Bassist Danny Stewart – Why Is Music Important (The Panel Experiment) by Brent-Anthony Johnson…
Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Danny Stewart, which is such a common name that I use my middle Initial, “M”, in an attempt to try to differentiate, or give my name a unique denominator…. Which is much needed in this Internet age!
Who are your primary musical influences, and at what age did you begin pursuing music as a vocation?
Nobody in my locality played bass. So, I volunteered at age 19 to play in a cover band. We did some Police, Yes, Hendrix, Marley, and a bunch of blues covers. So, I have to say, Sting and Chris Squire certainly touched my soul and inspired me.
Then the Jazz thang happened for me. A local pianist heard me playing and offered me work that I was not qualified to do at the time… I had limited knowledge of theory, at the time, and couldn’t read… but he took me on as an apprentice bassist! Playing with the pianist got me listening to Ray Charles, Charles Mingus, Tony Dumas and many upright players and the amazing musicians they backed! I also got into an Acid Jazz band called “The Root Source”! At the time, and we did JB covers, George Duke, P-Funk covers, originals and more…! Of course, I got into Jaco and John Patitucci by this stage, which incidentally turned me onto Afro-Cuban music and grooves – as Patitucci was well into that and has an AMAZING feel for it!
Rodney “Skeet” Curtis (who toured with P-Funk in the 80’s and 90’s) was such a monster groove player who I really looked into, and Stuart Zender (from Jamiroquia) also wrote beautiful lines that I loved to hear and learn from. He had a wonderful touch and great taste! Incognito / UK session bassist, Julian Crampton, (also a monster influence for me) was extremely inspiring. I remember trying to learn “Jacob’s Ladder” from 100 Degrees and Rising… and it was just killer! I learned so much from just that one track! Crampton’s technique and taste was just mind-blowing and pioneering to me.
Can you tell us about your earliest musical listening and performance experiences? Also, what projects are you participating in most recently?
Early, formative listening for me was Holst’s, The Planets. My mother would have it on a lot… and also the Moody Blues! Oh, and Stan Getz – which I loved to hear from an early age! During my teens, I listened to Hip-Hop, Metal and Reggae, and I got into Zappa at that point. Wow! Zappa just amazed me, and I loved Scott Thune’s sound as a bass player.
I never performed as a child. My earliest performance was when I was about 15-years-old when Rob Cass, from the US, came to stay as a guest and brought his bass with him – an 80’s G&L PJ. He saw that I was into guitar and showed me a few lines on bass, and I sat-in on a small, local gig, playing old R&B classics like “Knock On Wood”. I was bad! But considering it was my first gig ever… I did OK! At 17-years-old, my school entered me as the district Young Musician of The Year award. I played two Joe Satriani pieces and a Steve Vai piece on electric guitar I had learned from Tablature and listening. I actually had no real idea of what I was playing in terms of theory and harmony… and I won second place! All that practicing tapping and picking technique has been valuable for me right up to the present day!
Current projects I am involved in would be, firstly, Innobassion – which has drums, bass/vocals, and horns (trumpet / t-bone / Sax). I play all the chordal work, and sing. I also present demonstrations for STR and Bacchus Basses using this material – as the techniques utilizes the entire instrument.
dannymstewart.com/index.html has a lot of the music for DL or on CD.
Another project is the Shu Ishikawa Quintet. “Shu-san” is an incredible saxophonist and flautist. He always selects very cool tunes and originals. I love his taste and style, and his collective of musicians are top notch! I am honored to play with them. I would say he is probably among the top players in Tokyo.
dannymstewart.com/shu-ishikawa-quartet.html has more details on him.
I also play regularly with pianist / vocalist, Jeremy Kuhle. He calls his style “Pop Up Jazz” because A: He selects pop tunes and puts them in a Jazz format. And, B: As we are a duo, are highly portable, and we can “pop up” anywhere! I have to play foot percussion and a percussive style on that gig – as there are no drums. It is a LOT of fun and a welcome challenge! We are relatively new, having only started a few months back, but playing wit Jeremy is one of my favorite gigs these days!
