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Bebop Spoken There

Danny Gatton: "I was tired of playing in beer joints. I wanted to do something tangible like building cars. But once you do music it gets into your blood. You can get away from it for awhile but sooner or later it comes back to you." - (Down Beat April 1991).

Tal Farlow: "There were times when I would stop [playing guitar] and do sign painting." - (Downbeat December 5, 1963)

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Today Monday August 21

Radio
Radio 3: Jazz Now. Live from Pizza Express, Soweto Kinch featuring Andy Sheppard/Carla Bley/Steve Swallow. 11pm.
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Afternoon.
Jazz in the Afternoon - Crescent Club, 1 Hudleston, Cullercoats NE30 3OS. 1pm. Free.
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Evening.
?????
To the best of our knowledge, details of the above events are correct but may be subject to alteration.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

'Louis'- An Appreciation by JC.

Cormac Larkin put it very nicely in his tribute to Louis Stewart in The Irish Times when he said: "He had the distinction - accorded only to the very greatest jazz musicians - of being referred to by his first name only: to his fellow musicians, and to his many devoted fans, he was known simply as 'Louis'."
I first heard Louis Stewart play in 1970 in a rundown parish hall in Foxrock, a suburb of South Dublin. I was a young teenager involved in the local folk club where the usual musical fare up to that time was folk singers and ballad groups and 'local artists'. However, a couple of the club organisers were great jazz fans and had invited him to come and play one Sunday evening. It was a revelation. I was used to gentle acoustic instruments and had never heard an electric guitar live before and, at such close quarters, the effect was staggeringly powerful.
Louis made no concessions to the youthful audience, playing 15-minute versions of tunes like So What and then seguing straight into 6 or 7 minutes of improvisation, but he also played beautiful ballads like The Shadow of Your Smile.  However, he didn't have to tone it down for us. Although we had no idea what we were listening to we knew it was special. We loved it and cheered and whistled for more. At the end of the performance, the 26 year-old Louis, who was already developing an Irish version of Ronnie's Scott's conversational style, looked out at his enthusiastic audience of teenagers and told us "You've made four old men very happy".
Louis played the club two or three more times over the next few years and by then people were travelling miles to get to the gig and were sitting on top of each other. At the club's Christmas 'Special' session in 1971, which featured both Louis Stewart and The Chieftains, the entrance fee was 40p and the takings were over £100. As the hall could only hold about 80 people in any kind of comfort and safety, I've no idea how everyone crammed themselves in.
Then in 2009 we were all delighted when Louis agreed to headline the 40th anniversary concert of the club (this time in a hall that could legally hold over 300 people) with a diverse line-up of folkies, bluesmen and poets. Not surprisingly, the concert over ran and I had to announce in the middle of Louis's set that if people, parked in a particular car park, wanted to avoid having their cars locked in they would have to go immediately. Louis was completely unphased by this interruption and carried on with his set, introducing the next number as Car Parking Blues.
Like many young Irish musicians in the 1960s (Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher are two other examples), Louis Stewart started his career in a Showband at the age of 16 as it gave the opportunity to play regularly and earn some money. However, he soon committed himself to jazz and in 1968 won the award for the Outstanding European Soloist at the Montreux Jazz Festival. He declined an offer of a scholarship from Berklee College of Music as he wanted to stay near Dublin. This is one of the things that many of us loved about Louis. Here was a jazz guitarist of the finest international quality who probably should be playing in the famous jazz clubs of New York yet instead he was living and playing in Dublin! You could go to a bar or club in the city centre and hear him play many nights of the week for an entrance fee of a few quid and many of us did. On one memorable night in Slattery’s, the great musical pub in the Dublin city centre, there was a power workers strike so Louis played the whole night on acoustic guitar by candlelight.
Although I've lived in Newcastle for over 35 years, one of the great pleasures of visits back home was finding out where Louis was playing and walking into some bar and seeing that familiar face and hearing that exciting familiar sound.
It was a special thrill when he agreed to play at the joint 50th birthday party I had with a good friend (another big Louis fan).

