Doc Stewart

Chris Doc Stewart

While attending a Los Angeles high school in the late 1970s, Chris Stewart earned a reputation as one of Southern California’s most promising young alto saxophonists. He was picked to perform with an all-star student  big band that performedat the Monterey Jazz Festival. After graduating, he attended the Dick Grove School of Music-a sort of finishing school in L.A. for aspiring jazz instrumentalists where he hung with the likes of altoist Eric Marienthal, trombonist Bill Reichenbach and trumpeter Wayne Bergeron. He also went on the road with drummer  Louie Bellson’s big band and sat in with Woody Herman’s orchestra. Still, a career as a successful professional musician seemed just beyond his grasp.

“I was poor, working as a musician and doing some carpentry on t he side, just trying to pay the bills for a new family,” Stewart recalls. “At the same time, I was getting good grades at a local college. That’s when I started to think about a medical career. Louie even wrote a letter of recommendation to help me get into the USC School of Medicine.”

Today Stewart is a 54-year-old respected emergency medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix. He’s been working as a doctor for nearly 25 years. Recently, though, his musical alter ego re-emerged with the release of Code Blue!, a self-produced, 14-track session recorded by his 19-piece outfit, Doc Stewart Big Band Resuscitation. “I thought that medicine would just be my day job and that I would still be able to do music at night, but it became all-consuming,” s;ewart says. Between treating dog bites and ca rdiac arrests, however, the good doctor attended to his abiding interest in jazz. ‘T d sit in my office during downtime and transcribe Cannonball Adderley solos. That’s how I kept my chops up.” Once, music and medicine mixed in an unexpected way. During an outdoor concert in Phoenix with the Bellson big band, a heavy storm arrived. Scaffolding blew over and injured some audience members, at which point Stewart set aside his sax and served as a triage doctor until ambulances arrived. Stewart says that friends of his who went on to become successful working musicians mastered something  he still struggles with: good timing. “It’s something I don’t think I have,” he admits. “”ve been in concerts where I’ve turned  around the beat, where two and four became one and three, and I just wanted to crawl under the stage. That’s the gift these great guys have that I don’t. That’s why I just do it for fun.”

Stewart  may have only recorded Code Blue! for fun, but his desire to create a signature sound and play again with old friends has nonetheless  been channeled into a masterfully performed and stylisti­ cally distinct  big-band outing. Many of the tracks are ingeniously linked to perfor­ mances originally recorded by Adderley. “That’s the irony of it,” Stewart says. “I never actually  met Cannonball. When I was I kid, I didn’t even know who he was and didn’t  have the passion for him that I have now.” Mastering Adderley’s technique eventually became an obsession. The charts were written by a pair of old pals. Along with Stewart, Tom Kubis co-wrote and arranged the session’s gripping opener, the four-part “Code Blue Suite.” Matt Catingub, who performed with Stewart at Monterey years ago, played piano on the album and crafted most of the Adderley­ indebted charts. The rest of the band is staffed by musicians with whom the saxophonist has stayed in touch over the years.

Stewart paid for the session out of his own pocket. “When I decided to do the project, I wanted to get all the musicians involved whom I had played with years ago. I told them up front that it wouldn’t pay well, and if someone had a solo, it was on their own time; they wouldn’t  be paid extra. Happily, they all said yes. This was a once-in-a-lifetime situation for me. The intent was to do something timeless. I wanted it to be an epic album.”

There’s an autobiographical aspect to the date. “It’s kind of the story of my life,” Stewart laughs. The happy-go-lucky vibe of the Adderley tune “Sticks” relates to the future MD’s carefree childhood. Kubis expanded Nat Adderley’s original cornet solo, arranging it for the entire trumpet section. “Homage to Bud,” dedicated to the late altoist Bud Shank, relates to the physician’s surfing years, when Shank’s soundtracks for films like Slippery When Wet captured the sunny Malibu mood of the day. “Snakin’ the Grass,” a Hal Galper tune performed by Cannonball, “relates to my high-school years,” Stewart jokes, noting that the title refers to a particular sort of enhanced  marijuana  joint. “Then I met the girl who would become my wife. That was my inspiration for writing ‘Patty’s Bossa.”‘ (The CD’s packaging includes a couple shots of Patty, attired in a revealing Fredrick’s of Hollywood-style nurse’s costume, helping Doc perform an emergency procedure on his ailing alto.)

More than a little adrenalin pumps through the veins of this generally upbeat session, particularly on such flag-waving outings as the Oscar Pettiford classic “Bohemia After Dark,” which is performed at a heart-stopping 300 beats per minute. Stewart voices the melody in a furious Cannonball-esque fashion. “I call my style ‘guts legato,”‘ he explains. “It seems intense, and I do play with a lot of guts, but I have the legato feel in there as well. You can play calm and cool and still be pretty intense.”

