Elected officials often have used musical instruments to propel their political careers.
Former President Bill Clinton played his saxophone on several late-night talk shows. Fox TV personality and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee plays bass with his band, Capital Offense.
Locally, the guitar prowess of Atlantic Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge D. Jay Stewart of Claxton landed him in a top New Jersey recording studio instead of a higher political office.
Stewart, a Pembroke native, cut his own album, “Enjoy the Ride,” last year — a CD that has been well received in the jazz community.
Stewart, who began playing the guitar at age 6, had an array of influences ranging from guitar giants Chet Akins and Eric Clapton to Steve Gaines of original Lynyrd Skynyrd fame.
“I listened to a lot of people,” Stewart said. “I started playing in church and still play in church. My dad played, so that got me interested.
“One of the greatest influences I had growing up was Buddy Owens. Buddy was from Bryan County and played a great jazz fingerpicking style, and I was really fortunate to be around him a lot.”
After high school, Stewart played baseball at South Georgia College but continued playing the guitar.
He had an opportunity to tour with Avalanche, a rock ’n’ roll band based out of North Carolina. The group toured all over the Southeast and played with Southern super groups such as Mother’s Finest and the Atlanta Rhythm Section.
“It was great touring with Avalanche, but I also realized that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life always on the road and living in hotel rooms,” Stewart said.
So he went back to college, finished his degree, then attended Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University.
While most of his classmates were clerking for judges or interning with law firms, Stewart continued his music career.
“I treated law school just like a job,” he said. “I would go to class and study, but I also realized that I could make more money playing gigs than clerking.”
Stewart has an eclectic musical background but said he really enjoys playing smooth-jazz licks.
He began to explore home recording., then later thought about recording a record professionally.
“I really got into home recording,” Stewart said. “Then I went with some others to a studio in Statesboro and did some tracks, and while I was doing that, I was thinking about the beginning of my current project.”
Stewart researched recording studios and found one in New Jersey that belonged to Jason Miles, a Grammy Award-winning producer who has worked with jazz luminaries such as Miles Davis and Luther Vandross.
Not expecting much more than a standard rejection letter, Stewart sent Miles an email along with some mp3 files.
Around the time that a huge snowstorm hit the Northeast, Miles stumbled on Stewart’s query and liked what he heard. Miles began corresponding with Stewart, which sparked the genesis of “Enjoy the Ride.”
“I had only talked to him online,” Stewart said. “Michael Lehman, who manages Gregg Allman, is a friend of mine, and he actually knew him. Lehman had worked with him.
“Jason wanted to do an album and bring in the best session players in the business. The only thing I had to do was come to his studio in New Jersey to record it.”
Miles lined up session players that included former Hall and Oates drummer Brian Dunn and bassist Neil Jason, who has played with Paul McCartney. Miles played keyboards on the CD.
“The session musicians were great. Everyone was so down-to-earth,” Stewart said. “It was like getting together for a Friday after-work jam session. The only strange thing was they wanted me to talk so they could hear my South Georgia accent.”
As the lead guitarist on the album, which was recorded in February 2011, Stewart used an electric Stratocaster and a couple of old Les Pauls for just the right sound.
All of the music recorded for the album was live, and it was completed in one or two takes.
“Enjoy the Ride,” has received a fair amount of airplay since its debut.
“Jazz music is different than other music,” Stewart said. “Someone said you could have the No. 1 jazz record and that’s like having the No. 1 record in Tampa.
“Savannah doesn’t have a jazz station anymore. One thing though about jazz: The fans are the most loyal in the world.”
Stewart said much of his airplay and interest come from the Northeast, western United States and Europe.
“I have been asked to do radio spots for the album in Scotland, Austria and Germany,” he said.
“Enjoy the Ride” is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Fans can sample Stewart’s music at jaystewartguitar.com.