Time for our new song of the week. Today we put the spotlight on Rex Stewart (1907 – 1967). Stewart played the cornet and is most known for his work with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Before joining Ellington, Rex had already had stints with Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Elmer Snowden, Luis Russell and McKinney's Cotton Pickers. Rex was asked by Duke to replace trumpeter Freddie Jenkins who had lung problems. His mastery of expressive effects made Rex one of the most distinctive of all brass improvisers.
Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke were important early influences. Ellington created a new role in his band for Stewart’s unique melodies, full of bent notes and “half-valve” playing (depressing a valve on his cornet halfway) and quirky, mysterious sounds that suggested laughing or sobbing through his horn. Stewart also displayed a masterly use of mutes for expressive effects. Other Ellington sidemen joined him in his early small-group recordings; the most remarkable of these groups was his 1939 Paris quartet with guitarist Django Reinhardt. Late in his career Stewart continued to be a witty lyric artist, as evidenced in "The Big Challenge", a recording of sessions he and Cootie Williams led together in 1957. If you come across of this LP, get it !! It's a great album 🙂
Other interesting facts on Rex : he wrote for Playboy, Downbeat and several other print outlets during his life. He hosted a jazz radio program in New York and owned a small restaurant for a very short time near a drag racing stadium in Vermont. While living in France, he attended the Cordon Bleu school of cooking and dedicated his life to being a fine cook. Rex Stewart was a vivacious, funny and talented man. He wrote many articles and was considered an expert on the history of jazz.
The tune we chose is called "Rexatious" and appears on our US pressing Epic LG 3108 vinyl "The Duke's Men". The rhythm section in this tune is simply stunning. It was recorded on december 16, 1936. The dazzling line-up : Rex Stewart (trumpet), Lawrence Brown (trombone), Johnny Hodges (alto and soprano sax), Harry Carney (clarinet and baritone sax), Duke Ellington (piano), Ceele Burke (guitar), Billy Taylor (bass) and Sonny Greer (drums)…Enjoy !