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Fifty-year record dream becomes a reality for cream of Irish jazz

Back in 1960 the buzz was this: telly is coming to Ireland. Comedian Jack Cruise said, "Wait till Radio Eireann gets TV, we'll be able to see them putting the records on."

I was aged 20, working in a bank and doing gigs on the side. They're going to need a lot of music when TV comes, I reckoned. I could play a bit, but needed to learn to write. That meant saving up to go to London, there being nowhere here to study. So I jacked in the bank and joined a showband; £25 a week, wha'?

After a week, the showband's guitarist departed and I was asked to oversee auditions for a replacement. Hundreds of Elvis and Buddy Holly lookalikes turned up at the Four Provinces ballroom.

After the 20th excruciating version of That'll be the Day, a tall, thin kid aged 16 with a guitar and a cardboard amplifier asked if I knew any Benny Goodman tunes. We played Seven Come Eleven for 20 minutes and sent the other guys home. I had met Louis Stewart.

Fewer than 10 years later Louis had toured Europe as a member of Benny Goodman's band. Three times.

They speak of the 'dreadful Sixties. We had a ball. We never stopped working. We played six nights a week, did TV, wrote jingles, signature tunes and produced records for showbands. One week in 1969 Louis and I featured on seven records out of Ireland's Top Ten. We played in jazz festivals in Berlin and in Montreux, where Louis won the prize for best soloist.

After that we lost him for a while. He married Betty and they moved to London. There, he played with the best, first with the legendary saxman Tubby Hayes and later in Ronnie Scott's band. After a while the US beckoned, and Louis became a frequent visitor, but he never put down roots there. With Betty and the kids back in Dublin, his roots were here.

Louis made a bunch of records with my boyhood hero George Shearing and 10 more with the greatest orchestrator of them all, Robert Farnon.

In recent years jazz music has become marginalised. "Popular music," said Bing Crosby, "is one of the few things in the 20th Century that has made giant steps in reverse." Just as well he didn't live to see what the lunatics have done to the asylum. I watched Glaoch on RTE recently. They should have called it Three Chords in the Aras. Where was Celine Byrne? Or John O'Conor? Or Louis Stewart, for God's sake? When it comes to music, they can't tell money from talent.

About 50 years ago Louis and I agreed that one day we'd make a record. Just us two, playing the standard repertoire, first takes only. With the help of Daire Winston from Beechpark Records, we have finally got around to it. You don't want to rush things. It's called Tunes, is released next week, or is downloadable from www.louisstewartjimdoherty.bandcamp.com – if you do that kind of thing.

What's not to like about a lad who doesn't drive, has no computer and no mobile phone? He probably has no worries as a consequence.

Still and all, Trinity College made him Doctor of Music and Aosdana has clasped him to its bosom. And why not? He's the best.

Irish Independent