Let me say at the start that I didn’t understand what Louis Stewart did but that’s not his fault. That’s because, when it comes to jazz, I’m an uneducated clod.
On the other hand, if you asked me what I thought of Louis Stewart, I’d have to say that I found his art staggering, even though it didn’t speak to me. You don’t have to be an educated clod to realise that you’re in the presence of greatness as I was many years ago when I found myself in a little room in Cork’s Metropole Hotel during the jazz festival. I somehow managed to be right up at the front as Louis and the band ran through their set, and if I remember correctly, there was another great guitarist on stage that night with an identical moustache.
They kept winking at each other.
Two Louis Stewarts for the price of one.
(Let me just give credit to Louis in passing for continuing to wear that facial hair unflinchingly through the ups and downs of the moustache. A lesser man would have shaved it off).
I know full well what a wonderful musician Louis Stewart was and it seems deeply unfair that such a gift should die with the man. It’s illogical I realise, but the unthinking part of me asks why this gift, this knowledge, couldn’t somehow have been transferred to another person instead of simply evaporating with the man. I suppose that’s the essential tragedy of existence, though at least it has an upside. When I’m gone, nobody will have to read this kind of nonsense any more.
But let me return to the Metropole for a moment, snuggled up at the front of the gig with Louis, his moustache-wearing doppelganger and an appreciative audience of men in light v-necked pullovers with white polos under them. Aficionados of sympathy and knowledge, the Spanish might call them, if the Spanish spoke English and if jazz happened to be bullfighting, which it wasn’t, last time I checked.
I could tell the audience appreciated what Louis was doing because every time he played something clever they all clapped and looked around to make sure everyone else noticed they were clapping and frowning. Naturally, I clapped and looked around me too because you wouldn’t want to feel left out but the truth is, I didn’t know why they were clapping, being an uneducated clod. So I just frowned and nodded like everyone else.
When you see a dog walking a tightrope, you are truly astonished, as you should be. Dogs are not meant to walk tightropes and for that matter, neither are men, but we still stand agog when we see them doing it because we are so staggered by the virtuosity of it.
That’s how I felt about Louis Stewart’s performance that night. It was amazing but how long did I have to stay here? Like watching the dog on the tightrope I’ve seen it now so let’s move on.
I was staggered by Louis Stewart’s virtuosity when I saw it close up but, as the saying goes, I wouldn’t eat a whole one, even though I had no other choice in the Metropole since I had a seat right at the front. It would have been bad form to stand up and thread my way among these men with their v-necked pullovers and their polo-necks.
What would I say to them as I eased my way past?
Sorry but I just don’t get it. Thanks. Excuse me. Sorry but I just don’t get it. Thanks. Excuse me. Sorry but I just don’t get it. Thanks. Excuse me. Sorry …
It was easier to stay up there at the front and admire the endless virtuosity of his playing even though I had not the slightest understanding of what Louis was doing, because I was an uneducated clod.
I’m still an uneducated clod, of course. I’m not a musician. I still don’t understand what Louis Stewart’s art was about but that doesn’t mean I’m not astonished by it. Who could fail to be astonished by that man’s gift? Any fool, even an uneducated clod such as myself, can see that he was a stellar musician and an irrecoverable loss to the worldwide brotherhood.
Louis Stewart will not be replaced. I know this, even if I don’t know what it means. (Being an uneducated clod).