Photo of Jesse Stewart

Jesse Stewart

Professor; Head of Music

Degrees:Ph.D., M.A. (York U), BA. (U. Guelph)
Phone:613-520-2600 x 4348
Office:A820 Loeb Building

TEACHING AREAS: Composition, improvisation, Jazz studies

Jesse Stewart is an award-winning composer, percussionist, visual artist, researcher, and educator.

He has published widely on subjects including jazz, improvisation, hip hop, and experimental music in academic journals including American Music, Intermedialities, Black Music Research Journal, and Contemporary Music Review. He has authored nine book chapters and is currently working on two book projects: a co-authored book (with Ajay Heble) on the pedagogy of improvisation, and a co-edited book about Pauline Oliveros and the Adaptive Use Musical Instrument. He has given over 100 public talks at conferences, colloquia, and festivals around the world including numerous keynote presentations.

His music has been documented on over twenty recordings including Stretch Orchestra’s self-titled debut album which was honoured with the 2012 “Instrumental Album of the Year” JUNO award. He has performed and/or recorded with musical luminaries including William Parker, Pauline Oliveros, Hamid Drake, Ernst Reijseger, Dong-Won Kim, Michael Snow, David Mott, and many others. He endorses Headhunters brand drumsticks and Auracle handpans.

Jesse’s music has been featured at festivals throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe. He has been widely commissioned as a composer and sound artist by organizations including the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Guelph Jazz Festival, Ensemble Supermusique, the National Capital Commission,  the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, the Electric Fields Festival, the City of Toronto, Ottawa New Music Creators, Propeller Dance, Ottawa Dance Directive, Carleton University Art Gallery, and the Ottawa Art Gallery.

In addition to his work as an academic, composer, and musician, he is a visual artist who has participated in over twenty exhibitions in public art galleries including the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Thames Art Gallery, the Glenhyrst Gallery, the Peterborough Art Gallery, the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, and the Ottawa Art Gallery. Five exhibition catalogues have been published about his work in the visual arts. With architect Matt Edwards, he formed Mixed Metaphors Design, a creative partnership that creates multi-sensory public art installations. In 2015, they were awarded a public commission by the City of Ottawa to create a sound sculpture titled The Listening Tree, a 15-foot tall stainless steel sound sculpture located in St. Luke’s Park in Ottawa ( ).

He is committed to fostering community health through music, art, and education. As a means to that end, he has taught five classes through Discovery University, a program run by the Ottawa Mission that provides free university-level courses, taught by university professors, to individuals who are street-involved or are otherwise living in low-income situations. He is also the founder of “We Are All Musicians” (WAAM), an organization dedicated to providing opportunities for individuals and groups to make music regardless of age, musical training, socio-economic circumstance, or ability. Through the WAAM initiative, Jesse has conducted hundreds of inclusive music workshops and performances throughout North America, partnering with diverse community groups and organizations including: H’Art of Ottawa (now Being Studio); the Alzheimer’s Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County; Propeller Dance; Minwaashin Lodge; Regina Street Alternative School; VibraFusion Lab in London, ON; AUMI-KU Interarts in Lawrence, Kansas; and many others. Through the WAAM project, he has collaborated with diverse communities including Indigenous youth, Deaf children, people with disabilities of various kinds, seniors with Alzheimer’s, as well as children and adults from low-income backgrounds. For a documentary film about the We Are All Musicians project, see

Through the WAAM project, Jesse has developed or co-developed a variety of adaptive and assistive technologies that enable people with disabilities of various kinds (including those with limited motor control) to make music. For example, he has been involved in the development of the Adaptive Use Musical Instrument (AUMI), which is designed to adapt to anyone’s musical and physical abilities; the AUMI uses a computer webcam to track movements—even very slight movements made by individuals with limited motor control—and translate those movements into music/sound. In 2018, he developed a system through which the AUMI activates mechanical strikers that can be attached to acoustic instruments, thereby allowing people with limited mobility to play traditional musical instruments using whatever mobility they may have. In addition, he co-developed (with a team of Biomedical Engineers and Industrial Designers at Carleton University) the SensAble Adaptive Use Musical Instrument (SAMI), which uses arduino technology, digital synthesis software, and an accelerometer to turn a foam ball into a synthesizer controller such that the movements of the ball in space create music.

In 2014, Jesse was named to the Order of Ottawa, a civic award that “honours residents who have excelled in their field and who have made outstanding contributions to life in our communities.” In 2017, he received the Ottawa Arts Council’s Mid-Career Artist Award. He is a co-investigator with several large-scale research initiatives including the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI); the Research and Education in Accessibility, Design, and Innovation (READi) program; and the Music and Health Research Institute.


Jamming the Classroom: Musical Improvisation and Pedagogical PracticeCo-authored by Ajay Heble and Jesse Stewart. Forthcoming (in press).”

Improvising Across Abilities: Pauline Oliveros and the Adaptive Use Musical Instrument. Ed. by the AUMI Editorial Collective: Thomas Ciufo, Abbey Dvorak, Kip Haaheim, IONE, Leaf Miller, Ray Mizumura-Pence, Jesse Stewart, John Sullivan, Sherrie Tucker, Ellen Waterman, Ranita Wilks. Music and Social Justice Series. University of Michigan Press (in press).

