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Louis Stewart's Out On His Own: A Landmark Solo Guitar Recording

Louis Stewart's Out On His Own: A Landmark Solo Guitar Recording

Courtesy Roy Esmonde

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In my book he's one of the world's great jazz guitarists.
—Ronnie Scott
Dublin's finest export? Not Guinness, but Irish jazz guitarist Louis Stewart (January 5, 1944—August 20, 2016). A guitarist of tremendous skill, invention and personality, Stewart was certainly the first world-class jazz musician to emerge from Ireland and make a name on the international stage.

During a fifty-plus-year career, Stewart played with Benny Goodman, Lee Konitz, Clark Terry, Tubby Hayes, Joe Williams, J.J. Johnson, George Shearing, James Moody and fellow six-string maestro Martin Taylor. Not bad for a lad from The Dub.

Stewart also recorded over two dozen albums as a leader. The third of these, the solo outing Out On His Own was released on Gerald Davis' Livia Records in 1977. Firmly rooted in the straight-ahead tradition, Stewart shows his mastery on time-honored jazz standards as well as compositions by Chick Corea, Steve Swallow and Charles Lloyd. Of special note is a haunting interpretation of the traditional Irish tune "She Moved Through The Fair." Stewart also provides rhythmic tracks on several tunes. Long out of print, Out On His Own has gained a new lease of life thanks to the efforts of Dermot Rogers who has reactivated the Livia label. The remastered CD, and 180-gram vinyl, restate the case for Stewart's Out On His Own as arguably one of the finest solo recordings in modern jazz history.

Well, nobody ever had a bad word to say about it anyway.

Of course, you do not have to take our word for it. Below, some of contemporary jazz's finest guitarists share their thoughts and feelings on Louis Stewart's landmark recording. In return, All About Jazz recommends an album by each. Feel free to add your own reactions to Louis Stewart's Out On His Own in the comments section below.


James Sherlock

What a gift to have this document of guitar artistry from Louis Stewart. As a fellow guitarist, it is exciting and inspiring for me to hear the instrument played at such a high level, although the instrumental virtuosity on display is always at the service of Louis' musicality and artistic expression. His lines sing with melody regardless of tempo, and his sophisticated harmonic language adds colour and surprising twists to the mostly standard repertoire on the album.

Without a doubt, Louis Stewart deserves to be a more well-known and well-studied jazz figure and Out On His Own will be on my study list for years to come.

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Mary Halvorson

I regret not discovering Louis Stewart earlier. He was a complete virtuoso, and this solo record showcases his unique combination of intensity, beauty and effortlessness. There are aspects of his playing which remind me of two of my heroes: Jim Hall and Johnny Smith. Yet he does his own thing. Check out the ridiculous chordal concept on "I'll Remember April" and the spacious expressiveness of "What's New."

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Kurt Rosenwinkel

Louis Stewart, what a great find! I wasn't hip to him and now I have a new inspiration. Such a big warm tone, that familiar and friendly classic jazz guitar tone. Reminds me of sitting in with Jimmy Bruno in Philly when I was a teenager. Rhythmically he's buoyant and fresh, the articulation and syncopation of his guitar groove in the pocket and the sound is intimate and evocative, like you're sitting right there in front of the amp.

There are some [George] Benson and Wes [Montgomery] vibes, Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow, hints of Bud Powell and Bird. Classic takes on classic tunes and some interesting repertoire choices, great material for any guitarist interested in the craft, but more importantly a genuinely enjoyable listening experience. Thanks for bringing this artist and album to wider recognition. It's well worth the time and attention.

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Camila Meza

Louis Stewart's playing was a faithful continuation of jazz guitar's tradition at the level of all the greats. His lines, rooted in bebop language, are lyrical, impressively virtuosic, and fiery without the detriment of precision and clarity. I like how there's a combination of himself doubling on harmony on certain tracks where he expands on his melodic ideas, allowing us to hear him in his full potential as a great accompanist and a consummate improviser.

I personally loved hearing his solo takes in ballads like "Lazy Afternoon" or "I'm Old Fashioned." He had a great balance of leading with highly inventive melodic content and filling up the harmonic space with beautiful movement that makes you want to hear him play for hours. Playing solo guitar is not an easy task and we can hear Stewart's mastery of the instrument throughout the album.

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Eugene Pao

I'm sorry to say that I only know of Louis Stewart a little bit from Martin Taylor, but aside from that, this album is really my first time hearing his playing. And I loved what I heard! He has a wonderful tone from his Gibson, Super 400 I think? I really enjoyed his solo unaccompanied guitar tracks. I must also say that the recording sound is excellent—they did a great job remastering this recording from the '70s.

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Chris Guilfoyle

It's been more than 10 years since I have listened to Out On His Own and in some ways I feel like I am listening to it again for the first time. I am hearing it with 10 years more experience and there are things that I notice now that I did not notice back then. It is still an absolute knockout record that shows that Louis was at a world class level and the first Irish jazz musician to reach that level.

