Review of Lou’s 90th Birthday Performance at Dizzy’s in NYC

Posted in REVIEWS


Sweet Lou at 90, Jane Bunnett and Maqueque

Ron Scott | 11/10/2016, 11:24 a.m.

No one swings harder than Lou Donaldson on the alto saxophone, as he demonstrated last week celebrating his 90th birthday ...

Lou Donaldson Contributed

No one swings harder than Lou Donaldson on the alto saxophone, as he demonstrated last week celebrating his 90th birthday at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola. As usual, his smooth performance required multiple standing ovations, including one as he took the stage.

Donaldson was accompanied by his longtime intuitive forces: organist Akiko Tsuruga, guitarist Eric Johnson and drummer Fukushi Tainaka.

The opening tune “Blues Walk,” a blues funk base, exploded high in the stratosphere as the organist laid down a rolling medley that intersected with Johnson taking his guitar rhythms high, and Tainaka’s sticks came as blazing thunder.

After the tune Donaldson stated, “I hope it sounded all right. I couldn’t make a sound check because I had to go play my number.”

Donaldson, dressed in his signature dark suit and tie, has a knack for telling jokes, offering inside tidbits on such cats as Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker and introducing his songs with a humorous flair.

“This next song is real fast and freaky but not that freaky,” said Donaldson with a laugh. “It is not recommended for rappers. It swings too hard. It is called ‘Fine and Dandy.’” This tune was followed by his gravelly voice on his repertoire staple, “Whiskey Drinking Woman,” with his own improvised verses. He noted, “This is suffering music from down home in North Carolina. If you never suffered, you can’t understand this music.”

Donaldson’s nickname “Sweet Papa Lou” refers to the sweet sound his horn makes, particularly on ballads, as was witnessed on “What a Wonderful World.” His repertoire ran from straight-ahead to bebop to his favorite blues enhanced with riveting funky soul rhythms.

With his sweet tone, Donaldson quickly became a first call for musicians such as Milt Jackson and Thelonious Monk. In the early 1950s, he was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers while still in his 20s. His reputation soared as a bandleader and composer when he signed with Blue Note Records in 1952 and recorded “New Faces New Sounds,” which featured Clifford Brown, Elmo Hope, Percy Heath and “Philly” Joe Jones.

He recorded with Blue Note until the 1980s (recording more than 50 albums) turning out such classic albums as “Alligator Boogaloo” (1968), the timeless hit that is a mainstay in his repertoire; “Good Gracious!” (1963); which has one of the most memorable covers ever photographed for the record label; “Lou Takes Off” (1957), with Curtis Fuller and Donald Byrd; and the live recordings of “A Night at Birdland” (Vols. 1-3, 1954), with Art Blakey Quintet.

Donaldson’s love affair with organs has continued since recording more than 10 Blue Note albums with Jimmy Smith, his recordings and tours with Jack McDuff and his on-going relationship with Dr. Lonnie Smith.

“I met Lou in Harlem at Showman’s in 2007,” said his organist Tsuruga. “His band members at that time, drummer Tainaka and Dr. Lonnie Smith, were my mentors. I have been playing with Lou for the last seven years, it has been so great and Lou is the best.”

Tainaka has been playing for Donaldson for 30 years.

“Lou was 59 when we met in Harlem at Sutton’s on 145th Street,” said Tainaka. “Dr. Lonnie Smith was his organist then. The gigs were three nights per week and guys like George Benson and Jimmy Ponder often jammed with us. This is a very special night.”

The guitarist Eric Johnson met Donaldson while he was still in high school in Pittsburg. “I had the opportunity to travel with him and Jack McDuff that was my beginning as a jazz musician,” said Johnson.

The NEA Jazz Master’s birthday brought his family from all points, including his daughter Dr. Carol Webster from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., his grandson from Chicago and his cousins from Philadelphia.

His friend, vocalist George V. Johnson from Washington, D.C., joined Donaldson onstage for an engrossing version of Monk’s “Now Is the Time.”

The evening’s host was his good friend and jazz “professor” Phil Schapp.

Donaldson is one of the great alto saxophonists in jazz. “No fusion, no confusion just great music from Sweet

Pappa Lou,” said Schapp.

