Professor Jesse Stewart
Jesse Stewart is an award-winning composer, percussionist, visual artist, sound artist, instrument builder, researcher, writer, and educator dedicated to reimagining the spaces between artistic and academic disciplines.
His music has been documented on over twenty recordings including Stretch Orchestra’s self-titled debut album which was honoured with the 2012 “Instrumental Album of the Year” JUNO award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy). He has performed and/or recorded with musical luminaries from around the world including Jacques Israelievitch (former concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony), William Parker (acclaimed New York City jazz bassist, described as “the most important leader of the current avant-garde scene in jazz” by the Boston Globe), Pauline Oliveros (called the “godmother of American experimentalist music” by New Yorker magazine), Evan Parker (one of the founders of European free improvisation), Hamid Drake (master drummer and percussionist), Roswell Rudd (legendary jazz trombonist), Jane Bunnett (multiple Juno winner and Grammy nominee), Ernst Reijseger (Dutch cello virtuoso), Pandit Anindo Chatterjee (one of the world’s foremost tabla virtuosos), Dong-Won Kim (master Korean percussionist and member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble), Michael Snow (one of the most celebrated visual artists and experimental filmmakers in the world), and many others. He performs regularly with Stretch Orchestra (with Kevin Breit, Matt Brubeck), the Sonoluminescence Trio (with David Mott and William Parker), and in various groups under his own leadership. He endorses Headhunters brand drumsticks and Auracle handpans.
In 1993, Jesse was named “Outstanding Young Canadian Jazz Musician” by both the International Association of Jazz Educators and Jazz Report magazine. He has been described as “one of the finest young drummers and percussionists on the scene today” (Frank Rubolino, One Final Note Summer/Fall 2002) and “one of the most innovative musicians in Canada” (OttawaJazzScene, 2015). His work has been heralded by critics and journalists around the globe who have described it as “truly exciting” (Musicworks 76), “exceptional” (Cadence Oct. 2002), “phenomenal” (Cadence Nov. 1999), “ingenious” (Exclaim! June 2006), and “brilliant” (Truths for Serious Drummers, 2012). “Stewart quietly opens the door for us to a limitless world of delicate sonic beauty” writes Randy Raine-Reusch in Musicworks 97. “Highly recommended ear-cleansing” states a review in Italy’s Touching Extremes (2007). “Jesse Stewart is an eloquent and poetically powerful percussionist, composer, improviser and teacher—a man of ideas and inventions,” writes jazz legend William Parker. “Jesse is an incredibly innovative artist. He’s a performance artist, he’s a jazz drummer, he’s an incredible creative force” states Roman Borys, cellist with the internationally acclaimed Gryphon Trio and Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. “He’s extraordinary,” states creative polymath Michael Snow, “he is constantly surprising.” In the words of Pauline Oliveros: “Jesse Stewart is a virtuoso. He can play with anybody.”
Jesse’s music has been featured at festivals throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe. He has been widely commissioned as a composer and sound artist. In 2010, he was commissioned by the National Capital Commission in Ottawa to create an extended composition to be performed at the Winterlude Festival on musical instruments that he designed and built out of ice. Other organizations that have commissioned him include the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Guelph Jazz Festival, Ensemble Supermusique, the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, the Electric Fields Festival, the City of Toronto, the Chinese Canadian Heritage Centre, Propeller Dance, Ottawa Dance Directive, Carleton University Art Gallery, the Ottawa Art Gallery, and the National Arts Centre.
Jesse has built instruments out of such unconventional materials as stone, glass, ice, canoe paddles, and cardboard. In addition, he is one of few musicians in the world who performs extensively on the waterphone, an experimental percussion instrument that consists of bronze rods, steel, and water. Quoting Richard Waters, the inventor of the instrument, “Jesse Stewart is rapidly becoming a music wizard on the MegaBass Waterphone by coaxing new sounds from the instrument. His extended range of techniques and skill in utilizing these techniques is evident in his improvised musical compositions. I consider Jesse to be a very creative and inventive forerunner of others who will follow. He is, in short, a master waterphone player.”
Jesse also uses a range of cutting edge music technologies, some of which he has co-developed. For example, he is one of the co-developers of the Adaptive Use Musical Instrument (AUMI), which is designed to adapt to the musical and physical abilities of anybody (more literally any body): the AUMI uses a computer webcam to track movements—even very slight movements made by individuals with limited motor control—and translate those movements into music/sound. In 2018, he developed a system through which the AUMI activates mechanical strikers that can be attached to acoustic instruments, thereby allowing people with limited mobility to play traditional musical instruments using whatever mobility they may have. In addition, he co-developed (with a team of Biomedical Engineers at Carleton University) the SensAble Adaptive Use Musical Instrument (SAMI), which uses arduino technology, digital synthesis software, and an accelerometer to turn a foam ball into a synthesizer controller such that the movements of the ball in space create music.