But for me, this time around, what really sticks out is the comping on this recording. There is so much variety in how he comps, where he could have just played some quite basic patterns as a bed for the fantastic soloing, he keeps it extremely varied and it's super engaging to listen to. There is much talk about Louis' soloing, and deservedly so, but I think his chordal skills should be talked about in the same vein.

Give the record a listen two times over and pay attention to his immaculate soloing the first time around and then his intricate, masterful chordal work the second time around. It's a journey in itself.

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Loke Risberg

Out On His Own by Louis Stewart is an amazing album. I am always prejudice towards solo instrument or vocal albums and performances in general due to a very personal issue —a fear of getting bored with the unvaried sound. But when I started listening to this album, I completely forgot what it was I was listening to and just became fully absorbed by the music I was hearing.

There is an incredible intensity in his playing. It's virtuosic in that sense where you get the feeling he's just bouncing around having fun. Incredible phrasing, interpretation, dynamics, variation, groove—all of that you could wish for when you listen to a performance.

I've never heard someone do a solo jazz guitar arrangement of a traditional Irish folk tune before, like he does here with "She Moved Through the Fair." If I had to pick a highlight of the album, I think I would pick that track because it is absolutely stunningly beautiful.

I've listened to the album over and over, coming to the conclusion that it's one of the most powerful solo jazz albums I have heard. Everything is there, every phrase is interesting. He welcomes the listener into his own world and shows you how very beautiful it is.

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Eleonora Strino

I find that this album by Louis Stewart can be counted among the milestones of jazz guitar. Mr. Stewart is a master in all the essential aspects that a musician should possess: timing, beautiful tone, phrasing, taste, and excellent comping. An eclectic and refined album, it felt like I was in the Musée d'Orsay, admiring the extraordinary impressionist works that change with the colors of the sky and internal emotions.

The bebop language is obviously rooted in him, but we also find many elements of the modern language: open string chords, as in his sensational solo guitar version of "Lazy Afternoon." Or the arrangement of "General Mojo's Well Laid Plan," which, especially at the beginning, may foreshadow the styles of Bill Frisell or Julian Lage.

I sense in him all the great masters: Barney Kessel, with his quartal chords and the use of third harmonization found in "Darn That Dream"; Joe Pass, very clear in the harmonization of ballads, as in his masterful version of "I'm Old Fashioned," or the way of accompanying in fours, reminiscent of Jim Hall, found in "Invitation," a piece where the influence of his contemporary Pat Martino is also evident. I love the way both of them pick all the notes.

It's an album that surprises me a lot for the choice of songs: we can listen to some beautiful jazz tradition songs, some great classics, but also pieces by modern composers like Chick Corea, Charles Lloyd, Steve Swallow. He reharmonizes these songs with great personality and skill.

There are some examples of absolute virtuosity, as in the splendid version of "I'll Remember April," harmonized entirely in block chords. A great sense of melody and sophistication, as we can hear in tracks like "Spring is Here" or "She Moved Through The Fair," where the latter also features the use of counterpoint.

Certainly, what sets him apart is a great sense of rhythm that overwhelms us from the first notes of "Blue Bossa," the first track of the album. We are immediately struck by his incredible comping.

I find the choice of the first two tracks strange: starting with "Blue Bossa" and following it with "Windows" was unexpected! But it's absolutely magnificent.

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Ant Law

I just stopped half-way through "General Mojo's Well Laid Plan" because something really leapt out at me. Louis is doing a strumming rhythm that so strongly reminds me of a traditional Celtic bodhran pattern. I can't help but wonder of that is a bit of the Irish traditional influence coming through, not that it is very prevalent in his work in general. It is a beautiful tune, and his interpretation is lovely.

A close second for me is "Forest Flower," an infrequently played standard, so really nice to hear him play that one. Beautiful! Also, "Spring is Here"—I prefer the main take to the alternative take where there's a really beautiful, country-motion voice leading thing he does,

On the whole, I think we've got Louis in really, really fine technical form here. His lines, ideas and expression are so clear. There's a lot of Joe Pass coming through ... a lot of Jim Hall, especially in the strumming, and certainly Grant Green. Also, the brightness of his sound... Louis' sound is a lot brighter than Pat Martino or Pat Metheny and that brightness, that he's not afraid of, reminds me very much of Grant Green.

He's in fine form. Technically proficient at very, very bright tempos, as we hear on "Blue Bossa." I really enjoyed this.

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Sheryl Bailey

I have often heard of Louis Stewart referred to as "the Irish Joe Pass," but the truth is "the Irish Louis Stewart," as he stands out as his own voice on the instrument without any qualifiers, with mastery of song forms, a driving time feel, swinging phrasing, harmonic hipness, a warm bright tone, and lots of chops to spare.

The joy of improvisation and love of the jazz repertoire, the melodies, the syncopations, the dynamics are felt in every note he plays. Out On His Own should be required listening for all lovers of great guitar playing and jazz improvisation.

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