Over the years he played with many of the greats and in the 70s was in bands with Tubby Hayes, Benny Goodman and often with Ronnie Scott. There is a story that while playing in Ronnie Scott's band, one day Ronnie took them to see some motor racing, which he loved, and he was particularly fond of the brilliant Argentinian racing driver, Juan Fangio. Having well enjoyed the day out, at the gig that night he apparently introduced Louis as "the Fangio of the Banjo". In Ronnie-speak I reckon that was a big compliment.

The pianist Jim Doherty, who was Louis Stewart's oldest friend and musical partner, once told The Irish Times that when asked by a fan if it was true that Louis was one of the three best guitarists in the world, he replied 'Well, the other two certainly think so'.

But it was not only jazz musicians who respected and admired him. As part of a research project I have been talking with musicians and singers of all kinds about the music scene in Ireland from the 1960s onwards and without exception they all expressed great affection for Louis and his playing. One singer told me a nice story about Louis and the famous Irish traditional singer, Frank Harte.
'Apparently the Irish government were trying to promote Irish culture in America so they brought Louis and Frank over to Alabama to play and sing for a group of local dignitaries. They were located on a balcony and the audience were down below having dinner and talking so nobody was listening. Louis got fed up with this and said to Frank "I have to go into town, I can’t stick this anymore". Frank said he would go with him. They went into town and after wandering around Louis said "It’s down here, this is where I was looking for". They went down stairs into a basement jazz club and when they got to the bar and looked around Frank said "Louis, do you know we’re the only two white men in here?" Louis said "Don't worry, you're grand. I’m going to play a tune".  So a rather anxious Frank Harte said "I’ll stand beside the exit in case there’s a row". Louis went up to the band's guitarist and said "Can I borrow your guitar?" and the man reluctantly gave it to him. Then he went up on the stage and played and the place went berserk. They just loved it so much. Frank couldn’t believe it and told me "I was standing at the exit and there were tears in my eyes. I was so proud of what Louis did".'
Over the years, Louis played Newcastle on a couple of occasions and there were plans to bring him back again for some more gigs but unfortunately, his illness meant that was not possible. The jazz community in the North East were saddened by his loss and on Sunday night, at Blaydon Jazz Club, The Paul Edis Trio were happy to play a special request for The Shadow of Your Smile in his memory.
Thanks, Louis.
JC.
Photo of the younger Louis is courtesy of Michael Blake. The more recent pic is by JC.
More Louis Stewart.
Maurice Summerfield remembers Louis Stewart.

1 comment :

  1. The writer refers to the folk club in Foxrock, south Dublin where Louis played a number of times between 1970 and 1972. I recall during one performance there Louis kept playing into the small hours long past any recognised club finishing time. At around 1am an ambulance went screaming past the club on the old Stillorgan Road outside with its siren blaring; initially irritated at the intrusion, Louis then imitated the sound of the siren for a bar and a half, in time and without disturbing the flow of his solo. We all roared with delight.

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Bebop Spoken Here -- Here, being the north-east of England -- centred in the blues heartland of Newcastle and reaching down to the Tees Delta and looking upwards to the Land of the Kilt.
Not a very original title, I know; not even an accurate one as my taste, whilst centred around the music of Bird and Diz, extends in many directions and I listen to everything from King Oliver to Chick Corea and beyond. Not forgetting the Great American Songbook the contents of which has provided the inspiration for much great jazz and quality popular singing for round about a century.
The idea of this blog is for you to share your thoughts and pass on your comments on discs, gigs, jazz - music in general. If you've been to a gig/concert or heard a CD that knocked you sideways please share your views with us. Tell us about your favourites, your memories, your dislikes.
Lance (Who wishes it to be known that he is not responsible for postings other than his own and that he's not always responsible for them.)
Contact: lanceliddle@gmail.com I look forward to hearing from you.

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