Aug 252016

Louis Pt 2

Moving in to the 90s and my early years in New York. In those early days the cost of transatlantic phone calls or ‘trunk’ calls as they were once called meant that I rarely spoke to anyone in Ireland outside of my parents and with me and many of my friends not avid letter writers I would soon lose contact with many people – Louis included. A mutual friend of Louis and mine, Bernard Brady came regularly to visit New York (still does) and I would keep up with some the news through him and others. Without going too deep into my personal past I had pretty much fallen in to almost the first pair of open arms I met and was soon engaged to be married. I hadn’t been involved with anyone for years so I fell hard. When this relationship didn’t work out I was crushed and took to phoning everyone I knew who would listen. I remember talking to Louis and he asked me if I was thinking of coming home and I sighed “I don’t know what to do Louis…” He got serious for a minute (he’d been trying everything to make laugh and cheer me up) and said “I know it would probably be easy to come back but I think you’d be better off sticking it out over there as they’re’ll be more opportunities for you”. I always appreciated that and indeed often thought about it. It was easier for me to move here (USA) than it was for someone to uproot his whole family as he would have had to do and I know, now that I have kids of my own the feeling of responsibility to provide for them shapes many decisions I make. That day, in that conversation, in his efforts to make me laugh, he told me how he and Jim Doherty were renaming musicals to tie in with the Gulf War “Call Me Saddam” instead of Call Me Madam etc I couldn’t bring out laughter in my pain but he understood.

For years the only time I would see him was in Cork and if I stayed on in Dublin for a few days. During one of those visits he played me an album he had recorded with the great Robert Farnon. I remember thinking there was nothing happening in the first track with Farnon having written string pads and just as I was about to say something stupid – this beautiful flow of counter melody, written as only Farnon could, emerged from the orchestra. That exposure to Farnon would change my life, again! right there and then.

Louis stayed with me in the mid 90s when he was over recording an album with George Shearing and a new version of his famous quintet. This time the band included Dennis Mackrell and Steve Nelson – some of the best in the business and I must admit, I love that recording. Great tunes and great playing. I was in my first apartment in Manhattan and I think Louis was taken aback by the darkness (one relatively ineffective window) and also, probably my lack of domesticity! I remember having some frank conversations with him about how he managed to deliver such a high level of performance when playing with musicians who might have been, let’s say not in the same zip code as him. He confided in me that he could shut out any problems and play with an imaginary rhythm section which I thought was great but Louis again confided that he was worried that he might have desensitized himself for those situations when he got to play with a great rhythm section. Well…I remember meeting Dennis Mackrell in Laura Hartmann’s house when we had dinner there. Laura is Steve Wilson’s manager and Dennis remarked how quickly he and Louis found their groove together so Louis need not have worried about losing his sensitivity. Steve Nelson also talked about it. Louis told me how amazing it felt to be collectively so far behind the beat on some of the tunes and how scary it could be…listen to the recording, they phrase so beautifully!

A few years later I saw Louis play with Shearing at the Blue Note opposite Tommy Flanagan’s trio this time and me and Fintan O’Neill were so proud that one of our own was up there. It may well have been at that engagement that Louis became friends with Lewis Nash and Peter Washington. Years later, Louis, Betty and a few other friends were over in Bernard Brady’s house (after Bernard’s Dad had passed) and it was getting close to Cork. Louis didn’t know who his band was going to be and the organizers were trying to figure it out. I told Louis that I had Lewis and Peter playing with me and with some careful scheduling it could work. I remember Louis in his gentle voice saying “That would be great, would you mind Dave?” Of course I told him I’d be delighted. When Cork got in touch with the lads before I had a chance to, they showed me the courtesy of seeing was I ok with it and I said to Lewis that I absolutely was while Peter I decided to have some fun with. I told him No, I didn’t want him playing tired on my gig and he said “F@#$ You I’m doing it!” and we both laughed. Peter would have the last laugh on me when Cork made out his plane ticket to Kenny Washington and at JFK they wouldn’t change it unless I could get someone from Cork on the phone – this was midnight Irish time. Finally, I had to buy a NEW ticket and the same Aer Lingus staffer who was not budging asked Peter, can you give a contact person in the event of an emergency? and with a straight face Peter replied “Kenny Washington”!

Louis played the Vanguard with both Peter and Kenny Washington and Richard Wyands on piano and had many musicians showing out to see him. He was to come back to New York and play the Jazz Standard but the untimely loss of his daughter Catherine had taken the kind of toll on the family that we can only imagine and hope that those close to us never experience.

