Rex Stewart Day
February 22, 1907 – September 7, 1967
A tribute to one of Duke Ellington’s top sidemen
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Cornetist Rex Stewart was born on February 22, 1907, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
He grew up near Washington D.C. and played piano, violin and alto horn before settling on cornet.
Stewart was a professional by the time he was 14, working on riverboats and touring with Ollie Blackwell’s Jazz Clowns in 1921.
After moving to New York in 1923, Stewart freelanced, worked with Elmer Snowden during 1925-26, and was a member of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in 1926 although, at 19, he felt insecure and after a few months departed.
By 1928, Stewart felt more confident and he returned to Fletcher Henderson’s big band, becoming one of its main soloists during 1928-30 and 1932-33, and playing with Alex Jackson and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers between those two Henderson stints.
He led his own big band during 1933-34, worked with Luis Russell, and in December 1934 joined Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, staying for 11 years.
With Ellington, Stewart became famous for his half-valve technique on cornet (which allowed him to bend notes in colorful fashion) and his recording of “Boy Meets Horn”; he appeared on a countless number of recordings with Ellington, sharing solo space with Cootie Williams and later Ray Nance in addition to leading small group sessions.
After leaving Ellington in December 1945, Stewart led a combo called the Rextet, played overseas from Oct. 1947 until the spring of 1950, and back in the U.S. was often heard in Dixieland settings in the 1950s, also leading mainstream swing dates and organizing a reunion of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra during 1957-58.
One of the stars of the 1957 telecast The Sound Of Jazz, Stewart worked with Eddie Condon during 1958-59, became a disc jockey, and wrote about jazz history including the books Jazz Masters Of The Thirties and his memoirs Boy Meets Horn.
Stewart continued playing into 1966, always displaying an enthusiastic and exciting style.
Here is Rex Stewart on Art Ford’s Jazz Party on October 2, 1958 performing “There Will Never Be Another You” with trumpeter Nick Travis (who solos first).
Rex Stewart, cornet
Nick Travis, trumpet
Ray Bryant, piano
Vinnie Burke, bass
John Parelli, drums