A vital figure in the jazz world, Herbie Steward is celebrated for his remarkable talent as a saxophonist and his contribution to the iconic Four Brothers sound. Born in 1926 in Los Angeles, Steward’s affinity for the saxophone began at a young age, and his journey unfolded into a career marked by technical mastery and musical innovation.
Steward’s professional career took flight in the 1940s, when his extraordinary skill as a tenor saxophonist led him to join big bands, such as those led by Charlie Barnet and Boyd Raeburn. These early experiences honed his abilities and prepared him for a role that would define his legacy — becoming a member of the Woody Herman band, known for its innovative saxophone section.
A significant milestone in Steward’s career came in 1947 when he joined three other saxophonists — Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff, and Stan Getz — in the Woody Herman band to form the group famously known as the “Four Brothers”. The band derived its name from the Jimmy Giuffre composition, “Four Brothers,” which featured the saxophone section prominently and showcased their tight harmonies and unique blend of sound. Steward’s playing was integral to the creation of this unique sound, his warm and expressive tenor tone contributing significantly to the band’s musical identity.
Steward was unique in his versatility, possessing the ability to play multiple woodwind instruments. Apart from the tenor sax, Steward was proficient on the alto sax and clarinet. This flexibility added depth to his performances, allowing him to contribute to various musical settings effectively.
Beyond the Four Brothers, Steward performed with a range of noteworthy ensembles, including the bands of Benny Goodman and Stan Kenton. His work with these groups further cemented his reputation as a first-rate saxophonist. Furthermore, his recordings from this period reveal a musician with a rich, warm tone, an expressive style, and an exceptional capacity for lyrical improvisation.
Steward continued to perform into the 1980s, despite the declining popularity of big band music. His unwavering dedication to his craft and his commitment to the big band sound contributed to the preservation of this important musical tradition.
Page last updated 7/7/2023.