Personalities | Rex Stewart | Thirties | Jazz & Blues
After honing a vocabulary of unorthodox trumpet techniques with Fletcher Henderson between 1926–33, Rex William Stewart switched to cornet and joined Duke Ellington. In an orchestra of distinctive voices, his was among the most unique. He played with a sharp, biting attack in the middle register. His tone had a slightly sour, almost sarcastic attitude, capable of some bizarre extremes. A typical solo on Henderson’s ‘Underneath The Harlem Moon’ (1933) ended with an odd, sub-tone exclamation.
Seven years later, on ‘Menelk’ with Ellington, he built that into a long, onomatopoeic interlude evoking the sense of a lurking lion. His most famous trademark was squeezing notes through half-depressed valves, which gave his phrasing on ‘Boy Meets Horn’ (1938) and other pieces an impacted, almost crushed sense of implosion. But he could also swing with a relentless drive, nowhere more so than on his famous exchanges with Cootie Williams on ‘Tootin’ Through The Roof’ (1939). He left Ellington in 1946 for freelancing and a later career as memoirist and critic for Down Beat.
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