I am completely out of sequence with this one but I was brought to Wrexham, Wales to teach on a jazz camp and for some performances. Louis was there along with Betty and Mundell Lowe, Howard Alden and organizer Trefor Owen. I remember one fun pre gig dinner with just Louis and Mundell in a pub near the concert venue but my biggest memory from that weekend was going down to Louis and Betty’s room in the hotel and catching up, just like old times.That night stands out to me for the feeling i had and ye, someone like me who tends to remember things in detail (when I do remember something) have very little memory of what we talked about – I just remembered the feeling of a reunion.

The final memory in this offering comes from my conversation with Louis when he was in hospital. I am forever grateful to Jim Meehan for getting hold of me to let me know, and I knew it was being kept quiet then. Much of what we spoke about was private between both of us, but I will say this. For two Irish men, we shared our feelings for one another in a way that I will cherish forever! While talking to Louis, and I had been on for quite a while, the staff came in to either give an injection or IV and he told me that was happening. Me: “I better let you go Louis, you’ve been very good to stay on with me this long…” Louis: “No hold on Dave, this will only take a minute”. I didn’t hear much other than Louis thanking the Doctor/Nurse and my eyes welled up they way they do when my own kids have to have a shot and I wish I could take it for them. Louis came back on the phone and started continue where we left it and I started to joke with him, really so I could shake off my momentary emotional lapse. Me: “Ah, you’re a real fucking jazz musician now…needles!…and you even have someone bringing them to you” We laughed together that day,talked about Pat Martino and Johnny Smith. I told Louis that while I always have love and respect for the legends of jazz guitar that came before us (me and him), that in my own simplistic way I viewed him (Louis), George Benson and Pat Martino as being like the three wise men, three brothers… however you want to look at it and that I felt especially privileged to call all three of them my friends.

Our collective grief as Irish Jazz musicians, fans and friends and indeed beyond are deeply moved that out hero, friend, mentor had the President of Ireland at his funeral. I am forever grateful that gesture.

Best to all,

August 25th, 2016
PS After I published this I realized I had omitted two brief memories:
1) During Hurricane Sandy, Louis called our mutual friend Bernard Brady making sure I was safe during the hurricane and in it’s aftermath.
2) John Phillip Murray put me on the phone to Louis without telling him or me who we were taking to. Louis greeted me with “You’re some bollocks!”… I had been in Ireland and hadn’t called anyone and he was upset with me but when I explained I had been going through a divorce he immediately shifted gears and became supportive, making sure I was ok. He would subsequently ask Bernard how we were all getting along on regular occasions, always making sure to know I was ok. I told him that day I would never again visit home without trying to see him or at the very least call him and…sadly, I never made it back to Ireland after that call.

 Posted by at 2:02 pm
Aug 242016

My first encounter with Louis Stewart was back in the time when RTE broadcast ‘filler’ footage of some of Ireland’s jazz musicians. I didn’t understand the music they were playing but like a lot of people when they heard jazz for the first time it is the mastery of their playing that gets you. You also know there’s something much deeper going on but as a young boy that understanding was a few years away. What I did know however, was that my Dad loved this guitarist Louis Stewart along with pianists Noel Kelehan and Jim Doherty.

As I approached my mid teens I was searching for more meaning in music and wasn’t getting it from the music I was listening to then…various pop, folk, 60s although never gravitated towards the heavy rock sound or anything where the guitar sound was altered too much. I think the latter may well have been me embracing some of my Dad’d prejudices (years later when I wanted an electric guitar he told my mother “He’ll prancing around like those idiots on Top Of The Pops!) When I began to take a closer look at this Louis Stewart guy my Dad seemed pleased and even sent me ‘in to town’ to pick up “Louis The First” and soon after “Out On His Own” was released and I was despatched to get that one too. I remember my Dad loved the title because of an old Dublin expression (according to him) that Out On His Own was basically what me might say today as “In a league/class of his own” – and the double entendre – it was a solo guitar album. That album to this day has an atmosphere and Louis told me that many people would say that very thing to him throughout the years. George Shearing sought him put and hired him after hearing Out On His Own!Louis The FirstLouis Out On His Own

By now, Louis was in Ronnie Scott’s band and my Dad said he would go to Ronnies on an upcoming trip to London and see if he could meet him for me – I was excited but alas that trip never happened for some reason or other. In a few years I heard Louis was going to play a lunchtime concert at the Trinity College Students Union – I got this info in a tiny record shop called The Music Inn in Gaiety Green (old Dandelion Market) that was run by the late Mick Fagan. I went up and spoke to Louis that day. This was a big deal! I told my Dad “Dad, I TALKED TO LOUIS STEWART” Having been blessed/cursed with a detailed memory (no, I don’t remember everything BUT when I do, it’s in great detail) – I introduced myself and in my nervousness asked him if he ever recorded on acoustic guitar (Why I asked that is beyond me even now). He told me that yes, on his upcoming album Milesian Source there was one track on acoustic guitar. A few weeks later, that album was out and I got it along with Ronnie Scott’s album where Louis was burning on it.

