The last month has been one of the busiest and most challenging for me and for the jazz community in Adelaide. I think I may have broken a few personal records with the number of different shows I was involved with, but the month was shattered by the shock and aftershocks of the untimely passing of our friend, colleague and all-round good guy, saxophonist Mike Stewart.
I met Mike back in 1996 and he was a key member of my band Marmalade Circus from its inception til the time he left for NYC in 2003. Since he returned in about 2006 we have worked together on numerous projects, most notably the JAZZSA Youth Superbands and the JAZZSA JazzCamp. We travelled around NZ with him and his then partner Jo Lawry back in early 2000, we performed at the Thredbo, Manly and numerous Glenelg Jazz Festivals together, and the Sydney Festival. Mike house-sat for us on many occasions and was a great friend of our dog
Mike was a great teacher, a great encourager and a great motivator. He helped to establish a scene here in Adelaide through his own Big Band, the JAZZSA Youth Superbands, the JAZZSA program in general and his other small bands, most notably the Airbenders who still play every Tuesday night at the Gilbert Hotel.
I posted a recording of an early incarnation of Marmalade Circus playing my version of A L Webber’s ‘Memory’ featuring Mike on soprano sax at http://youtu.be/2s-wugODiJs I just loved Mike’s soprano sound. I think the last time I heard him play it was on a corporate show called Illure a few months ago; he made that horn sing. We had to do that show again 5 days after Mike died—tough gig.
Mike had commissioned me, through JAZZSA, to write two sets of arrangements of Radiohead tunes for my quartet which we first performed in November 2013. It is fitting that it was just as we were about to go onstage, to do another performance of the show (this time for COMA) that we found out that Mike Stewart had passed away. We spent that gig on auto-pilot, (but I am thankful that I had done a lot of practice so that I could have an autopilot). We were in complete disbelief, and I think most of us still are.
Mike’s funeral, wake and Memorial gig at the Gov the following week were incredible events where musicians from across the country came to pay their respects to this dynamo of the scene. We have all been so clearly reminded of how fleeting life can be, and to focus on those things that are most important. One of Mike’s greatest skills was in ‘the hang,’ that time before or after a gig where you just talk (OK they would drink too) and this is an area where I need to take a leaf out of his book (minus the beer).
We are all missing Mike and the things he did.