|Louis Stewart (left) with Stephen Keogh
Performance with Jim Hart Trio, 2009 Cork Jazz Festival
Photo credit: Melody McLaren
Louis should be remembered not only for being one the greatest guitarists in jazz, but also for his tremendous humanity, warmth, generosity of spirit, and razor-sharp wit. He had profound reverence for the music, and he inspired several generations of jazz musicians in Ireland and further afield.
He was hugely respected and loved in Ireland, and the UK and maybe most especially in the USA. I experienced this at first hand when I went on my first journey to New York in 1980. Louis had put me, and another young musician, guitarist David O’Rourke, in touch with among others, Bucky Pizzarelli, who in turn welcomed me into a community of musicians that used to hang out at a place called the “China Song” which included the likes of Milt Hinton, Mel Lewis, many of the musicians who worked with Frank Sinatra, Ruby Braff, and a list far too long to go into here. Some of those guys even made sure that I was getting enough to eat, got me into studios to sit beside drummers on recording dates, and got me into club dates. Louis’ name and the love for him opened so many doors and opportunities for me, and others, one of which even led to the chance to play with Chet Baker in Paris in the mid 80’s.
He did not want to teach formally, nor did he even think of himself as a teacher, but just a chat with him could reveal immeasurable wisdom. Being on tour with him was more than any school or university could ever offer. When on any stage playing with him one was immediately aware of every imperfection in one’s playing, because of his flawless execution, his energy and presence, an incredible attention to detail and his complete devotion to the art. He was a true master and I still do my best to try to live up to those standards every time I play.
Recently, his son Tony had the difficult job of asking Louis if he wanted to be buried or cremated. Louis replied: “Surprise me!”
I’ll miss him like I do my own father, and others will feel the same.