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.