(Link to full article: )

Live At The Village Vanguard

Posted in REVIEWS

NPR Music

Special Series

Lou Donaldson Quartet.

John Rogers for NPR/

Lou Donaldson Quartet

Live At The Village Vanguard

 (Click Link to Show ideo)

November 03, 2010 2:43 AM ET

By the time he started his latest weeklong run at the Village Vanguard, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson was 84. He’d been based in New York for 60-odd years, during which time he became a jazz legend — the kind who made albums that are still remembered today, who recorded lines memorable enough to be sampled years later, who toured the country’s back rooms back when a jazz musician could post up for two weeks at a time in, say, Dayton, Ohio. It bred in him a style that was solid, soulful and swinging, with a charismatically salty wit to match. It hasn’t broke, and he hasn’t felt the need to fix it.

When “Sweet Poppa Lou” descended into the basement and ascended to the stage, there were the japes, the blues singing, the exemplary straight-ahead jazz he’s pursued for decades. (“No fusion, no con-fusion,” he said — twice.) WBGO and NPR Music will be there to broadcast and webcast the first Nov. 3 set live; it will also be recorded and archived online on this page.

Since recording with organist Jimmy Smith in the late 1950s, Donaldson has often worked with a rhythm section of Hammond B-3 organ, guitar and drums. That instrumentation allows him to dish on funky, danceable grooves; not coincidentally, it was responsible for some of his most famous appearances on record. He reprised some of those greatest hits — “Blues Walk,” “Alligator Bogaloo” — and called some favorites from the bebop and hard bop eras. He even sang some blues: his trademark “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman,” with many embellishments by way of prologue. With him at the Vanguard was his current working band: Pat Bianchi on organ, Randy Johnston on guitar and Fukushi Tainaka on drums.

Donaldson grew up in North Carolina. While playing in military and dance bands, he became enamored of Charlie Parker, then the modern trend in jazz. When he moved to New York to make it as a musician, he found his way into the community and, after a few years, was invited to record for Blue Note Records. He made some of his most celebrated albums for the label, and also recorded there as a sideman with Milt Jackson, Art Blakey and Jimmy Smith.

Though not as often as when he booked his own tours on the 1960s chitlin circuit, Donaldson still occasionally travels the world for gigs. He’s also still based in New York City, which makes it convenient for him to play weeklong runs at the Village Vanguard. Of late, he’s done so about twice a year.

Set List
  • “Blues Walk” (Donaldson)
  • “Wee” (D. Best)
  • “What A Wonderful World” (Thiele/Weiss)
  • “Fast And Freaky” (Donaldson)
  • “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman” (Donaldson)
  • “Alligator Bogaloo” (Donaldson)
  • “Bye Bye Blackbird” (Henderson/Dixon)
  • “Cherokee” (Noble)
  • Lou Donaldson, alto saxophone/vocals
  • Pat Bianchi, organ
  • Randy Johnston, guitar
  • Fukushi Tainaka, drums
  • Josh Jackson, producer and host
  • David Tallacksen, mix engineer
  • Michael Downes, production assistant
  • Lara Pellegrinelli, moderator

Jazz Legend Lou Donaldson Moves A Little Slower, But Plays As Hard And Fast As Ever | Capital New York

Posted in REVIEWS

Lou Donaldson plays Jazz Standard this weekend. (Matthew Kassel)

“Tonight we’re playin’ straight-ahead jazz,” the alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson declared last evening, during his first set at Jazz Standard. “No fusion, no confusion,” he added, a hip, knowing tone in his voice.

Donaldson announces this at every one of his shows, as far as I know. Yet it never sounds canned, which is especially impressive because at the age of 85, Donaldson has been saying it to audiences for decades now. Though he now moves slowly, his mind is still agile, and his performances are punctuated with bursts of his old-fashioned sense of humor, which, combined with the soulful music he blows through his horn, make them a delight. Much like Louis Armstrong, Donaldson knows how to be an artist and an entertainer at the same time; he belongs on the stage.