Book chapters

“‘And You Run Where You Can’: Music and Memory in three Canadian Hip Hop Videos.” We Still Here: Hip Hop North of the 49th Parallel. Eds. Mark Campbell and Charity Marsh. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020.

Jesse Stewart and Niel Scobie. “Fantastic Voyage: the diasporic roots and routes of early Toronto hip hop.” Contemporary Musical Expressions and Cultural Resonances in Canada. Eds. Anna Hoefnagels, Sherry Johnson, and Judith Klaassen, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019.

“Improvisation Pedagogy in Theory and Practice.” Improvisation and Music Education: Beyond the Classroom. Eds. Ajay Heble and Mark Laver. Routledge, 2016.

“Learning to Go with the Flow: David Rokeby’s Very Nervous System and the Improvising Body.” Negotiated Moments: Improvisation, Sound and Subjectivity. Eds. Ellen Waterman and Gillian Siddall. Duke University Press, 2016.

“Improvised Dissonance.” The Improvisation Studies Reader: Spontaneous Acts. Eds. Ajay Heble and Rebecca Caines. Routledge, 2014.

“Articulating a Hip-Hop Sampling Aesthetic through Film: Music and Memory in Three Hip Hop Documentaries.” Sampling Media. Eds. David Laderman and Laurel Westrup. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2014.

“Cyclical Time Structures and Diatonic Rhythms in Musics of the African Diaspora.” Infinite Instances: Studies and Images of Time. Ed. Olga Ast. New York: Mark Batty Publisher. 2011: pp. 82-87.

“Freedom Music: Jazz and Human Rights.Rebel Musics: Human Rights, Resistant Sounds, and the Politics of Music Making.  Eds. Daniel Fischlin and Ajay Heble.  Montreal: Black Rose Press. 2003: pp. 88-107.

Journal articles

Daniel Fischlin, Laura Risk, Jesse Stewart. “The Poetics of Engagement: Improvisation, Musical Communities, and the COVID-19 Pandemic. Volume Two: Viral Contagions and the Dream of Liveness.” Critical Studies in Improvisation 14.2-3 (2021).

Daniel Fischlin, Laura Risk, Jesse Stewart. “The Poetics of Engagement: Improvisation, Musical Communities, and the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Critical Studies in Improvisation 14.1 (2021).

Elif Özcan, Lois Frankel, Jesse Stewart. “Uncommon music making: The functional roles of music in design for healthcare.” Music and Medicine 11.4 (2019)

Jesse Stewart, Sherrie Tucker, Kip Haaheim, and Pete Williams. “AUMI-Futurism: the Elsewhere and ‘Elsewhen’ of (Un)Rolling the Boulder and Turning the Page.” Music and Arts in Action 6.1 (2017).

“Musical Improvisation and the Academy.” Music and Arts in Action 5.1 (2016).

“Improvisation among the discourses.” Music and Arts in Action 5.1 (2016).

“Retaining a New Format: Jazz-Rap, Cultural Memory, and the New Cultural Politics of Difference.” Critical Studies in Improvisation. Vol. 10 No. 1 (2015).

“Music and Memory in Keepintime.” MUSIcultures 38 (2012).

“No Boundary Line to Art: ‘Bebop’ as Afro-Modernist Discourse.” American Music 29.3 (Fall 2011): pp. 332-352.

“DJ Spooky and the Politics of Afro-Postmodernism.” Black Music Research Journal. 30.2 (Fall 2010): pp. 141-165.

“Real to Reel: Filmic Constructions of Hip Hop Culture(s) and Hip Hop Identities.” Interdisciplinary Humanities26.2 (Fall 2009): pp. 49-67.

Creative Practice

Rich Tapestries: The Ongoing Story of WAAM. (2019) Directed by Hasi Eldib.

Music for solo drum set:

Music for solo snare drum:

Music for stone:

Music for ice:

Music for bridge:

Music for bass drum and tunnel:

Music for handpan:

Voyager golden record remix project using reactable:

Music for euphone:

Duo performance with Michael Snow:

Trio performance with Sonoluminescence Trio (David Mott, William Parker, Jesse Stewart): (short) (long)

Trio performance with Numinosity (David Mott, Justin Gray, Jesse Stewart):

Trio performance with Joe McPhee and Nicolas Caloia:

Duo with Korean master percussionist Dong-Won Kim:

Duo with tap legend Heather Cornell

Adaptive Use Musical Instrument documentary

Sounding Futures: Play Who You Are. (2015). Directed by Kimber Sider. [Documentary about community music collaboration with Kidsability]

Turning the Page at H’Art of Ottawa. (2014). Directed by Andrew Hall. [Documentary about community music/art collaboration with H’Art of Ottawa]

Musical Improvisation at Land’s End. (2016). Directed by Kimber Sider.

Interactive dome installation/performance with octamasher:

Interactive dome installation/performance with prepared turntables:

Interactive dome installation/performance with amplified books:

Interactive dome installation/performance with AUMI-equipped iPads and theremini:

Listening Tree, a sound sculpture by Mixed Metaphors Design (Jesse Stewart, Matt Edwards)