Mick’s shop turned out to be the place where I would often hear when Louis was due back and I would go and see him at the Baggot Inn – mostly a rock venue BUT he was packing the place, with a queue all the way out the door. It is on the queue that I first met Ronan Guilfoyle and we asked one another what instrument we each played. Some of the older audience members (anyone over 5 years or more older than me seemed old then) would remark how the front row was either guitar players staring transfixed at Louis or drummers doing the same thing with John Wadham! We would have to queue up so early that we often got their before the Wad’s big green car arrived with him driving and Louis and his wife Betty in it. They were like super stars arriving. I was in a new world of discovery now. I would buy albums by people I read about on other people’s albums that I owned and I was finding out that many of the greats were already dead, died in poverty! Around this time, some other musicians from Malahide had formed a band and their bassist Adam Clayton, who was on the other side of a few pints was saying – outside the old Wimpy Bar in Malahide that if music didn’t make money, lots of it etc etc then it was no good. I freaked out on him and yelling stuff like “What about Mozart?” and even mentioned that we had Louis Stewart and how amazing he was and yet he had to struggle! In response to my Mozart question Adam, who by now was probably winding me up said “it (his music) mustn’t have been very good!” One of his friends Dave Evans (later known as The Edge) was chiming in that Louis Stewart was great. My punchline to Adam that night was “With your attitude you’ll never make it!” Louis used to get a kick out of that when I would tell him and of course, that band were U2. I had also formed a band by now with Lindsey Horner (bass), Frank Walshe (tenor), Bernard Reilly (vibes) and Conor Guilfoyle (drums) that we named after a tune that none of us could play – Giant Steps.

Louis was now making regular trips home and I had begun to try and talk to him whenever I could, even took to phoning him to ask questions like “What’s the correct way to hold a pick?” I was also going out to Ritchie Buckley’s house to get in a few tunes with him before the show band bus picked him up. It was there I met Betty and Louis’ kids (Kate, Tony and Gráinne) and on one of those saturdays was invited around to see Louis. I don’t know how but soon I was moved into another category. I was now showing up both unannounced and uninvited and, I was made most welcome. This ‘stalking’ would continue until my father saw me heading out and asked “are you going out to Louis Stewart’s” and I said I was. My dad asked me if had thought about maybe, just maybe, Louis’s children would like to spend time with their Daddy without someone else around. “Oh shit” is what I thought – there was no argument there. I sat twiddling my thumbs watching the saturday match, Saint and Greavsie and then the phone rang. It was Betty calling to tell me the kids were wondering where I was. I will NEVER forget the feeling I got knowing I was that welcome! I would spend as much time as I could with them, hoping that, as I mentioned elsewhere on a Facebook post that whatever he had, was contagious. Louis would play recordings for me of all the masters and real me what he loved about them, about their styles. I now realized he wasn’t going wave a wand and magically make me into a jazz guitarist OR indeed, show me directly anything, give or take a few little things here and there but what he would do – is show me where all the answers, or at least many of them could be found and by me. Louis had done some teaching in Capel Street and had stopped by the time I came along but I did take some lessons with Alan Grundy, who had studied with Louis before embarking on his path as a classical guitarist and he shared the notes Louis had given him along with all he could remember. These included a chord melody version of All The Things You Are. These notes shared by Alan (a friend of the late Barry Lawlor) where invaluable to me at the time as they helped to get me started.

