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Dublin: Jazz Guitar with an Irish Touch



A rich history of folk music, jigs, and fiddle tunes, but jazz also has been a part of Ireland’s culture.

Luscious green pastures, majestic cliff coasts, delicious bangers and mash, and full-bodied dark brewed beer all come to mind when one thinks of Ireland. It also has a rich history of folk music, jigs, and fiddle tunes, but jazz also has been a part of Ireland’s culture. In the 1960s and 70s, the jazz scene really grew.  Like most places in the world, there are now fewer jazz clubs but in the cities of Dublin and Cork there are somewhat active scenes, especially in the last couple of years.

In the early twentieth century, a dancehall was opened on Dawson Street in Dublin. Jazz was thought of as a danceable style with accompanying bands.  In the 1940s people of the day wanted to dance as they could in London.  Grafton Street was not only a fashionable residential street, it was also a place where jazz could be heard, and amplified volume had bragging rights as in Fry’s Cafe. Jazz took on greater popularity in the late 1950s and 60s with the rise of the great Irish jazz guitarist Louis Stewart.

As Irish bassist and jazz historian Ronan Guilfoyle writes, “Jazz had a slow start in Ireland – there were jazz-influenced jazz bands in the 40s and 50s, but the first real jazz musicians began to appear at the end of the 50s and into the 60s with players such as the pianist Noel Kelehan and the drummer John Wadham, both of whom were world-class. There were other players around the scene who were good also, but the real breakthrough came with the appearance of Louis Stewart, the great guitarist who was the first domiciled Irish musician to get international attention.”

Louis Stewart was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1944 but grew up in Dublin.

Stewart began playing the guitar at age thirteen having heard recordings by Les Paul and Barney Kessel.  At first, he played in Dublin showbands, then later worked with the legendary American bandleader Benny Goodman for three years.  By age twenty, he found fluency in bebop and a passion for jazz.  

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A musical highpoint was when Louis was in a powerhouse trio with British jazz pianist George Shearing and bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen.  In the early 1980s, the New York Times said “Mr. Stewart seems to have his musical roots in bebop. He leans toward material associated with Charlie Parker and he 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.”  In addition to world tours, Louis Stewart would hold a residency at several clubs in Dublin and recorded many albums as a leader. Louis also played with Stan Getz.  Stewart died in Dublin in 2016.

John Moriarty is an accomplished jazz guitarist in Dublin who is also an expert luthier.  

Self-taught, John learned his musical dialog from the recordings of Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, Kenny Burrell, and Jim Hall.  In the mid-1990s, John attended the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and began drawing guitar designs that were structurally leaner than the big-box archtops.  He began building guitars and soon he had enough commissions to keep him pleasingly busy. In recent years he has decreased guitar building to devote more time to playing guitar.

John Moriarty

Watching Joe Pass play solo guitar on television drew Hugh Buckley into jazz guitar. Later Hugh would immerse himself in Joe Pass’ Virtuoso album and learned from attending Louis Stewart’s club dates around Dublin. Hugh later worked regularly with Louis as a duet and with Louis’ Five Guitar Group.  Hugh has also played throughout Europe, Argentina, and China. Two of his CDs were recorded in New York and he has performed with American guitarists Larry Coryell, Peter Bernstein, and John Stowell.  Hugh and Irish guitarist Dave Whyte can regularly be seen playing duets. Hugh is actively playing all over Ireland and teaching in the Dublin area.

Hugh Buckley

Tommy Halferty was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, and in the late 1970s studied with Louis Stewart in Dublin. In the 1980’s Tommy formed a trio with John Wadham (drums) and Ronan Guilfoyle (bass) which was one of the most successful groups in Ireland during this period.  Tommy has joined forces with bassist George Mraz, saxophonists Lee Konitz, Benny Golson, and Dave Liebman.  At different times he has played duets with John Abercrombie, John Etheridge, and Mike Nielsen.  Tommy regularly tours Europe.  In the mid-1990s, he recorded two albums with drummer Keith Copeland’s trio.

Comfortable in many musical settings, Jimmy Smyth keeps himself busy playing and teaching around the Dublin area.

Making a name for himself in the early 1980s with the band The Bogey Boys.  The Bogey Boys performed at the Cork Opera House where a new up-and-coming band called U-2 was their opening act. Jimmy’s musical chops are so proficient that in some Dublin recording session, the great Louis Stewart voluntarily “stepped aside” to the second guitar chair allowing Jimmy to play the first guitar’s music.  Jimmy has served as music director and toured in Van Morrison’s band. He has also performed with the Who’s Roger Daltrey, Curtis Stigers, Chaka Khan, and Reba McEntire. Jimmy is also the first call when the symphony in Dublin has a guitar part.  Now Jimmy devotes himself to performing jazz and other styles in and around Dublin.

Originally from Settefrati, Italy, guitarist and composer Julien Colarossi, was born in 1988 and graduated from Newpark Music Centre in Dublin. Julien has established himself as one of the busiest guitarists in Dublin’s jazz/contemporary music scene. He and guitarist John Keogh also have one of Dublin’s are recently popular with their acoustic guitar duets.

Live jazz in Dublin can be regularly heard at The International Bar on Wicklow Street, at Madigan’s Pub on Leeson Street, and at Arthur’s Jazz and Blues Pub on Thomas Street.  Also, on Leeson street, The Sugar Club hosts larger acts when they come through town. Irish listeners are often engaged, responsive, and appreciative of their jazz music.

Ireland is rich with world-class jazz festivals. Beginning in 1978 the city of Cork and Guinness Brewery hosts the largest festival each Fall.  Other festivals can be found in Derry, Sligo, Limerick, and Galway.  For the Gypsy Jazz music fan, the Donegal area hosts a festival every year celebrating the music of Django Reinhardt.  

Dublin City University has a great jazz program where the student can emphasize guitar. The guitar can also be studied at BIMM Institute Dublin and the New Park Music Centre in Dublin.

This article was written with research assistance from Hugh Buckley, John Moriarty, and Kathy Parker.

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