Livia Records lives again for love of Louis

Written by | New Releases, News

Dublin-based Livia Records continues its programme of reissues of the Irish guitar virtuoso Louis Stewart’s albums by making his debut recording, Louis the First, available from March 5th.

Recorded in 1975, when the Waterford-born Stewart was gaining international recognition and beginning to attract admirers including fellow guitarists Joe Pass, Jim Hall, Barney Kessel and Pat Martino, Louis the First was released the following year.

“Louis had recently joined Ronnie Scott’s quartet in London at the time, having already toured with Benny Goodman and Tubby Hayes,” says Dermot Rogers, a long-time Stewart fan who has reactivated Livia Records, the label originally formed to release Stewart’s classic 1977 solo album, Out on His Own.

“He was making trips back to Dublin to see his young family and to play to packed houses at the legendary Baggot Inn between stints at Ronnie’s, where he had the opportunity to play with luminaries including Stan Getz, Blossom Dearie, Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans.”

Born in 1944, Stewart began playing professionally in Irish dancehall showbands although his real goal soon became to play jazz. The Dublin pianist Jim Doherty auditioned the then sixteen-year-old for a showband gig in 1960 and they became lifelong friends, going on to represent Ireland together in Doherty’s quartet at the second Montreux Jazz Festival in 1968. Stewart was awarded the Outstanding European Soloist gong at the festival and later in 1968 he joined Tubby Hayes, revelling in the challenge of playing Hayes’ fast tempi.

He went on to tour and record with Benny Goodman and toured extensively with George Shearing as well as playing with Dizzy Gillespie and forming partnerships with bassists Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Peter Ind and guitarist Martin Taylor.

“When Louis recorded Louis the First, Jim Doherty says he was ‘on fire’ – and you can hear that on the opening track, All the Things You Are,” says Dermot Rogers.

The album was originally released on Hawk Records, a local showband label in Dublin, and produced by Gerald Davis, a Dublin painter, arts polymath, creative entrepreneur, and friend of Stewart. Pleased with the results, Davis decided to form his own company, Livia Records, in order to release Stewart’s next album, Out on His Own. He took the company’s name from Anna Livia Plurabelle, a character from Irish author James Joyce’s novel, Finnegans Wake.

In addition to Out on His Own, Livia Records released a number of other Stewart albums, including Super Session with Martin Taylor, and when Dermot Rogers began his reactivation project in 2021 he discovered other, unreleased recordings in the company’s vaults. These included Some Other Blues, a duo album featuring Stewart with pianist Noel Kelehan, which following the reissue of Out on His Own, became the second release in the new era of Livia Records in 2023.

“Louis appeared on over seventy albums, twenty as a leader,” says Rogers, who has a schedule of reissues and previously unreleased recordings planned. “His last studio recording, Tunes, was a 2013 duo session with his old friend Jim Doherty, the pianist who gave Louis his first job and was a driving force for Louis the First.”

Stewart died in 2016, aged seventy-two, and Rogers, who attended as many Stewart gigs in Dublin as he could, is determined to keep his legacy alive, although Stewart’s reputation, particularly among those who saw him play, remains strong.

“Louis inspired generations of guitarists, and he enjoyed the regard of many of the great musicians whom he had so carefully studied, including Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow, Jim Hall and Pat Martino,” says Rogers. “He continues to be revered by contemporary musicians today. The fire burns bright.”

Last modified: February 23, 2024