And that’s where you’ll find him through Sunday: at Jazz Standard, performing with his quartet, which on Thursday included Eric Johnson on guitar (filling in for Randy Johnston), Pat Bianchi on Hammond organ, and Vincent Ector on drums.

Last night’s show was not all that well-attended, and it felt like an injustice. Donaldson was, last month, named a “Jazz Master“—along with Mose Allison, Eddie Palmieri and Lorraine Gordon—by the National Endowment for the Arts. It is considered the nation’s highest honor in jazz, and Donaldson deserves it.

In 1953, Donaldson played in several sessions for Blue Note with the trumpeter Clifford Brown that some believe to be the first hard-bop recordings. (The album released from those sessions is now called Memorial Album.) Later that decade, he put out a string of very good post-bop recordings—with piano, bass, drums, and congas. Most notable of those is Blues Walk, whose title track he used to open Thursday’s set.

Around that time, too, Donaldson was playing organ jazz, appearing on albums with Jimmy Smith, the best of which might be The Sermon, the title track of which runs just over 20 minutes, propelled by Art Blakey’s epic shuffle beat. In the late ’60s, expanding on the gutbucket qualities of Jimmy Smith’s music, Donaldson found some popular and financial success with his soul-jazz album Alligator Boogaloo, which drew heavily from rhythm-and-blues and funk.

 Some might look down on the direction Donaldson took next, when, in the late ’60s and much of the ’70s, he followed the success of Alligator Boogaloo with a series of mainstream-inflected recordings. For about 10 albums he dabbled in funk and disco, covering songs by James Brown, the Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield. The music didn’t always sound like jazz, but in Donaldson’s soloing, you heard a musician who had spent his career invested in the blues and the jazz ethic of improvisation. You still hear that. Donaldson has always been, at his core, a solid hard-bop musician.

That’s why the music he made during this time doesn’t feel disingenuous. It grooves. And to me, it just represents his desire to please the crowd, although he was following the money, too. (And it paid off, literally: In the last couple of decades, Donaldson has enjoyed a heap of financial success as singers like Madonna, Mary J. Blige, and Dr. Dre have all chosen to sample his work.)

Donaldson played the title track from Alligator Boogaloo on Thursday, adding the cryptic joke that “it was a big hit in Afghanistan.” Johnson left the stage during his own solo and walked casually among the audience, playing bluesy licks on his cordless guitar, imbuing a high-end jazz club with a barrelhouse feel. Donaldson looked on, squinting into the stage lights, a pleased expression on his face.

Donaldson is still capable of tearing through the chord changes of a brisk bebop number, as he did on “Wee,” a Charlie Parker anthem. But on ballads, his gorgeous tone, sweet and slightly tannic, really comes out. In his old age, the saxophonist resembles the late Johnny Hodges in appearance, and he sounds like him, too, tagging his phrases with breathy vibrato.

“We’d like to pay homage to the greatest musician of all time,” Donaldson said, before playing a slow rendition of “What A Wonderful World,” the Louis Armstrong standard. After the song, Donaldson went into an anecdote about the trumpeter. Louis Armstrong, he explained, “called everybody ‘Pops’ because he couldn’t remember their names.” (The jazz trumpeter Red Allen, he added, named musicians “by the city he met you in.”)

And a bit later, Donaldson sang, with his slightly metallic voice, “Whiskey Drinking Woman,” a song he wrote with the organist Leon Spencer. His band played a short instrumental introduction, after which Donaldson announced: “That is the blues, ladies and gentlemen. It’s called sufferin’ music where I come from,” which is the tiny Piedmont plateau village of Badin, North Carolina.

Then, in what seemed to be an ad-libbed section of the song, he devoted a good amount of attention to erectile dysfunction—though he never used those words:

“I tried Viagra, and the first time it didn’t work,” Donaldson sang. “I tried Cialis, didn’t work. I tried Levitra, didn’t work.” When he tried them all at once, Donaldson continued, you can only imagine what happened. The audience laughed.

“Glad to see that you appreciate classical singing,” Donaldson deadpanned when he finished.

At the set’s end, a man in the crowd yelled out a request. Donaldson didn’t fully hear him and asked him to repeat it. It was a call for “The Sermon.”