What are you listening to musically, in the past 12 months that has enhanced the way you think about music and your craft?
I’ve heard and played some of pianist Amina Figarova’s work, and I love it! Her sense of harmony really blows me away! She is a friend and acquaintance of the aforementioned saxophonist, Shu Ishikawa, and she is a fantastic musician and composer.
Here in Japan, I happened upon super bassist IKUO, who does crazy Rock-Funk Fusion stuff and has incredible slap and tap chops. You can check him out here: ikuo190.com
Seeing IKUO perform really made me want to get back into wood shedding new techniques again! It has also lead me to check out some of the Visual Kei bands, some of which are hardcore, heavy, and technically skilled. I quite like the Visual Kei band “Thomas”, for example. I also really enjoy sounds of contemporary fusion bassists from around the world. It’s always great to hear Hadrien Ferraud, Frederico Malaman, or Janek Gwizdala. When I want inspiration, I often go to Richard Bona’s videos on YouTube. Another artist I listen to frequently is French-Morrocan flautist Magik Malik, whose incredible music blows my mind! There are too many to list here… But inspiration is very important for me.
How would you describe your perfect tone for the instruments your regularly record and perform on? Also, are there any particular gear choices you’ve made along the way that has enhanced your tone for the better?
I need punchy lows, round/warm mids, and clear highs on a reliable, lightweight and affordable instrument.
I find that the Bacchus Hand Made bass fit the criteria perfectly! They make affordable, modern Jazz Basses that have what I’m looking for sonically, aesthetically and playability-wise. I have been a keen advocate of Deviser instruments, and indeed have found STR Instruments to be excellent, as well! Having said that, there are so many great instruments and Builders in Japan that I have played a number of basses over the years. Among my favorites are the Bacchus Woodline DX range, the Dragonfly BD5 or CS5, the STR LS648, and the Tune Zi6. Right now I use a passive Tune Zi6 that is great, although I am considering moving onto an active STR LS648, when budget allows!
If we wanted to listen to you, which recordings would you suggest? Along with that, which recordings are your proudest of, and why?
Because I do commercial composition as well as review, demo, deal and play MIJ basses, there are many many recordings on my Reverbnation page and downloads on my site.
From my website DL store (http://dannymstewart.com) I’d recommend “Demons”, “Signposts”, “Running Away”, “Final Words” and “Fragile”. There is also Electronica stuff and Pop-Rock on my Reverbnation page: www.reverbnation.com/dannymstewart
Check out “Aura”, “See So Clearly”, and “American Vista”
I cannot say if any of the music will appeal to the bassist in you… But, one piece that most people dig is “Torn” – which is in the Acid-Jazz vein and has a bass solo in it. Make sure to scroll down the song list! “See So Clearly” has one of my better bass solos in it and some of my best bass parts (the genre is R&B / Tech-Soul). I’m very proud of all of the music I’ve mentioned because I put a lot of effort and spirit into them! The work I did in London, with revered trumpeter Kevin Davy, on his album “The Thoth Project”, is something special to me because we recorded in a few amazing studios, like Mick Hucknall and Simon LeBon’s top notch facilities and at BBC Maida Vale. I loved the pianist Alex Douglas’ interpretations, and the drummer Adrian Lawrence’s pocket on those recordings, not to mention Kevin’s warm, fat tone and great playing! You can hear that album here: itunes.apple.com/gb/album/the-thoth-project/id460610090
Are you involved in educating others? What is your teaching philosophy? Also, if you could change one thing about the way music students learn, what would that be?
Yes! I teach (mostly) online now, and to only a handful of students, at present.
My philosophy is similar to my first teacher’s, which is to give students the knowledge and tools to discover things themselves, and to give students the foundation on which to develop an individual voice… because music is expression. Whether you are working as a team player / sideman, or a soloist, your own USP and unique sound is an asset to you in the music world. I often site Pino Palladino as an example to this point!
