XXVII: Stew and The Negro Problem problem

welcome, black

Stew and Heidi (and presumably some side-men or -women, but probably not Aaron Kierbel who could be in the Netherlands doing advance work for Rupa and The April Fishes) are playing the San Francisco Jazz Festival  (aka SFJAZZ) Thursday night at the Yerba Buena Center and Andrew Gilbert wrote an excellent preview for the San Jose Mercury:


Although I had promised myself not to write impulsive blog entries — I am working on a longer, better-researched, more discipline potential entry — I could not help but comment on Stew on the Mercury’s website. I will reprint here verbatim my post but I strongly encourage you to follow the link to Andrew’s report — or GO TO THE SHOW.

(I am still curious whether Andrew was familiar with Stew during his LA  days — he worked for the Jazz Bakery. Also, I am curious whether he would have written about Stew even if I had not left him a voice mail suggesting such, or will admit it).

Good story, Andrew. You might have added the South Bay local interest angles that “Passing Strange” workshopped at Stanford before opening at Berkeley Rep. Stew subsequently came back post-Broadway, in winter of 2009, to teach songwriting, at Stanford — not bad for a guy who never got his college degree. Also, in terms of the timeline, The Negro Problem performed locally in September of 1995, on a co-bill with Cake, at the Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto. In terms of the interplay between the respective projects Stew, The Negro Problem and his Broadway oriented work, I believe this is the first time being billed as “Stew and The Negro Problem” which is a litle like saying, for clarity, Sting and The Police. There are still certain ways that Stew tries to obfuscate his identify and background, as part of his mystique.

On the point about Stew and The Negro Problem, it is complicated and confusing. In 2003, while they were in the initial stages of negotiating and conceiving what became “Passing Strange”, a cd “Something Deeper Than These Changes” was released on Image Entertainment audio division under the name Stew. At the time the band was saying “We are a duo called Stew featuring Stew and Heidi.” The Negro Problem was definitely a back-burner project because all the growth and acclaim came via the Stew shows, and with the two previous “solo” cds, especially “Naked Dutch Painter” which foreshadows thematically a lot of the themes found in “Passing Strange.” Of course, when the duo opened for John Mayer/Counting Crows for 10 dates playing sheds, they added drums and keys to form a band, but they still weren’t really TNP because they were playing Stewsongs. In short, when Stew went to the duo format he also focused more on funnier and more direct songs — compared to the complex, Pet Sounds influenced ironic TNP book — and that was how the Broadway folks spotted him, how the Panther changed his spots, how the Cat got his new coat, the Emperor got his godspeed, how Julian and Maria put the black on black, et cetera. Something deeper indeed.

I noticed that “Stew and The Negro Problem” list it as “STEW + HEIDI + the negro problem” on their site but of the nine venues on this tour all but one list it as “Stew and The Negro Problem.” Even in LA, their home town, the Getty gets it right but Echoplex disses Heidi with the ommission.

It kinda reminds me of The Donnas and the Electrocutes (Ragady Anne) taking the long way back to what they were, become what you are as Julianna Hatfield said.


About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
This entry was posted in ethniceities, jazz, math, media, music, sex, Uncategorized, words. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to XXVII: Stew and The Negro Problem problem

  1. markweiss86 says:

    Presaging this post, but actually researching an upcoming post, I learned that John Corbett’s show about Sun Ra had moved to the University of Chicago Gallery (from its inception at Corbett v. Dempsey, I think) and that he was instrumental in a lot of papers pertaining to Sun Ra to be donated to the University for academic research purposes. He worked with Abraham Alton, the Sun Ra manager, to preserve a rich legacy of information about this fascinating work. I thought of Stew and The Negro Problem apropos of Sun Ra, Alton and their vision of black history — maybe Stew would benefit from learning more about Sun Ra and this archive. Maybe Stew could collaborate with Sun Ra some how some where some day. Maybe Stew should check out this archive while in Chicago, part of this tour.

  2. Mark Weiss says:

    special secret or added show at Oakland Metro (near Yoshi’s) which for a while was the only club that would book Stew in the Bay Area:
    And this club is the only one who seems to have the billing correct: Stew and Heidi in big letters and “the negro problem” in small case; calling it “Stew and The Negro Problem” is a little like billing something as “Sting and The Police.”

  3. Mark Weiss says:

    Mainly because I happened to catch part of Michael Krasny’s interviews with Sondheim and Lorents (pronounced like the common “Lawrence”) Terry and I will take in the matinee of “West Side Story” at Orpheum, presented by SHN; it is supposed to be grittier than original production and feature Spanish language.

    I meant to post something more about the interview, something about Sondheim criticizing Hammerstein “Sound of Music” lyric “lark, beginning to pray” which he thought was forced. Sondheim has a book of lyrics out. How did I get from a strict diet of Led Zep, Van Halen and Sammy Hagar to Sondheim, Noel Coward, Cole Porter, Sondheim, Bernstein, et al in only 30 years of ear training?

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