Grant Stewart at Smalls. On Tuesday night, my daughter and I caught tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart at Smalls in New York. Grant is an aggressive player but a humble, gentle guy who is strongly influenced by Sonny Rollins on up-tempo tunes and Dexter Gordon on ballads. Unlike many jazz musicians today, Grant does a lot of listening to old masters when he isn't playing or practicing, which makes him a very shrewd player.
Smalls (183 W. 10th St.) is probably the best and most affordable place to see live jazz in New York. You pay $20 to get in and receive a poker chip that's good for a beer or glass of wine. You then are able to hang out all night listening to groups. You can sit at the room-long bar that runs right up to the stage. Or you can grab a seat that puts you virtually in the musicians' horns. Best of all, there's no waitress hassling. You sit, you sip, you dig. That's it. And the groups there come to play.
During the first set, Grant played five songs—three of them from his upcoming CD, Young at Heart (Sharp Nine), which is due out in March. I had the rare pleasure of watching Grant record the album in the fall. And in the spirit of what Dan Morgenstern calls "full disclosure," I'm pleased to say I wrote the new CD's liner notes.
Grant opened the first set at Smalls with the CD's title track, which he starts rubato and quickly shifts to a playful swinger. Next was an original burner, Shades of Jackie Mac, which Grant wrote in Brazil and is based on the changes to Sweet Georgia Brown.
Grant worked the lower register of his horn on Jerome Kern's The Folks Who Live on the Hill, a beautiful ballad well suited to Grant's big, round confident sound. Neal Hefti's Repetition, with its searing, soaring lines and tricky chord changes, was taken at medium tempo and given a bossa-Latin beat. About half-way through the tune, Grant slyly tagged the pop hit Windy, which worked wonderfully and gave the 1947 song a fresh feel. The last song was a fast-paced closer theme.
Grant was joined by Joe Cohn on guitar, Joel Forbes on bass, his brother Phil Stewart on drums and Ehud Asherie on piano. All delivered superb performances. The group plays at Smalls every Tuesday night.
During the break, Grant told me he had just returned from a Pennsylvania studio where he recorded on drummer Mike Melito's next CD, with Paul Hoffman on piano, John Swana on trumpet, Neal Miner on bass and Bob Sneider on guitar. More to follow.
If you're in New York, check out Smalls. It's the way jazz used to be heard—when the scene was about the music, not the rent.
The e-hills have eyes: A special thanks to Jon Foley, who often is the first to let me know by email that there's a typo in the day's post. From time to time, typos creep in, despite my painstaking efforts to catch them all ahead of time. For me, any typo is mortifying, since I take this stuff pretty seriously. The good news is that Jon's vigilance has made me extra careful, so I hope there will be fewer of them going forward.