By the late 1950s, trumpeter Al Stewart was performing relentlessly with top bands, recording on a range of notable big band albums and playing in orchestras supporting televised events such as The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. By 1958, television had created enormous opportunity for many big band musicians, especially as jazz's popularity began to wane and big band tours became less economical. After the 1950s, Al continued to play on television shows and recorded in studios, recording two albums under his own name for RCA, Museum of Modern Brass (1973) and Museum of Modern Brass 2 (1975) featuring Al on piccolo trumpet. [Photo of Al Stewart playing piccolo trumpet in the early 1970s]
In Part 5 of my interview series with Al, the sterling sideman talks about Charlie Barnet's car driving style and rage, and reflects on the joy of performing with trumpeters Clark Terry, Charlie Shavers, Bernie Glow and Charlie Margulis:
JazzWax: Given all of your hard blowing night after night, what did you do to keep your lips in shape?
Al Stewart: Nothing in particular. If you play correctly and focus on putting air through your horn and not being overly concerned about the mouthpiece end, you tend to avoid problems. But trumpet players' lips certainly get beat up. There's no way to avoid that. When I'd finish a hard-blowing job, my chops would be slightly swollen the next morning. I'd be careful the next day to warm up easily. Over time, your lips get accustomed to all kinds of blowing. Louis liked to put salve on his lips from time to time after he played to keep them soft. I still have the can of salve Louis gave me in my trumpet case. [Photo of Al Stewart and trumpeter Doc Severinsen in 2008 by Tandy Stewart; courtesy of Al Stewart]
JW: So playing the trumpet is harder than it looks?
AS: [Laughs] A little. But not only the chops. When you play hard, you're playing with your whole physical self. Everything is supporting the air passing through the horn. Your whole body is going through the instrument. When you play, you’re inhaling and exhaling deeply. You aren’t thinking about your chest or diaphragm. It's all coming together naturally. [Al Stewart with B.B. King in 1996; courtesy of Al Stewart]
JW: In 1958 you played with Charlie Barnet.
AS: Yes, we did a short tour playing for Jack Benny. Then the band played a weekend date at the State Theater in Hartford, CT. Our next stop was New York. Charlie [pictured] asked if I would ride with him in his convertible Cadillac. I said, "OK." When Charlie climbed in, he put a bottle of scotch between us. Charlie was a drinker. We were driving on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, with all those curves. The Connecticut turnpike [I-95] hadn't been completed yet. We got in the car, and in a flash we were in New York. Charlie was one fast driver. And the bottle was empty.
JW: Was Barnet a nice guy?
AS: Yes, but he could be volatile. When Charlie got angry, he'd get a red "V" on his forehead between his eyebrows. One night when we were playing an officers' club in Chapel Hill, N.C., Charlie asked the trumpet section to play with mutes during the dinner hour because it was a long room and there wasn't carpeting or anything like that. It was a very live room. If we had played without the mutes, the audience's ears would have suffered. So we picked up the mutes and put them in.
AS: No, just for the dinner hour. On that job, I was playing the lead part. Also in the trumpet section was Dale Pierce, Dick Sherman, Conte Candoli and Johnny Vohs. But when Charlie [pictured] called up a swinger that Manny Albam had arranged, Dale had the lead part on that tune. But he didn't want to use the mute. Dale was a terrific all-around player, but he was also kind of strung out that night and out of it. Dale said. "The hell with the mutes." He took it out of his horn and went up to a high e-flat, which came screaming out.
JW: What was Barnet's reaction?
As: Charlie turned around and glared at Dale. While we were still playing, Charlie said to Dale, "Get off the bandstand." The red V was already showing on his forehead. Dale was out of it and said to Charlie, “Oh yeah? Make me.”
JW: What did Barnet do?
AS: The trumpet riser was about four to five feet above the floor. The trombones were on a step lower and the sax seats were on the stage floor. When Charlie [pictured] heard what Dale had said, he tore through the saxes, went right through the middle of the trombones and up to the trumpet riser, grabbing Dale under his neck by his shirt and tie and threw him off the bandstand.
JW: What happened to Dale?
AS: His head hit a radiator, and they took him to the hospital. He took 16 stitches in his head. The doctor gave him some painkillers to take. But Dale being Dale, he took them back to the hotel, chopped them up, cooked them and shot them up. He never played with the band again.
AS: I was in good company [laughs]. Clark [pictured] is a magnificent player. He has a very individual sound and style that's all his own. His facility is extraordinary, both in his oral and digital dexterity. To top it off, he could be deeply serious and humorous in a playful way. He had so much covered.
JW: How did Terry differ from Shavers?
AS: Charlie, of course, was a bit older, so his style was different. Charlie [pictured] was an incredible player who had enormous freedom. It wasn't a matter of high notes with these guys. High notes don't make a player. They're impressive because of the music they play and the individuality of their style and playing. You hear their personality through the instrument. Charlie played a different style of jazz than Clark did but equally phenomenal.
JW: What was special about Bernie Glow?
AS: He was the best first-trumpet player of that generation. Conrad Gozzo was the one who came before him, with Woody Herman's [1945-1947] Blowin' Up a Storm band. Bernie was consistent, and he had a great sound and time. He never seemed to get tired. He could do three or four record dates in a day, and he'd be just as fresh at the end of the day as he was in the morning. He was a beautiful man, and a good friend.
