Extended Family 31: 'BLACKS' MIX
Luke Stewart

 
 

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Southern Christian Leadership Conference - Freedom March on Washington, August 28, 1963
Harold's Rogue and Jar Series 1 (Marshall Hawkins) - Milestones
Wanda Robinson (Laini Mataka) - Because They Envy Us
Nation, Afrikan Liberation Arts Ensemble - Medasi
Roland Kirk - Black Mystery Has Been Revealed
Wendell Harrison - Rebirth
Tyrone Washington - Song of Peace
Watts Prophets - Fucked
Sandy Bull - Blend
Joseph Jarman/Don Moye, featuring Johnny Dyani - Black Paladins, by Henry Dumas
George Lewis/Douglas Ewart - Cycles
Roberto Miranda - Interpolations "Think of Eternities and carry on."
Muhal Richard Abrams - Duo 2
Charlie Haden and Alice Coltrane - For Turiya
Exploding Star Orchestra - Ascension Ghost Impression #2
Art Ensemble of Chicago - The Key
Anthony Davis - An Anthem for the Generation that Died
Monette Sudler Quartet - Fire and Air

Every city in every corner of history remains littered with the dust and bones of closed venues; spaces of magic that are equally revered by local denizens and inconsequential to local governments seem unable to shake off the nagging impermanence that comes with running an arts space. Washington DC is no different, and perhaps particularly hostile to homes of artistic worship that are not particularly sanctioned, that is - paying the specific fees or taxes or whatever. The thing that a lot of government officials get wrong though, is that often times money is not the defining or driving factor of a city's true soul, rather often times its an indicator that something somewhere has gone horribly awry in an exploitative way. Its really the dust and rust filled corners lined up with weirdos and visionaries that push the imagination of the future forward, and putting a price tag on spaces that are sacred to the futurists and making luxury condos to sell off to the wealthiest bidders cheapen the ultimate truth, which is beauty itself. Never gild a lily.

Luke Stewart reminds me so fondly of one of these sacred spaces long lost: Union Arts, colloquially known as the 411 Warehouse, as that's where I first met Luke (although I can't be certain exactly what haze filled night it was, for there are countless ineffable nights that changed me formatively as a listener during Luke's tenure there). Union Arts was his studio and workspace and so Luke remained responsible for its programming and everything in between, and ushered in a sonic landscape stretching from dark and moody techno parties packed to the brim with cigarette fiending ravers and heady jazz sessions of extremely dedicated and disciplined scholars of tonal scales, the alchemists of sound and silence. He showed noise shows and live acts and tried festivals and after hour parties. He hosted jazz festivals and experimented with synthesizers under the stars of the balcony. He held film screenings and panel discussions for the AACM and hosted piano trios built of legends. The entire space was an ongoing art project - every time I visited there would be additions to murals on the walls, or sculptures that lined the perimeter, most likely contributed to by a vast array of rotating characters. A giant, creaking organ at times would loom heavily in the corner and the bartender (if the bar was tended that night) would always be friendly if not quick. I went to a Cassy show there in maybe my first month living in DC and find it difficult to forget the movement of the room, the smell of the fog, the thickness of sound, the grace of the dancers, and the feeling of being intimately connected to every other colorful soul there that night. Rightfully, this energy must be attributed to Luke's leadership.

Despite a hard fight, the location was sold off and closed down, and Luke moved on with the stoicism that only comes from the earned nobility of a mission. Luke notes that much of the energy that filled 411 has moved on to Rhizome where it is "enriched by the greater musically left-leaning community of DC to create the most truly organic - not contrived or disingenuous - scene [he's] seen in DC since being here as a very active musician." (This is an incredible co-sign from a major DC player if you cant tell by now, it should definitely encourage any local to check Rhizome out.)

It's not many people who can say they're a "very active musician" and you sort of get a queasy feeling that they're being really, really humble. Luke's portfolio of projects is overwhelming to even read through, much less imagine living out, but somehow he manages with the utmost cool. He trains himself most specifically towards the saxophone, but can play drums, guitar, and the piano as well as considering himself an 'electronic musician' which is a great easy catch all term for someone who really just loves playing around with sound. He's played in groups including but not limited to: the James Brandon Lewis Trio, Irreversible Entanglements, Ziggurat, Heroes are Gang Leaders, Ancestral Duo, and Six-Six. He has gone on to help program Capital Bop and the DC Jazz Festival, not to mention running a regular show on WPFW 89.3 FM (this authors favorite DC station!) based in Howard University. He has performed at venues all the way from the Smithsonian Luce Foundation to unimaginable festivals in Haifa of Palestine as well as numerous other places in the West Bank, what he calls a "perception-altering experience." He is indefatigable in both action and spirit.

His tireless dedication to this brief and incomplete overview of his many projects has earned him a much respected reputation in this city. Stewart has lived here since 2005, and credits the city to helping him develop in a way that no other city could have. He clearly wants to make a lasting impact on the community and on The Music, which he talks about with a capital T and capital M for both words, respectively. This is a clever linguistic trick that in quite a succinct way encapsulates Luke's whole philosophy. He is a soldier on a mission to elevate that which is greater than him. He believes that "Music doesn't need to have a message, but it should always have vision" and his dedicated actions serve to support this belief every single day. 

Follow Luke on Twitter, Facebook. You can catch him here if you're in New York and at the 9:30 club in December opening for Priests if you're in DC.