The incredible Louis Stewart astounded the jazz world with his dexterity. pays due tribute to an Irish jazz guitar legend.
We were saddened to hear of the recent passing of one of Ireland’s best and most-loved musicians, jazz guitarist Louis Stewart. Born in Waterford in 1944, Louis was one of the greats. He toured the world with many of jazz’s biggest names, including Benny Goodman, George Shearing and Stephane Grappelli. His bebop-inspired style balanced technical virtuosity with grace and beauty, with considerable command but equally impressive taste and restraint when the music called for it. His lines were involved, articulate and intelligent and his comping skills second to none. While Stewart’s playing was steeped in the traditions of jazz guitar, there was also a strong Charlie Parker influence, along with a healthy dollop of blues for good measure.
Louis was presented with numerous awards and accolades over the years, including Outstanding European Soloist at the Montreux Jazz Festival, an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin and in 2009 he gained membership to Aosdána, a prestigious Irish award granted to those considered to have made an outstanding contribution to the arts. I had the good fortune to witness Louis live many times and I also got the pleasure of sharing the stage with him. On every occasion he never ceased to inspire and terrify me in equal measure. The sheer breadth of his ideas, the beauty of his sound and the complete sense of calm but self-assured authority were simply staggering. He had a glorious full-bodied tone, amazing technique and he swung like the clappers. He was a class act and he’ll be sorely missed.
There are nine examples presented here, all typical of the lines that Louis might play when improvising. While it’s a great idea to learn these licks as written, don’t be too concerned about committing them to memory. The point of learning each example is that each will leave a trace that will inspire you when improvising. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever regurgitate the same phrase verbatim, but you might create something similar, using elements of rhythm, melody, dynamics or harmony but constructed to fit the music in the moment. So try playing transformational games with each lick when practicing. How might each idea sound with different-ending notes? How about taking some notes out? What affect does changing the rhythm have? We need to think about other keys, too, and different harmonic possibilities. Great improvisers are the best at recycling ideas and are experts at manipulating the music to create an infinite number of variations and it’s absolutely undeniable that Louis was clearly one of the finest players in this category.
Louis stewart was one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time Martin Taylor
The late, great Louis Stewart