Jesse Stewart is an award-winning percussionist, composer, improviser, artist, instrument builder, educator, and writer. As a musician, he works primarily in the areas of jazz, new music, and free improvisation.
A dynamic and inventive performer, Stewart has a remarkable ability to coax unexpected—even magical—sounds out of virtually any resonating object or material. He has performed and/or recorded with many musical luminaries including George Lewis, Roswell Rudd, Bill Dixon, William Parker, Evan Parker, Joe Mcphee, Jandek, Pandit Anindo Chatterjee, Evan Ziporyn (of the Bang on a Can All-Stars), Malcolm Goldstein, David Mott, Michael Snow, and many others. He is currently a member of the David Mott Quintet and Stretch Orchestra, a trio with Kevin Breit and Matt Brubeck that was honoured with the 2012 “Instrumental Album of the Year” Juno award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for their debut self-titled CD. He has been widely commissioned as a composer. His music has been featured at festivals throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe and is documented on over 20 recordings. He endorses Headhunters brand drumsticks and brushes.
Much of his creative work crosses disciplinary boundaries, exploring the links between the visual and the sonic arts. In the year 2000, for example, he was commissioned by the Guelph Jazz Festival to create a ‘jazz opera’ entitled Passages with celebrated jazz poet Paul Haines. In 2011, he was commissioned by the City of Toronto and the National Capital Commission to write an extended piece of music for instruments that he designed and built out of ice.
In 1993, Stewart was named “Outstanding Young Canadian Jazz Musician” by the International Association of Jazz Educators and “Young Musician of the Year” by Jazz Report magazine. His playing has been described as “truly exciting” (Musicworks 76), “exceptional” (Cadence Oct. 2002) and “phenomenal” (Cadence Nov. 1999). In a 2002 review, Texas-based music critic Frank Rubolino described him as “...one of the finest young drummers and percussionists on the scene today” (One Final Note Summer/Fall 2002).
Also an accomplished visual artist, Stewart has exhibited work in over a dozen solo and group exhibitions at public art galleries including the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Thames Art Gallery, the Glenhyrst Gallery, the Peterborough Art Gallery, the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, and the Karsh Masson Gallery in Ottawa.
After majoring in both visual art and in music as an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph, he went on to complete two Master of Arts degrees concurrently at York University in Toronto: one in ethnomusicology and another in music composition. His composition teachers included James Tenney and David Mott. In 2008, Stewart completed doctoral level studies at the University of Guelph where he was the first recipient of the Brock Doctoral Scholarship, the university's most prestigious graduate award. He is now a professor of music composition in Carleton University’s School for Studies in Art and Culture.