"From the first time I saw a live performance, I knew that I had to do that."
Ernest Stuart fell in love with the saxophone when the opportunity arose to play it in the school band, and signed up without telling his family. After a few weeks of class, the instructor finally asked Stuart where his saxophone was. He confessed that he hadn’t told his family and that he didn’t think his mother could afford to buy him an instrument. The teacher told him he could use one of the school’s instruments, but there were no saxophones in the storage closet. Stuart settled for a trombone.
From there he found his lifelong passion.
In high school Stuart paid for his own private lessons by getting a job at a fast-food restaurant. When he ran out of money, his teacher began giving lessons for free.
He confesses that he may not have been a great student in college, because he spent so much time in Philadelphia’s jazz clubs. He'd tote his trombone wherever he went, in the hope that whoever was performing would ask him to play. They did, often.
After college, Stuart moved to New York, where he realized he wanted to perform jazz, yet opportunities were surprisingly rare in the Big Apple. He returned to Philadelphia, worked as a mover to get the money to record his first album, and through "sheer determination" began carving out a career for himself performing and recording in an ever more competitive world.
With jazz clubs closing and fewer traditional opportunities available, he is amazed at how younger jazz musicians are breaking ground for themselves. Just as, perhaps, the jazz elders when he was coming up watched a young Ernest Stuart.