challenge (1957); Henderson Homecoming (1958); Rendezvous with Rex (1959); Porgy and Bess Revisited (1958); Chatter Jazz (1959); Happy Jazz of Rex Stewart (1960); With Henri Chase (1966). D. Ellington: “Trumpet in Spades,” “Boy Meets Horn.”

Writings

Rex Stewart’s “Warm-Up” Book (Leeds Music).

—John Chilton , Who’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter

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Stewart, Rex (William Jr.)

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