There’s a good chance that if you already know Luke Stewart’s name, you associate him with jazz. The 30-year-old is not only a bassist of astonishing prowess, he’s also an editor and promoter at CapitalBop and a disc jockey and announcer for D.C.’s jazz-and-justice radio station WPFW.
But there’s also a good chance that you associate Stewart’s name with something else. He plays with the blues-punk-rock band Laughing Man, for example. He’s also a member of the ethereal soundscape trio Mind Over Matter, Music Over Mind. He backs the propulsively melodic jazz saxophonist James Brandon Lewis; he’s part of the free-jazz collective Trio OOO; and he’s in the wholly genre-free music and poetry ensemble Heroes Are Gang Leaders. He’s currently preparing to release a solo album that features him performing on bass and amplifier as, he says, “equal creative partners.”
If you were to insist on putting Stewart into any kind of a box, however, he prefers “creative music.” Something of a free-associative term, it’s often used to refer to a tradition of improvised and experimental music that overlaps with but is not exclusive to jazz. He often used that label when booking (and participating in) improvisational acts at Gold Leaf Studios and Union Arts, two now-defunct DIY venues at which Stewart curated musical performances. But it’s also a term that allows for as little stylistic restraint as possible, and Stewart is happy to take advantage of that freedom. In collaboration with fellow explorers like guitarist Anthony Pirog, the sound can maneuver on a dime from jazz intricacies to speed-metal ones, then into thrash punk, psychedelia, and avant-garde noise. Then, the next time you see him, Stewart will be articulating the progressive jazz language of, say, trumpeter-composer Wadada Leo Smith with not just precision, but intensity—and no small vision of his own.
“Thank you for not pigeonholing me,” Stewart told City Paper in a 2014 interview. “Because I do enjoy listening and playing all of it, you know?”