Having said that, it is not the be-all and end-all to have a unique voice. I am adamant that students garner a good understanding of theory because even if they fail to expand in that area, a lot of creative doors will remain closed. Without strong theory understanding, professional work could be out of the question, and serious progress could be greatly hampered.
Theory and harmony is the groundwork of the Language of music. So both subjects must be studied, in my view. The ear is also a huge part of learning. But, the more you study… the more that develops in tandem.
If anyone is interested in my teaching page: dannymstewart.com/bass-tuition.html
How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses?
I use the bass as a groove, chordal, percussive and melodic voice… So, it uses almost all facets possible. This is probably because throughout my musical adventures I have learned guitar, piano and drums to varying degrees, and now I also sing (also something I need to dedicate more practice too)! I use all these instruments as facets in producing music for commercial projects. I have been lucky enough to be hired for my multi-part percussive bass playing style to back up soloists in duo formats. It’s very challenging…! But, that makes it more interesting at the same time!
Describe your musical composition process.
First, I get the brief or concept… and if necessary listen to music samples for inspiration. Then, I go for a walk and actively try to hear a melody and/or riff in my head. I whistle or sing the melody into my smart-phone… and take that onto the guitar or bass and record a loop on the main theme adding whatever percussive / chordal ideas that materialize. I usually give this process about 20-minutes. Once I have a fully formed idea that I can translate into my DAW and record guitar / keys / bass / vocal parts and add drum programming after.
I edit the structure until I have reached the desired length. Finally, I fine-tune dynamics and feel, often rerecording parts to suit or adding more intricate programming. It takes about 1-hour to get a concrete sounding verse and chorus and bridge. dannymstewart.com/composition.html
How does music affect your culture and immediate environment?
In Japan, music is used in commercial spaces and public areas all the time. For example, each subway station has it’s own music and all stores have their jingle playing. Supermarkets have mad techno or Euro house to make you shop faster! It’s kind of crazy! Some of the music here is so irritating but catchy… it gets under your skin!
What would you be, if not a professional musician?
An amateur musician! Maybe a carpenter or illustrator! But, for sure… an amateur musician.
What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made while in the practice of being a musician, and how did that sacrifice affect you?
Moving to Japan to become a father was a huge sacrifice to my job and art. But, I was willing to make sure that my Japanese wife could be confident and comfortable being near her family for the birth of our first child. I left music and studio work behind, in England, only to end-up deciding to stay in Japan… it is so convenient, clean and reasonable, compared to London! I ended-up teaching English, and had all but given-up on music as a career. However, I did take an acoustic guitar with me to keep my fingers and ideas fresh. After the birth, my wife helped me find some composition work, in our second year in Tokyo, and I started getting out and about more as I became more confident with the Japanese language and culture.
It was then that I happened to start documenting my findings of Japanese basses in the multitude of music stores here in Tokyo – which led me to becoming a collector, dealer, demonstrator and endorser of new and used MIJ builds. So, what seemed like a huge sacrifice, initially, served as a catalyst to pursue another new way of being a musician/bassist! If it wasn’t for that I would never have known about STR, Dragonfly, Atelier and the many other fantastic hand built brands from Japan… let alone work with them as a demonstrator / dealer and exporter. So, I am very pleased (and blessed) with the way things turned out! Not that it wasn’t hard work…. It was! It took a lot of building relationships, gaining trust of partners etc.
Describe your standing practice regimen. Also, what technical (and musical) aspects of your playing are you currently working on?
My usual routine is to warm up with connected arpeggios, then move into voice and 8th note spiraling (improvised with scat vocals in unison) then into 16th note spiraling and into 8th and 16th note triplets… So, my mind is in tune with the bass. I also try to do this with my eyes closed.