In addition, he is the only person in Canada with a “reactable,”a digital sampler and synthesizer with a tangible user interface on an illuminated tabletop: placing and manipulating blocks on the table surface allows the performer(s) to control different parameters of recorded sounds in an intuitive way. He also owns a one-of-a-kind musical instrument called the “octamasher” that allows up to eight people to co-create music on eight re-purposed electronic keyboards arranged into an octagon: pressing the keys of each keyboard triggers different musical samples that have been carefully edited to work with one another musically. Additional knobs and sliders enable the performers to manipulate the samples in various ways. For Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations in 2017, Jesse was commissioned by the National Arts Centre to develop a new sample bank for the octamasher that consists exclusively of musical samples drawn from Canadian music and culture. The octamasher’s new sample bank was unveiled at the National Arts Centre as part of the Canada Scene Festival in 2017.
In addition to his work in the field of contemporary music, Jesse is an active visual artist and sound artist who has shown work in solo and group exhibitions throughout Canada and in the United States in public art galleries including the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, the Thames Art Gallery, the Glenhyrst Gallery, the Peterborough Art Gallery, and the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre. A retrospective of his work titled Time Pieces was held at Ottawa’s Karsh Masson Gallery in 2011. In 2010, he curated an exhibition of work by Governor-General’s award-winning artist David Rokeby at the Carleton University Art Gallery. In 2014, he co-curated a multi-institution exhibition of work by Ottawa artists with disabilities, one of the largest such exhibitions in Canadian history. Four exhibition catalogues have been published about his work in the visual arts. He is also the co-founder and co-director (with Matt Edwards) of Mixed Metaphors, a design company dedicated to creating multi-sensory interactive art installations. In 2016, Mixed Metaphors was commissioned to create a 15-foot tall stainless steel sound sculpture called “The Listening Tree,” which is now located in St. Luke’s Park in Ottawa, Canada.
Jesse has participated in multiple art and music-related residencies at institutions in Canada and the United States. For example, he was the 2015 Artist-in-Residence at the “Diefenbunker,” Canada’s Cold War Museum. He is also the composer-in-residence at Ottawa Dance Directive, a contemporary dance company based in Ottawa.
In 2008, Jesse earned his doctorate from 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 an Associate Professor of Music at Carleton University where he teaches courses in composition, improvisation, instrumentation, jazz history, music and visual culture, popular music studies, and music and social justice. As a scholar, he has published widely on the subjects of music and art. His publication record includes 2 forthcoming books (one under contract with Duke University Press and another with the University of Toronto Press), 7 published chapters in edited books and over a dozen essays in scholarly peer-reviewed journals. He has been an invited keynote speaker at numerous events, both academic and non-academic, in Ottawa and abroad. He has given talks at over 50 conferences and colloquia at institutions around the world. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Marston LaFrance Research Fellowship at Carleton University, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ “senior award, intended for applicants with a very significant track record of outstanding research.”
A dedicated educator, Stewart has received numerous teaching awards and honours. For example, he received the 2014 Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ Teaching Achievement Award in recognition of outstanding teaching. In 2015, he received a university-wide Teaching Achievement Award, Carleton University’s highest honour for teaching excellence. In 2017, he was one of five educators in the world selected for a “D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning,” an international award in recognition of innovative teaching. In addition to his professorship in music at Carleton University, Jesse is an adjunct faculty member in the Visual Arts department at the University of Ottawa.
A past recipient of the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award in recognition of his commitment to volunteerism and community activism, Jesse is committed to fostering community health through music, art, and education. As a means to that end, he has taught four classes through Discovery University, a program run by the Ottawa Mission that provides free university-level courses, taught by university professors, to individuals experiencing homelessness or poverty. In the Fall of 2014, he taught a course titled “Improvisation in Theory and Practice” through Discovery University that culminated in a performance by the class at the National Arts Centre in December 2014.
Jesse is also the founder of “We Are All Musicians” (WAAM), an organization dedicated to providing opportunities for individuals and groups to make music regardless of age, musical training, socio-economic circumstance, physical and/or cognitive disability. Through the WAAM initiative, Jesse has conducted dozens of inclusive music workshops and performances throughout Ontario. For example, he has worked closely with the staff and students of Regina Street Alternative School, a school in Ottawa’s west end that has a diverse body of students including many from disadvantaged backgrounds. Together, the students of Regina Street School and Jesse co-created a piece titled “Mud Lake Symphony” that has been performed multiple times. In February 2018, the students and Jesse performed “Mud Lake Symphony” at the National Arts Centre with the National Arts Centre Orchestra.
Jesse also collaborated with the artists at H’Art of Ottawa, an organization that provides opportunities for artists with intellectual disabilities to make art. Together, they co-created and staged a multi-media musical theatre piece at the National Arts Centre 4th Stage on April 30, 2014. Other WAAM projects include collaborations with Kidsability in Guelph, Ontario, an organization that helps children with physical and cognitive disabilities; Propeller Dance, a mixed-abilities professional contemporary dance troupe based in Ottawa; Minwaashin Lodge, a resource centre for Indigenous women and youth; the Alzheimer’s Society of Ottawa-Carleton; and Saint-Vincent Hospital, a complex continuing care hospital in Ottawa. As a means of raising funds for various children’s charities, Jesse regularly conducts solo percussion concerts for audiences of four people or less in a treehouse that he designed and built in his backyard (see www.treehouseconcerts.ca for details).
In 2014, Jesse was named to the Order of Ottawa, a civic award that “honours residents who have excelled in their field and who have made outstanding contributions to life in our communities.” In 2017, he received the Ottawa Arts Council’s Mid-Career Artist Award.