Stew is a critically acclaimed (i.e., “broke”) singer songwriter currently looking for an affordable two-bedroom place in the Bay Area. He is the founder and leader of THE NEGRO PROBLEM (TNP), a cheerful pop rock combo of note from Los Angeles, the future cultural capital of the world… [insert loud coughing sound]
1997The release of TNP’s Post Minstrel Syndrome brings the band nationwide acclaim, many 'album of the year' awards and a dedicated cult following in a tiny suburb of Rochester, New York.
1998TNP plays tons of gigs at home and abroad. The band jointly composes an open letter to the dead German philosopher George Friedrich Hegel entitled “If Yer So Smart, Why Are You Dead?” Hegel, infuriated, shows up at a TNP fanclub gig in Rochester and assaults Stew with an open-faced steak sandwich.
1999Our heroes release Joys and Concerns which lotsa people thought was cool.
2000Along with longtime collaborator Heidi Rodewald, Stew founded the “afro-baroque cabaret” ensemble dubbed, modestly, STEW. That year saw the release of Guest Host which was chosen as “Album of the Year” by Entertainment Weekly. The award was due, at least in part, by the fact that it was the only record in the entire world released that year.
2001Stew and Heidi spend the entire year camped out on Stanley Kubrick’s doorstep singing “See any computers around here named Hal? We don’t!”
2002The Stew Ensemble debut at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London as part of the Meltdown Festival curated by David Bowie. The booking occurred by accident when, during a planning meeting, Bowie was asked what he wanted for dinner and he replied “Stew.” That same year they released an album called The Naked Dutch Painter about which the New York Times wrote: “perhaps the finest collection of songs an American songwriter has come up with this year.” Why “perhaps”???
Once again, Entertainment Weekly chose a Stew record (NDP) as “Album of the Year.” The fact that Stew owned an enormous amount of stock in Entertainment Weekly had no bearing on the second award.
20032003 saw the Lincoln Center debut of the Stew Ensemble performing an evening of their songs as a part of the American Songbook Series. And Lincoln, Nebraska has been reeling ever since. The All Music Guide said of the third Stew release entitled Something Deeper Than These Changes: "Something Deeper elevates Stew into the upper echelon of pop songwriting masters.” Earlier in his career, the All Music Guide wrote “Stew is without question in the lower echelon of textile merchants.”
2004Various cabaret versions of a thing called Travelogue (which would eventually turn into Passing Strange) are performed at Joe’s Pub (NYC), the Oakland Metro and Symphony Space (NYC). The Public Theater commissions Stew and Heidi to make Travelogue into a theater piece. Director/collaborator Annie Dorsen, Stew and Heidi begin working.
Travelogue (now Passing Strange) is invited to the Sundance Theater Lab. At the Lab they meet Les Waters of Berkeley Rep and Oskar Eustus, who at the time was at Trinity Rep.
2005Stew and Heidi’s screenplay We Can See Today is invited to the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab and subsequently to the Sundance Director’s Lab where they begin their foray into filmmaking. That same year the Sundance Institute was cool enough to bring Passing Strange back for an unprecedented second year in a row. Word had it that Stew and Heidi were the only artists to ever have two separate projects in both the Film and Theater Labs.
Stew has recently, to his daughter’s delight, composed an original song for the Spongebob Squarepants show. And recently he taught a solo performance class at the California Institute of the Arts (although he learned more from the students than they did from him). And as artist-in-residence at Cal Arts he developed an original play-with-music for its Theater School called Café Fiction which was directed by and created with Nataki Garrett.
2006Berkeley Repertory Theater, in a government funded study to see if a rock band and a group of actors (proverbial high school enemies) can live together in peace and harmony, put on Stew, Heidi and Annie's musical Passing Strange to much critical acclaim and confusion. Stew falls in love with Berkeley in specific and the Bay Area in general. Starts hanging out on Shattuck Ave. holding a sign that reads "I'm not homeless. I just need an upgrade."
Stew moves back to Berlin, is given a key to the city but no ice in his coke.
2007Passing Strange has its New York debut. The Public Theater calls it the "World Premiere" even though it premiered in Berkeley months before. I guess by this they mean Berkeley is another world. Or New York IS the world.
Learn more about Stew at stewsongs.com and on Passing Strange's myspace page.