I have a few set pieces like “Donna Lee”, “Blues For Alice”, “Freedom Jazz Dance” and “Teen Town” that I run as exercises to get my fingers moving.
One thing I really need to practice hard is “reading dots” and odd time signatures. Neither come naturally to me, so I have to work at them regularly. I usually do this in two ways! One way, is just reading rhythms, then reading rhythms and notes. I try this in both Bass and Treble clef – so when playing from lead sheets I wont get lost if I can read the melody. It also helps when it comes to improvising solos! For odd times, I try to break them down into easier divisions such as 11/8 becomes 6 (8th notes) plus 5 or 4 + 4 + 3 or 4 + 3 + 4 depending on accents, or 9/8 becomes 6 + 3 etc…
Another aspect I am focusing on is learning new articulations. I got to the point where I felt like I was doing the same stuff all the time and I was getting bored with my own sound. New methods or patterns would break that habit and bring out new flavors, textures and ideas. It’s all about expanding vocabulary / palette really and I have found that you can never stop learning! There is always so much more to learn and try! It’s a wonderful thing!
What does music, and being a musician, mean to you – at the deepest level of your being?
It’s an integral part of my being…! Without music in my life I’d be lost. Without playing an instrument, I’d become destructive. It’s an essential outlet both spiritually and emotionally. It’s my Yoga, my Mecca, and my peace and joy!
How important is it to understand the Language of music?
It depends what your goal is, if it is just to enjoy playing and experimenting with it then it’s not essential. To work with other people, or become professional, however… it is very important to know how to write and read, understand theory, and to have good sense, feel, timing, technique and attitude. Lacking too much in any area reduces the chances of achieving one’s objective.
If you know how to read music there is so much you can learn from just going through melodies and bass lines. I learned a lot about theory and phrasing from reading, in addition it is fun too! I am not a great reader by any stretch… But, I can do it and I enjoy it!
How do you collect the series of seemingly random influences and articulate them through music?
Good question, and one I cannot answer in any definite way! In my opinion, there is no one way… But, the closest example is that it’s like a Language. So, just like learning a Language naturally… we all develop vocabulary through listening, reading, absorbing, repeating, experimentation, and talking musically with others until, one day, you find your voice and phrases flow at will.
Can music ever truly become commercial? Why, or why not?
At the end of the day, I think it all boils down to what the perception of “commercial music” is. Some believe it (commercialism) to be any music that sells well and is a “commercial success”. Others say it is more specifically music written for advertising or music written for hire. Even so, some artistic license and creativity surely is employed. To that end, I don’t believe music can be truly “commercial”.
However, I would say certain sides of the industry are very “commercial” – like jingle production, for example. I don’t think a musician would truly find all that much artistic satisfaction in writing Yamada Denki, Wal-Mart or Mc Donald’s jingles! They’d surely only be writing that stuff for the money, and it is for a store chain identity or commercial slogan. That, in my mind, is about as commercial as it can get. In other words, if it is written purely to push a product and the composer / producer and performers are not into it from an artistic point of view, or would never want their name outwardly associated with the music… then it is truly commercial. If you write a successful jingle that is aired millions of times in many countries you’ll pay bills with it for as long as it runs, and buy yourself time to do your own music! I have an acquaintance who managed to pay off his mortgage thanks to a long running jingle and another acquaintance who could pursue his own music thanks to a high grossing licensed piece earning royalties galore. So, there are examples of commercial success leading to non- commercial pursuits. Music is never all about the money for these guys, it is always about the art… But, they had bills to pay and they were some of the more fortunate ones who hit the right wave, so t speak.
Name: Danny M Stewart
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Years of Professional activity: 20
- KDQ Thoth Project
- Shu Ishikawa Quintet
- Pop-Up Jazz
- Michal Sobkowiak
- Yoshiaki Kayano Group
- Brunel Univ. Uxbridge – Music production & law
- Sushi, Green Curry
- Reading / Movies
Visit online at dannymstewart.com