The Louis Stewart Archive is a project established in 2021 by David Lyttle, who performed with Dr. Stewart from 2006 to 2010, to celebrate the jazz master's fifty-year career. The following extended biography was written with information drawn from interviews over a four-decade period and with the kind assistance of some of those in his inner circle.

    Louis Stewart (1946-2016) was an Irish jazz guitarist whose performing and recording career spanned four decades and included 24 albums as a leader/co-leader. His associations include George Shearing, Benny Goodman, Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott, and his work can be heard on Verve, Polydor, Telarc, Decca, MPS, Mercury and Universal. More importantly, Louis Stewart played jazz guitar with an almost-unheard-of precision and a high level of fluency that helped shape the genre's evolution. Based in Ireland for the majority of his career, Louis was awarded an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin in 2008. In 2009, he was elected to Aosdána, established by the Arts Council in 1981 to honour artists who have made outstanding contributions to the arts in Ireland. This allowed him to receive a yearly stipend. Louis' death in 2016 at the age of 72 was announced on national television in Ireland. President Michael D. Higgins, who issued an official statement within hours, was in attendance at his funeral.


    Born in Waterford on January 5th, 1944, and raised in Dublin off Clanbrassil Street from the age of 3, Louis Stewart began playing the guitar at the age of 15, after taking lessons on piano. He discovered Barney Kessel two years later "by accident on the radio" and quickly began buying his recordings. He would soon add Tal Farlow, Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Raney, Jim Hall, Pat Martino and Wes Montgomery to his early influences, discovering Charlie Christian later. He also had a particular interest in the lesser-known Billy Bean. After a period studying only guitarists, he began to find inspiration in Stan Getz and Bill Evans.


    Speaking on RTÉ radio in the mid seventies Louis said, "I do like to listen to players on other instruments because listening to guitar only, which I used to do at one time, can really mess you up because you come away either trying to play in that fashion or wondering why you can't do it. Whereas listening to players who play other instruments, you just absorb it for its musical quality and you don't get so analytical about wondering 'how are they doing that?' or 'how do they achieve that?' You do wonder about it of course and you try and study it and learn from them but not to the sent extent that you would thinking about a guitar player."


    Playing music professionally by 1961, Louis made a trip to the US with an Irish showband. By the mid-sixties he was performing jazz regularly, mostly at the Fox Inn, north of Dublin. In 1968 he travelled to Switzerland in the quartet of Dubliner Jim Doherty, with whom he would have a lifetime friendship and association, to compete in the Montreux Jazz Festival. The band finished second and Louis won the Press Award for Outstanding European Soloist. He returned the following year with his own quartet, receiving the Grand Prix de La Radio Suisse Romande and a scholarship to Berklee College of Music, which he declined. More significantly, he was invited by the festival to record a big band album for Polydor featuring the festival's best talent, under the leadership of Clark Terry with arrangements by Ernie Wilkins. In the album's line notes Gene Lees wrote, 'It used to be said that you couldn't find a good rhythm section in Europe. This is no longer true as you'll hear here. This rhythm section consists of guitarist Louis Stewart, from Ireland (who won the festival award, including a scholarship to Berklee, as the festival's best soloist)...'


    Moving directly to London after the Montreux Jazz Festival, Louis began working with the English jazz great Tubby Hayes in 1969, performing with his quartet and big band for almost two years. Though no studio recordings were made, six albums of live performances and broadcasts were released following Hayes' death in 1973. Later in the seventies, reflecting on his time in London on RTÉ radio, Louis said that he considered his time with Tubby Hayes "the important thing I did during that time, those years...I think I learnt most during that period." In 1970 Louis began working with Benny Goodman, appearing with him on three month-long European tours and recording an album for Decca, 'Benny Goodman In Concert', also released as 'Benny Goodman Today' with Louis visible on the front cover.


    By 1975, married and with two children, Louis had returned to Dublin. After playing a guitar festival at London's Ronnie Scott's, which included a week opposite John Williams, Ronnie Scott asked Louis to stay on and play with his quartet for a week at the club three weeks later. Scott paid for Louis to stay in London for the three weeks, to rehearse and write for the group, and at the end of the band's engagement Louis became a full time member of the quartet. Seeing Louis play with Ronnie Scott at the club shortly afterwards, possibly opposite Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Derek Jewell of the Sunday Times wrote:


'Louis Stewart played quite ravishingly on guitar with the technical master of Wes Montgomery and attractive fluency...With luck he really could become the best jazz guitarist in the world.'