“That’s hard to play,” Donaldson said, with some hesitation. “And plus, it’s too long,” he added.

“I have time,” the man replied.

Donaldson paused for a moment: “Well, you know, the customer’s always right.”

He counted off and the band dove in.

Lou Donaldson plays at Jazz Standard Aug. 3-5. Tickets are available here.

Dishing it out from the heart of England

Posted in REVIEWS


Lou Donaldson

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London UK

Lou Donaldson, at nearly 88 years old, is probably one of the very few US jazz musicians of his era still touring. It was a joy to hear him at Ronnie’s last night. He’s well known for his fabulously funky (and much sampled) soul jazz albums, recorded for Blue Note in the 1960s and early ’70s, which have been rediscovered by new generations (and consequently widely sampled by the likes of Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Kayne West, Dr Dre and Eminem). He’s perhaps more respected by some for his improvisational work on the early recordings of Thelonoius Monk, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver and Art Blakey (earning his bebop credentials on A Night at Birdland).

Lou Donaldson

Donaldson introduced the set by nailing his colours to the mast and telling us “you are going to see straight ahead jazz, no fusion, no confusion” and “not Snoop Doggie Dog or 50 Cent who ain’t worth a cent!.” Playing the alto saxophone, his expressive individual tone still sounded in fine fettle accompanied by his tight band featuring Randy Johnson on guitar, Akiko Tsuruga on Hammond organ and Fukushi Tainaka on drums,.

It was a treat to hear the classic tunes Blues Walk, Alligator Boogaloo and Gravy Train. Tsuruga, in particular, appeared to be having a great time unleashing huge rushes of intensive organ cascades interspersed with nimble funky phrases, while Johnson displayed some restrained fast fluid licks. Fast and Freaky was a great vehicle for Tainaka’s entertaining percussive talents.

It’s often the case that legends of his generation, in their later years, prefer to affect a more theatrical style with humorous digressions, frequently playing as many standards as nuggets from their own back catalogue and this gig was no exception. There was a healthy dose of self-deprecating repartee and a slightly cutting remark about Miles Davis!  He also sung the blues to great effect with a suitably hoarse-voiced rasp on Whisky Drinkin’ Woman and It was a Dream

Personally I would have liked to hear a few more of Donaldson’s own classic compositions, but there were smiles all round at the end of a hugely entertaining and charming set by a charismatic jazz veteran.

Set list:
Blues Walk
What a Wonderful World
Fast and Freaky
Whisky Drinkin’ Woman
Alligator Boogaloo
Bye Bye Backbird
You’ve Changed
The Wake Up Song
Alone Together
It was a Dream
Gravy Train


At Age 82, Still Serving Up Jazz With Soul

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Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

JAZZMAN Lou Donaldson at the Newark Museum last month.

Published: August 7, 2009

THE alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson burst on the jazz scene around 1950 with a bebop style that many listeners likened to Charlie Parker’s. A few years later, he adopted a more basic blues approach that evolved into a popular, and profitable, jazz corollary to the work of soul singers like James Brown.Today, at 82, he remains a leading exponent of this soul-jazz approach. But even at its bluesiest, his playing remains informed by bebop. If the economics allowed it, he said, he would delve more into the bop canon.

“I’d like to be playing that every night,” he said. “But unfortunately, that’s not the case today.” At most of his outdoor concerts, he said, the audience demands his soul-jazz favorites — and he delivers. Those favorites, he said, will figure prominently on Aug. 18, when he brings his quartet to Mount Vernon for a free set, produced by Jazz Forum Arts and Jazzmobile, in City Hall Plaza.

The Mount Vernon performance, he said, will closely resemble the quartet’s lunchtime show for more than 800 people late last month in the garden of the Newark Museum. It will be heavy on the kind of 12-bar blues and free-flowing patter to which Mr. Donaldson’s fans have become accustomed.

And like most of his shows, the Mount Vernon one will begin with his theme, “Blues Walk.” Recorded in 1958, the piece anticipated the soulful turn his sound would take a decade later, when he released his biggest seller, “Alligator Boogaloo.”