I was once described by Mark Whitfield’s son Davis as “teaching kids how to swim and then throwing them straight into the Atlantic Ocean” – this was in reference to the performance driven approach we use t the Jazz Standard Discovery Program. As I look back now, I realize THAT is precisely what Louis did with me and many others. We found ourselves on a gig with him when we were nothing close to ready. How were we going to learn? By DOING IT! First engagement for me was about 4 nights back to back of duets in Gerald Davis’ Gallery on Capel Street. First tune, Have you Met Miss Jones? and Louis hands me the first solo – every guitar player will remember that feeling of relief when you make it to the end of the form without getting lost and I did…BUT 🙂 Louis said “Take some more!” and now the safety harness was removed. I was two nervous to have enjoyed most of those nights but it was a step in the process. Next, Louis was out of action after a cortisone shot for tennis elbow (“Thank God it wasn’t tennis MICKEY!” he quipped) and he put me in, in his place at last minute notice for a lunchtime concert at the Peacock Theater. My brother got word from my Mom and was on the queue where he heard people say “I hear Louis is not playing” Who is? “Some guy called David O’Rourke” – “Never heard of him” Louis came out on stage and apologized for not being able to perform and very graciously introduced yours truly and I remember that performance as one where I was conquering some of my nervousness and also the feeling of being honored that he chose me. Around this time Louis also sent me in as a dep/sub to the Harp Bar when he was a guest with Jim Doherty’s Trio – I remember being terrified on that gig but having a blast on it nonetheless!

Next up for me was my first trip to the US – New York in particular. I had made the finals of the RTE Young Musician Of The Future and as a result come to the attention of Aer Lingus who offered me free travel to London weekly to take lessons – my response – “What about New York?” I remember one of my conversations with bassist and long standing friend Dave Fleming when we talked about people using Louis’ contacts or dropping names without consulting him and how annoying it was or must be for him. I was determined not to put Louis in that position and days before I left on my first trip – a month long trip Louis said “I can give you some phone numbers if you like?” How kind was that? He gave me a few names and numbers and for the purpose of highlighting their effect on me I will equate their name to the effect they had:

Bucky Pizzarelli – invites me to sit in with him at the Hotel Pierre in his Nat Cole style trio and in so doing I make my NYC jazz debut. A lady introduces herself to me and tells me she is “Helen Ward and I was Benny Goodman’s first girl singer”. Months later Bucky tried to get me a 6 night a week gig in another room in the Pierre, not realizing I needed work papers.
Wayne Wright – a left handed rhythm guitar who was a good friend of Louis. Wayne called me back and left a message inviting me to join him on a trip to Les Paul’s House. Les was reclusive at the time so this was a big deal. On that trip also was Martin Taylor who in turn had me join him on the guest list at the Vanguard to see Jim Hall (with Harvie S) and that’s the night I was greeted with a hug from Woody Shaw! Also in the car,a legendary beatnik era DJ called Jazzbow Collins.
Dan Axelrod – I never connected with Dan. Louis had met him and liked him in a music store on 48th street and he told Louis he had studied or was studying with Tal Farlow.

As you can see – these contacts above all led somewhere. Bucky’s manager Dick Ables, tried so hard to help me get work papers and Wayne taking a 22 year old to Les Paul’s house had me thinking “If this can happen after two weeks what would happen if I moved here?”


I had a concert organized to help me go back to the US to try and study with Barry Galbraith (a Bucky connection too) and I have many memories of this. The late Gerald Davis had the idea of putting on this concert but got busy and would send me down to book the hall etc This became problematic when either the Irish Times or The Indo called and asked who was putting on the concert and the Liberty Hall people said they didn’t know. When asked who booked the hall the journalist was aghast “He’s hardly organizing his own benefit, is he?” The jazz community came together to help me go back to the US and I remember I played with Noel Kelihan, Louis performed, Honor Heffernan performed and even enlisted Dermot Morgan (then a rising star) to be one of the MCs.

I wrote to Louis after I met Pat Martino – there was huge mystique around Pat in those days and we were all anxious to hear anything about him. Louis wrote me a warm letter back. My first gig that I attended upon my return to Ireland is now etched in Dublin Jazz Legend/Lore. It’s the night where Jimmy Reed and Louis notice the pints are off and Paddy Slattery makes the mistake of asking “What’s wrong?” What follows is almost Joycean in it’s composition. Jimmy made comparisons between the “Guinness and Stevenses Ink – you’d write a letter to your Aunt in America with this stuff” and upon being offered to “I can put a head on it?” by Paddy Slattery, Jimmy: “A new hat never cured a man with a bad heart!”

Due to my parent’s illness I dropped off the scene for a few years and was playing very little and not very motivated to play. It was a call from Louis to put together a band of 5 guitars that turned that around. That period was one of my most joyous times with Louis, Hugh Buckley, Bill Brady and Mike Nielsen. Pete Ainscough and Bill McCormack were the rhythm section and sometimes Ritchie Buckley joined us.

After the 5 guitars Louis would feature me in duets, or as a 2nd guitar in a quartet and sometime two guitars/bass and Honor (I believe that was the last gig I played in Dublin prior to heading to the US)

The above takes me up to 1989 when I left for the US – more thoughts will follow

 Posted by at 10:39 am