– Derek Jewell, Sunday Times


    In 1975 the iconic orchestral arranger Robert Farnon invited Louis to appear as guitarist and featured soloist on his album 'Sketches of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra', with whom he had previously worked as arranger. Louis would be Farnon's guitarist of choice for the next 26 years—always featuring as a soloist—and he appeared on notable orchestral albums for Joe Williams, George Shearing and JJ Johnson, which also featured Wynton Marsalis and earned Farnon a Grammy Award in 1996.


    Louis began recording as a leader in 1976, with 'Baubles, Bangles And Beads' in duo with Peter Ind. The same year he released 'Louis The First', which was recorded in Dublin with his Irish trio. In 1977 he released his seminal 'Out On His Own', a solo album with overdubbing allowing him to solo over his own accompaniment. The following year he explored his Celtic heritage and his love of James Joyce on 'Milesian Source', his only album to feature electric instruments. A quintessential Dubliner, Louis would return to the theme of James Joyce in 1992 with 'Joycenotes', on which he set the words of Joyce to six compositions for a 10-piece ensemble of Norwegian musicians. Significantly, around 1977, Louis took part in a private afternoon session at Ronnie Scott's with Stan Getz which was professionally recorded and surfaced only recently, though is currently unreleased.


    In 1978 Louis began his lengthy association with George Shearing, which would include tours in the U.S., Brazil and throughout Europe. With Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass, the George Shearing Trio recorded three albums, plus a fourth augmented by the Robert Farnon Orchestra in 1982. Louis would play in another two George Shearing groups in the nineties. Also during period, in 1979, Louis released another album as a leader, 'I Thought About You', recorded in London and Dublin with the English jazz great John Taylor and the legendary American rhythm section of Sam Jones and Billy Higgins. In its liner notes, Humphrey Lyttelton wrote:


' mastery of his chosen instrument and idiom, coupled with original thought and a distinctive instrumental voice of his own...when have the power of electrical amplification and the natural resonance of the guitar been better blended?'

Humphrey Lyttelton, British Jazz Legend


    'Louis Stewart and Red Lion Trio' is currently Louis' most rare LP, with only an estimated two hundred copies produced. Recorded around 1980 in Britanny, France, where he was performing at the Festival Interceltique de Lorient, it features pianist René Goaer, bassist Pierre Michelot and drummer Philippe Briand, with whom he later worked in France with Dizzy Gillespie and recorded an unreleased album with Pepper Adams which also featured organist Eddie Louiss. (Following a lengthy search for information, Pepper Adams biographer Gary Carner discovered that Briand had destroyed the tapes.) During the second half of the eighties, Louis featured in Stephane Grappelli's quartet, joining on the recommendation of bassist Phil Bates. Though no albums were released, concert footage from Canterbury's Marlow Theatre (BBC, 1985) and Belfast's  Grand Opera House (BBC, 1986) is available. Scottish guitarist Martin Taylor also featured in the band and in 1986 he released 'Acoustic Guitar Duets', also known as 'Super Session' with Louis on Livia Records. In 1989 Louis released his first album with saxophonist Spike Robinson, 'Three For The Road', which was also his first appearance on CD. Two more albums would follow: 'A Real Corker' featured the legendary U.S. bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Martin Drew, and was recorded as a limited edition CD for the 1994 Cork Jazz Festival, and Spike Robinson's 'The CTS Session'  features Louis on four tracks, alongside bassist Bill Crow who he had worked with at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival the previous week. (Louis was in London recording with Laurie Johnson's London Big Band at CTS when he was invited to appear as a guest on the album in 1998.)


"As a true jazz-guitarist he's played an important role in the instrument's evolution, especially in Europe."

– Pat Martino


"Louis Stewart is the cleanest guitarist since Johnny Smith."

