If you have heard Michael “Patches” Stewart play his instrument, it will come as no surprise to learn he was born and raised in the city where Jazz was born — New Orleans, Louisiana. He fell in love with the trumpet at a very young age, but did not have the opportunity to study music until he reached middle school.
It was during his high school years that he acquired the nickname “Patches” – from his habit of following the then–current fashion trend of wearing patches on blue jeans. Undeniably talented, his focus on mastering the trumpet prompted him to seek opportunities to hone his skills outside the high school classroom. This included additional music lessons at a local college and of course, listening and learning from the incredible pool of local talent found throughout New Orleans.
Gigs in local bands followed, providing early stage experience playing school dances and small clubs; even the occasional “road tour” during summer vacations. His reputation around New Orleans grew and at the age of 16 he was offered an opportunity to fill-in during a session — his first time in a recording studio. It turned out to be the horn section session for LaBelle’s international hit “Lady Marmalade.”
At the Crossroads
By the end of his senior year at St. Augustine’s, Patches had received music scholarship offers from a number of prestigious institutions, from the Berklee College of Music to local universities. It was a difficult decision, but his focus on performing won out — he passed on the scholarships and headed for Los Angeles.
After a few lean years working with local bands, (and wondering in hindsight whether he should have accepted one of those scholarships,) his luck took a turn for the better when he was offered a tour with The Brothers Johnson. Through this association, Patches met Quincy Jones (who, incidentally, began his impressive career in music as a trumpet player.) When Quincy put “The Dude” tour together, he included Patches in his band.
In 1983 Patches began touring with another jazz giant — Al Jarreau. Al’s frequent international tours introduced Patches to audiences throughout Europe, North and South America, Australia and Japan. In-between tours with Al, Patches worked in various studio recording sessions and occasionally toured with artists such as David Sanborn, Anita Baker, George Duke, Bonnie Raitt, Rickie Lee Jones and Soul II Soul. Still, Jarreau was his “main gig” until 1991.
The Best of Both Worlds
Patches didn’t have long to wonder what he would do after Jarreau. Coincidentally, it was around that time that Marcus Miller, the Grammy winning producer, composer and “bass legend,” responsible for writing hit songs for luminaries such as Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Luther Vandross, Joe Sample and Al Jarreau, refocused his attention on his own projects. Since then, Patches has been a regular in Miller’s “best of the best” band of musicians.
In 1994, while performing with Miller in Europe, Patches met Executive Producer Massimo Gardel, who approached him about the possibility of recording a solo CD. The result was Blue patches, released in May 1997. The debut featured straight-ahead acoustic standards and was well received by jazz stations across the US; riding the Gavin Jazz Chart throughout the summer of 1997. Jazziz magazine favorably reviewed the CD and Jazz Times included a feature on Patches in the September 1997 issue. Announcers at WGMC 90.1/105.1 FM Radio in Rochester, NY included “Blue Patches” in their Top 100 of 1997.
For his sophomore effort, Patches teamed with Producer/Arranger Jim Beard. In 1998, Penetration was released in the US, Europe and Japan. Fans of the electric style were responded well and sales surpassed those for Blue Patches.
Several interesting tours and projects followed, including tours with Babyface, Diana Ross, Whitney Houston (The Concert for a New South Africa) and an animated children’s film, Trumpet of the Swan, released in 2001. Based on E.B.White’s charming tale, Patches role is the “trumpet voice” of Louie, a mute trumpeter swan who “finds his voice” through a trumpet given by his father.
Patches’ CD Blow, was released in the USA in March 2005. This long-awaited followup, produced by Marcus Miller, has been well received.
2013 brings the much anticipated released of On Fire, Patches’ fourth CD, a tigh 8-song affair documenting a scintillating wood-shedding collaboration between musicians in Poland (where Patches has lived for the last couple of years) with key American compatriotrs such as saxophonist Kenny Garrett, vocalist Raul Midón, drummer Poogie Bell and guitarist paul Jackson, Jr.
Now Patches is funneling all of his creativity, passion and experience into fresh musical encounters on his lates disc, with plans to touch down in other parts of the world. It’s all in the master plan to move with the humble fortitude out of the sideman background into the honestly earned realm of fully rounded artis in a cool blue spotlight all his own.
Visit his website for more information: www.patchesstewart.com
Photo by Rafal Maslow