By the time Mr. Donaldson serves up what he calls “sufferin’ music” — down-home blues like “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman” and “It Was a Dream” — the audience is usually under his sway. On these tunes, he tends to sing lustily but play sparingly, leaving the improvisational heavy lifting to the guitarist Randy Johnston, his sideman off and on for nearly 12 years.

During a typical afternoon concert, Mr. Donaldson will also yield center stage to Akiko Tsuruga on the Hammond B3 organ and Fukushi Tainaka on the drums. But at all times, Mr. Donaldson looms large, liberally sprinkling musical quotations throughout his performances.

If the Newark show was any indication, the audience in Mount Vernon may hear fragments of “The Continental” in “Bye Bye Blackbird”; “Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine” in “Fast and Freaky,” a Donaldson original; or “Rhapsody in Blue” in the Dizzy Gillespie composition “Wee.”

Introducing the Ray Noble classic “Cherokee,” his standard closer, to the Newark audience, he joked that Parker’s 1940s version had “discouraged a lot of people from playing the saxophone.” He then launched into a blisteringly up-tempo rendition, complete with unaccompanied choruses that recalled the sustained brilliance of Parker at his most daring.

For all his loquaciousness onstage, Mr. Donaldson cuts a modest figure offstage. The scene after the concert last month — a small crowd of autograph-seekers and friends like the poet Amiri Baraka — was typical of Mr. Donaldson’s encounters all over the New York City area. In Mount Vernon, he will count among his longtime friends and admirers Robin Bell-Stevens, the president and chief executive officer of Jazzmobile, who is a local resident, and Mark Morganelli, the executive director of Jazz Forum Arts.

Both organizations have cut the number of shows they are presenting amid the economic downturn. But the executives said they remained awed by Mr. Donaldson’s longevity and lucidity, and that booking him for the Mount Vernon date, Jazzmobile’s only show outside New York City this summer, was an easy decision.

“He’s a living legend,” Mr. Morganelli said.

The Lou Donaldson Quartet will perform on Aug. 18, at 7 p.m. at City Hall Plaza, Mount Vernon. Free. Information: or (914) 674-2005.

Lou Donaldson Quartet

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Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola
January 30, 2009

By Ken Weiss

Lou Donaldson, the Charlie Parker devotee and longtime progenitor of hard-bop/soul-jazz, has been on the performance trail since the early ‘50s and remains a vital force in generating instant fun. He coolly strolled into Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola three-minutes after the scheduled starting time, disappearing offstage to huddle with guitarist Randy Johnston, organist Akiko Tsuruga and drummer Fukushi Tainaka. Standing stout as a fire hydrant in stature and in tone, his alto playing remains raw-edged and smoky. As strong as his playing remains at age 82, it’s his personality that lights up the stage in a memorable fashion. His between song banter, although practiced and repetitive at time if you’ve attended previous appearance, is comical and no one cared this night when he told the same joke twice “The music tonight is straight-up, no fusion, no confusion.” He also urged the listeners to buy his records because, “We need the money!”

Opening strong with his classic tune “Blues Walk,” done up in all its funky, bluesy finest, Donaldson dictated from the first robust blast of his born that there was plenty of good times to come. Denzil Best’s “Wee,” performed at blitzkrieg pace, left the audience and saxophonist winded. An all too short, jacked-up Tsuruga organ solo was included and a fan favorite. Tainaka also scored high on an early drum solo that was, in keeping with the night’s theme, playful yet effective, leading Donaldson to note that it contained some Philly Joe Jones, Art Blakey, Max Roach and a little Fukushi Tainaka. The leader mixed up the set with the use of his secret weapon, an impossibly hoarse, itchy voice that finished off Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” with an on the mark rendition of Satchmo’s trademark husky singing. He next sang a comical ditty about Viagra, Levitra and Cialis, but it was unclear which pharmaceutical company was backing him as spokesman. After thanking the responsive audience for enjoying his “classical jazz singing,” he graciously introduced an old friend up from Washington, D.C., singer George V. Johnson who elegantly sang two tunes a la Johnny Hartman. Donaldson’s ultimate crowd-pleaser, the infectious, funk-fest “Alligator Bogaloo,” finished off the first set and was proclaimed to be a “Big hit in Afghanistan.”