– Russell Malone


    In the nineties Louis recorded several albums with European musicians, including Heiner Franz in Germany and Knut Mikalsen in Norway. In 1993 Franz produced 'The European Jazz Guitar Orchestra' which saw Louis in a guitar quintet with Doug Raney. Eight of the album's fourteen tracks are arranged by Louis. He also continued his work with George Shearing when Shearing returned to his classic quintet sound with vibraphone and guitar, first on 'How Beautiful Is Night' with the Robert Farnon Orchestra, recorded in 1992, with vibraphonist Frank Ricotti, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Allan Ganley. The New George Shearing Quintet released 'That Shearing Sound' in 1994, featuring Louis with vibraphonist Steve Nelson, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Dennis Mackrel. Louis toured with band after the album's release, performing at the Hollywood Bowl and Chicago's Orchestral, and would later name 'That Shearing Sound' as his favourite of the seven Shearing albums he features on, for the closeness of "the ensemble blend". He also recorded with Shearing in trio with Neil Swainson and, for an all-star Christmas album, in quartet with Allan Ganley. Grammy winning John Snyder, founder of the Artists House label and known for his association with Jim Hall, produced several sessions featuring Louis, including three with Shearing. He was also producing Dave Brubeck at the time of the recording of 'Paper Moon' and Brubeck sat in on some of the session.


"Louis was something else. He had all that Jim Hall and Ed Bickert had but he had more. He had amazing technique as well as great musicality. One of those players you could listen to all day.  Working with Louis was like peeking through a slightly opened window of an artist's studio, careful not to be discovered lest we disturb the master at work."

John Snyder, Grammy winning producer, founder of the Artists House label


    Though by the late seventies he was firmly established as one of the world's great jazz soloists, Louis' first love was always rhythm guitar. Freddie Green was his first major influence and he would later name Barry Galbraith, George Van Eps and Don Arnone as lifelong favourites. The second half of Louis' career presented him with more opportunities to perform and record in a rhythm guitar role, through Laurie Johnson's London Big Band, with which he recorded two albums, and his continued work with Robert Farnon. Closer to home he performed in the big band of Irish singer Sean Hession, led by Dave Gold, and he appeared as a guest on Nigel Mooney's 'The Bohemian Mooney' in 2013.


    Louis visited New York many times to perform and record—two George Shearing album were recorded there, at The Power Station and Sony Music Studios. His 1981 appearance with Bobby Rosengarden was reviewed by John S. Wilson of the New York Times who wrote:


'[Louis] spins out single-note lines that flow with an unhurried grace, colored by sudden bright, lively chorded phrases. His up-tempo virtuosity is balanced by a laid-back approach to ballads, which catches the mood of the piece without sacrificing the rhythmic emphasis that keeps it moving.'

– John S. Wilson, New York Times


    New York appearances with the George Shearing Trio included a week at the Blue Note in 1994, opposite Tommy Flanagan's trio which featured bassist Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. The relationship forged during that week led to a weekend of performances at Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, with Washington and Nash joined by Irish pianist Myles Drennan. Louis would later hire Peter Washington for his week-long engagement as a leader at the Village Vanguard in 2001, along with pianist Richard Wyands and drummer Kenny Washington, and featured him in a duo performance at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, in 2007.


    It's fitting that Louis' final recording, 'Tunes', was made in Dublin in duo with his oldest collaborator, Jim Doherty, who brought Louis to Montreux in 1968 and Hollywood, California, in 1986 for the recording of 'Jim Doherty's Spondance', on which they appeared in an all-star octet with west coast musicians, including Bobby Shew. 'Tunes' was recorded and released in 2013 and Louis and Jim Doherty performed regularly at Dublin's JJ Smyth's in 2013 and 2014.


    Louis Stewart was diagnosed with cancer in late 2015. He died nine months later, on the 20th of August, 2016. On the night of his death, Irish President Michael D. Higgins issued an official statement describing him as:


' outstanding musician and an iconic figure in the world of jazz in Ireland.'

– Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland


    President Higgins also referred to Louis' many disciples, 'those he encouraged and who, in a life devoted to music, he invited to join him in making music', and his office announced that he would attend Louis' funeral. His death was reported by RTÉ on national television news in Ireland.


"A musical giant. A great loss."

– Herbie Hancock


 "Louis Stewart was one of the greatest to play jazz on the guitar."

– Peter Bernstein