Although Code Blue! has reawakened Stewart’s  passion for big-band playing, he realizes that medicine has always been his destiny. “I thought I could touch people’s lives-even save their lives -and still go out and play my horn. But the conflict is big­ger than I ever thought it would be. My day job truly turned me into who I am.”


  • 1960 – Born in Chicago, IL number 6 of nine children
  • 1961 – Moved to Anaheim, CA at two months old
  • 1962 – Sister Buffy is born in Anaheim
  • 1963 – Moved back to Rockford, IL to a seven acre farm
  • 1965 – Kindergarten at Winnebago Elementary School
  • 1965 – Sister Amy is born in Rockford
  • 1969 – Brother Jaime is born in Rockford
  • 1969 – Started playing alto sax in fifth grade at age 9
  • 1972 – Moved back to Anaheim, CA – start surfing & skating
  • 1972 – Met wife Patty (also from Chicago area) at age 12 who lived 3 doors away
  • 1975 – Patty & Chris going steady
  • 1976 – Chris wins Disneyland’s Talent Contest
  • 1976 – Start working at Disneyland as a junior
  • 1976 – Start driving trucks for California Musical Instruments
  • 1976 – Begins long distance cycling
  • 1978 – California All State Jazz Ensemble – meets Matt Catingub
  • 1978 – Graduated from Loara High School
  • 1978 – Runs first Marathon
  • 1979 – Plays with numerous big bands including Tom Kubis’ GWC band, Doc Rutherford’s OCC band, CSUN big band, Ladd Macintosh, Dick Grove, Louis Bellson, Bill Watrous, Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin, and others…
  • 1979 – Member of the Matt Catingub Big Band with Mavis Rivers
  • 1981 – April 25 Patty & Chris are married
  • 1982 – Construction job for Lowe Development
  • 1983 – Enrolls in classes at LA Valley College for pre-dentistry
  • 1983 – Records My Mommy & Me with Matt Catingub
  • 1984 – Son Eric William Thomas is born in Canoga Park
  • 1984 – Records Your Friendly Neighborhood Big Band with Matt Catingub
  • 1984 – Decides to go into medicine and enrolls premed at UC, Irvine
  • 1986 – Son Ian Kristofer is born in student dorms at UCI
  • 1986 – Records Hi Tech Big Band with Matt Catingub
  • 1986 – Graduates UCI Phi Beta Kappa, Suma Cum Laude, AOA ranked seventh in class
  • 1986 – Louis Bellson writes a letter of recommendation for med school
  • 1986 – Enrolls at USC Keck School of Medicine
  • 1986 – Born again
  • 1989 – Chris delivers daughter Meghan in Glendale
  • 1989 – Elected class president
  • 1990 – Graduates USC Keck School of Medicine with honors
  • 1990 – Records I’m Getting Cement All Over Ewe with Matt Catingub
  • 1990 – Starts residency at UC, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, CA
  • 1990 – Jazz festival in Phoenix with Louis Bellson where tragic collapse of speaker standards onto crowd occurs
  • 1991 – Last gig with Louis Bellson at a Washington jazz festival
  • 1992 – Son Kenny John is born in Woodland, CA
  • 1993 – Records Toni Tennille Sings Big Band
  • 1993 – Records Things Are Swingin’ with Toni Tennille
  • 1993 – First ER job with Kaiser Sacramento
  • 1993 – Buys a home to Penryn, CA and remodels inside in Arts & Crafts style
  • 1995 – Son Kellen Patrick is born at Kaiser South Sacramento
  • 1998 – Takes a job with Mayo Clinic and moves to Scottsdale, AZ
  • 2000 – Resumes collecting Cannonball Adderley records and starts multivolume transcription compilations
  • 2003 – Channel 3 Good Morning Arizona show featuring woodworking in Scottsdale home
  • 2004 – Records Jazz Christmas Carols with Dan Delaney
  • 2005 – Releases Phoenix: A Tribute to Cannonball Adderley
  • 2006 – Silver wedding anniversary
  • 2006 – Tom Kubis reunion big band concert in LA organized by Mike Fahn
  • 2007 – Records Now’s the Time with Royce Murray
  • 2011 – Stewart family wins Fittest Family in Scottsdale award
  • 2013 – April rim to rim to rim Grand Canyon 48 mile run
  • 2013 – April guest artist with Matt Catingub and the Phoenix Symphony
  • 2013 – Decision to produce Code Blue! with Matt Catingub and Tom Kubis
  • 2013 – 15 years anniversary with Mayo Clinic
  • 2013 – August 22 & 23 Code Blue! recording session
  • 2013 – November 17 completes Tempe Ironman Triathlon
  • 2014 – January 9 Dad dies in Mom’s arms
  • 2014 – February 15 Doc Stewart surfs 10 foot Pipeline north shore Oahu
  • 2014 – April soft release of Code Blue!
  • 2014 – April 25 33rd wedding anniversary
  • 2014 – June 2 official release of Code Blue!