As any passionate musician can tell you, creativity and a go-getter attitude are two things that will take you incredibly far in the world of music.

Independent musician and expert improviser Stan Stewart is overflowing with both. Crafting music for a slew of clients, events, and experiences, Stan makes music inspired by everyday life, adding his personal spontaneous touch to his songs through his improvisational background. Through Muz4Now and his YouTube channel, he shares his diverse discography, and the inspirations behind it.

Musical U interviewed Stan on his early beginnings in music, his advice to those looking to dabble in improvisation, and his incredible philanthropic music project.

Q: Hi Stan, and welcome to Musical U! We’ll get to talking about your fascinating musical career in just a moment, but let’s start from the beginning. What was your musical childhood like?

I am a preacher’s kid. My parents sang in choirs at the churches my dad served. He would also do a “sermon in song” every so often. I was immediately added to the children’s choir, and later in my life, to the adult choir in those church settings. When dad was called to a new congregation, I started to learn guitar and play for the folky worship services.

At home, our family had a baby grand piano. When I was about 6, I started to compose on it through experimentation.

I had been listening to my favorite record, Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”, since I was a toddler. The influence of that score plus some Beethoven piano pieces found their way into my early attempts at creating my own music.

Q: I see – so you were playing, composing, and writing from a very young age. How did this lead to you putting music in the center of your life?

Muz4Now Stan StewartI have a sense that the music in my life is not about a choice or being convinced. Music is a part of me and there’s no way to move it out of the center of my life.

If I drift away momentarily, I will notice it rather quickly.

On the rare occasions that I ignore the calling of my musical muse, it eventually turns into grumpiness, deep frustration, and shame.

Q: That reminds me of the words of Winston Churchill, “Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about.” What outside musical influences feed that inner urge?

Everything that I’ve ever heard – and not just music! To be more specific, some of my musical inspirations include Ludwig van Beethoven, Sarah McLachlan, David Wilcox, Edie Carey, and Peter Gabriel.

Q: That’s an intriguing list. It’s so amazing that we live in a time that we can draw from old and new so easily. Now all of these are primarily songwriters, with the exception of the composer Beethoven.

Yet many people don’t know that Beethoven first made a big splash as an improviser.

For most of your career, you’ve focused on improvisation. What is your approach to improv?

Stan plays keyboardHere’s how I approach it:

1. Learn as much as possible about the instrument you’re playing, in terms of the instrument itself and the technique for using it. One excellent way to do this is to perform classical pieces.

 

2. Experiment.

 

3. Notice whatever is inspiring me in the moment. How does it feel to sink into that inspiration?

 

4. Now, create the music from there…

 

Q: Cool. Most people don’t put together the words “classical” and “improvisation”. But having those chops gives you so much material to work with, as long as you expand your mind with experimentation. At Musical U, many of our members aspire to improvise. What would you suggest for someone who is new to the improvisation mindset?

Learn your instrument. Take lessons. Practice. Practice more. Listen to your favorite players – especially improvisers. Imitate them. Then, completely break away from their style. Create your own style. Remember that you get to define what a “mistake” is in the context of improv – or better yet, if it’s a mistake at all! Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Q: That ties very closely with the recent conversations we’ve been having about improv with the Musical U team. Going deeper into the art of improvisation, most musicians who improvise focus on jazz. What opportunities have you found and made for yourself as a non-genre-specific improviser?

Some of my best avenues have been being unsigned (releasing my own albums, EPs and singles) and fringe gigs. Network with other artists. Offer to play for their art openings, prelude for performance art or theatre, and new ideas that I’ve never thought of.

Q: Yes – get creative with those under-the-radar gigs! And speaking of making opportunities – for yourself and in service of others – tell us about your recent album Dream This, whose proceeds you are donating to the charity ChildHelp. How did you come up with the concept? How did you compose the songs? What are you hoping to accomplish?

You can read the full story on my website, but here it is in a nutshell: I decided to tell my life story with the songs I’ve written. I knew that I wanted the world to have a chance to hear them all. Then, across the world, stories of racism, bullying, and abuse stole the limelight.

I decided it was important to do my part to bring understanding, kindness, and peace into the foreground. So, I chose to contribute proceeds from the album to a charity. After a few weeks of research, I chose to donate to ChildHelp. I still think it was a good choice.

Q: Listening to the album, even within your more produced tracks, you manage to maintain a certain rawness and sincerity that is often lacking in music today. What advice do you have for our readers in maintaining their individuality through creativity?

Thanks – I appreciate you noticing that!

Here’s my advice: If you’re a poet, write in your own voice. If you’re a visual artist, paint/draw/sculpt in your own style. If you’re a musician, sing/play/write/compose in your own way.

Since I’m telling everyone else to do their own thing, it seems important to acknowledge that I can truly only speak for myself. Artistic expression is about saying who I am with my art. For me, that art is music, poetry, and creativity that seeps into every crevice of my life. Honestly, I cannot silence this expression.

I’ve been creating in this way for decades. Over that time, my style and output have shifted and morphed a million times. To me, that’s fine.

In fact, it’s great, because it’s one of the reasons that the creative life continues to call to me. Every moment offers inspiration and surprise.

Q: It shows – your creativity expands into the way you funded your Dream This project, with a public GoFundMe to cover costs. Tell us about how you infuse creativity into all aspects of life. What are some good ways for musicians to break out of the music box and live creatively?

When I first started making my own music on a regular basis, the “business” of music was very different. Some of my peers are still trying to re-create those older modes of being a working musician. That won’t work. The world keeps changing and we will, too.

There are no shortage of opportunities for musicians. 99% of those are approaches we haven’t thought of yet. Don’t be afraid to be different from the crowd. Not just to be weird. Do it for the purity of your own creative output.

Thank you for the insight, Stan! Your perspective on finding your own opportunities really shines a light – it’s so important to remain creative and curious in seeking out chances to share your music.

Your Own Musical Path

Stan’s do-it-yourself attitude towards making music has led to a rich musical career that enables him to exercise his creativity and his improvisational talents.

Take his advice and seek out your own musical opportunities – they can be found almost anywhere, from the deep recesses of the internet to the open mic at your local bar.

As Stan said, forging a fulfilling career in music means singing, composing, and playing in your own way. Stay inspired, and stay true to yourself in your artistic expression!

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