JW: How did you manage to steer clear of drugs and alcohol with so many musicians around you consuming one or both?
AS: Neither ever had any appeal for me. I don't know why so many players got hooked. I think Charlie Parker was probably a big early influence on many guys, both as a musician and a user. Ultimately, talent always came before drugs. No one got great by taking that stuff. Eventually, many of the guys realized that and kicked their habits.
JW: You also worked with arranger-conductor Gordon Jenkins in 1959.
AS: Gordon [pictured] took a liking to me. I did a short tour with him and Judy Garland that year. We played the Stanley Theater in Baltimore and the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York, before it moved to Lincoln Center. Then we moved on to the Civic Theater in Chicago. I liked Gordon very much. I was thrilled that Gordon, who had composed and recorded Manhattan Tower  and who I had such great respect for musically, had picked me to play first chair on this tour.
AS: I don’t think she was a well woman at that point. But she and Gordon had an emotional connection. Gordon and Judy were both very sensitive. I remember in Chicago, he was conducting the orchestra while she was singing, and he had these beautiful, wide arm movements. It was like watching someone paint a panorama. Judy's singing was so touching that tears were coming down Gordon's face. Man, I get emotional just thinking about it.
JW: Did anything unusual happen on that tour?
AS: Milt Yaner was a fine alto saxophonist, and he contracted the musicians for Gordon on that trip. One day as we were nearing the end of the tour, Milt says, “Hey Al, when we get back to New York, we're going to be doing The Revlon Show on TV, and Gordon wants you to play first trumpet.” I said, “Who else is going to be in the TV band?” Milt said, “Shorty Solomson, Charlie Margulis and you.” I said, “You must be mistaken. There’s no doubt that Charlie would be the lead player in that lineup.”
JW: For those who don't know, who was Charlie Margulis?
AS: Charlie was probably the best studio trumpet player in New York in the budding years of radio and then on television. He was an original Paul Whiteman player. Charlie didn't have nerves. Nothing rattled him.
AS: He said, "No, Al, Gordon wants you to play the first chair.” As we got closer to New York, I asked Milt again, "Are you sure you aren't mistaken?" He said, “No Al, Gordon wants you to play first.” On the day of our first rehearsal, I asked Milt yet again. Milt said, “Al, don’t bust my chops. Gordon wants you to play first. And that’s the end of it.” So I said, "OK, fine."
JW: Was that the end of it?
AS: Not quite. Whenever I was on a date, I generally got there early to warm up a bit. So I got to the TV studio early, and when I finished warming up, I put my trumpet down on the first chair and hit the can to wash my hands. When I came back, I saw that my horn had been moved to the second chair. Charlie had done it. He said to me, "When I’m on the job, kid, I’m the first trumpet player.”
JW: What did you do?
AS: Charlie was a generation before me, but I realized immediately that I was in a make or break situation. A guy like Charlie could put you on such a spot that he’d break your confidence, and it would take you some time to get it back. At that moment I had had it. I got up close to Charlie and said, “Listen you mother, if you ever move or touch my horn again it will be over your head. Now, I was told to sit there. Go take the other chair.” [Photo, from left to right, of Don Goldie, Nick Travis and Al Stewart at the Burnin' Beat recording session led by Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich in 1962]
JW: Wow. Did Charlie move down?
AS: Yes. I sat down in the first chair and he sat where he was supposed to. But knowing Charlie's reputation and having such great respect for his playing, I passed him many of the first trumpet parts and he handed me the second parts.
AS: I knew he was the guy to play them. And I had great respect for him. And p.s., we wound up being great friends for years afterward.
JazzWax tracks: To give you a sense of Al Stewart's recording schedule in mid-1958, he can be heard on the following albums: Woody Herman's The Herd Rides Again—in Stereo (July), Chubby Jackson's Chubby Takes Over (July-August), Charlie Barnet's Cherokee (August) and Gene Krupa Plays Gerry Mulligan Arrangements (October).
The exceptional Jackson band featured mostly Woody Herman alums. On the bandstand were Bernie Glow, Marky Markowitz, Ernie Royal, Al Stewart and Nick Travis (trumpets); Bob Brookmeyer, Jim Dahl, Bill Elton, Tom Mitchell and Frank Rehak (trombones); Sam Marowitz and Sam Most (alto saxes); Al Cohn and Pete Mondello (tenor saxes); Danny Bank (baritone sax); Marty Napoleon (piano); Chubby Jackson (bass) and Don Lamond (drums), with arrangements by Fred Carlin, Manny Albam, Ernie Wilkins, Bob Brookmeyer, Nat Pierce and Al Cohn.
All of the above albums can be found as iTunes downloads or at Amazon as CDs. The Gene Krupa album is a must-own, as is Chubby Takes Over. To hear the Jackson band in action with fabulous drum work by Don Lamond, dig Nat Pierce's arrangement of Hail, Hail the Herd's All Here or Pierce's It's De-lovely. Or catch the trumpet section on Ernie Wilkins' arrangement of Oh Look at Me Now. Or on Bob Brookmeyer's Mt. Everest. The entire Jackson album is breathtaking.