There’s an African proverb: “When somebody of great stature dies, a mighty tree has fallen.” I wish a lot more people had known Chuck Stewart; he was such a great guy. When I was I growing up in Chicago, as a teenager I would see the Impulse! album covers—John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders—but I didn’t attach Chuck’s name to them yet. Then, after I came to New York, when I was in my 20s, I worked at galleries and museums. One of them was Gallery 62, at the National Urban League. They would put on shows of different artists and I would take a portrait of the artist. One of them happened to be Chuck Stewart. We became fast friends after that, and we had a relationship until he died. When I [started working with] Jazz at Lincoln Center, we bought a bunch of his photographs to put up in the hall and around the offices, and I went over to his house a lot.
I had known about other jazz photographers, and Chuck’s work was along the lines of Herman Leonard. He would use salon lighting, or sometimes he would take the lights onto the stage or shoot people in the studio. I liked the way he shot and definitely respected what he did, but I didn’t think I could ever do it that way.