Donaldson has enjoyed a long association with the organ and his current player, Tsuruga, is deserving of special mention. Growing up in Osaka, Japan, she digested all the Wynton Kelly and Hampton Hawes she could find, emerging as Japan’s first major jazz organist. After moving to NY, she was found by Donaldson in a Harlem jazz club. The petite organist’s playing is so wrought with the blues and soul that it’s hard to fathom since her formative years were not seeped in that tradition. Her emergence has led to an upstart of budding jazz organists back in Japan.

Between sets, Donaldson hunkered down over a tree trunk-sized plank of fried catfish and spoke names for themselves along the rich history of the music. Never one to pull punches; he’s the same on stage as hi is off it, turning out to be as mush a character as the legendary musicians he tells tales about.

From: Jazz Improv NY-March 2009

The Lou Donaldson Quartet at Dizzy’s through February 1st

Posted in REVIEWS
Written by Don Berryman
Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Lou Donaldson © Andrea Canter

Lou Donaldson © Andrea Canter

Lou Donaldson is one of the most respect alto player with a career spanning over a half a century performing bebop, hard-bop and soul jazz. The Lou Donaldson Quartet featuring Randy Johnston on guitar, Akiko Tsuruga on organ, Fukushi Tainaka on drums along with Lou on alto sax will perform at the Dizzy’s Jazz Club in New York on Tuesday, January 27th through Sunday, February 1st.

An ‘old school’ player, the octogenarian Donaldson states that his playing style is a cross between Charlie Parker and Johnny Hodges, adding, “you know, the people that I listened to when I was coming up”. The great jazz pianist, Horace Parlan said of Donaldson, “One of the unique qualities of Lou’s work is that he incorporates a great deal of the whole jazz tradition in his playing. He’s listened to just about everyone, and not only alto players. With this knowledge of the entire jazz language, Lou is definitely an individual voice.”

A pioneer of the jazz organ combo,  Lou had four distinct groups that he would use for the organ sound: one group was John Patton on organ, Bill Hardman on trumpet, Grant Green on guitar, and Ben Dixon on drums. Another group was Lonnie Smith on organ, Billy Kaye on drums, Mark Elf on guitar — and sometimes Melvin Sparks on guitar, and Joe Dukes on drums — possibly the greatest organ drummer of all times. Later he had another group with Caesar Frazier on organ, Eric Johnson on guitar, and Billy Kaye on drums. Another of Lou’s groups had Charles Earland on organ, Jimmy Ponder on guitar, Blue Mitchell on trumpet, and Idris Muhammad on drums.

Akiko Tsuruga

Akiko Tsuruga

The newest member of Lou’s current quartet, filling in the large shoes of her mentor, Dr. Lonnie Smith (who was Donaldson’s organist for many years) is the talented, New York City based Hammond Organist and pianist, Akiko Tsuruga. Akiko has become an ‘in demand’ player since arriving from her hometown of Osaka, Japan in 2001.  After arriving in New York, Akiko established herself as one of the area’s top organist /pianists. Her trio featuring guitarist Eric Johnson and drummer Vincent Ector has been one of the area’s top groups, working at many jazz nightclubs including Dizzy’s (at Lincoln center) and The Blue Note. Her trio also plays private parties and summer outdoor concerts. Her long awaited debut CD, “Harlem Dreams” featuring Grady Tate and Frank Wess was released in Japan on the M&I Company label on 2004. “Sweet and Funky”, Akiko’s first release in the US and Canada and her second in Japan, has been receiving rave reviews. It has reached #13 on the jazz radio charts and received a four-star review from Downbeatmagazine.

“I don’t care what kind of style a group plays as long as they settle into a groove where the rhythm keeps building instead of changing around. It’s like the way an African hits a drum. He hits it a certain way, and after a period of time, you feel it more than you did when he first started. He’s playing the same thing, but the quality is different — it’s settled into a groove. It’s like settin’ tobacco in a pipe. You put some heat on it and make it expand. After a while, it’s there. It’s tight.” – Lou Donaldson

Dizzy’s is located at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center Broadway at 60th Street, on the 5th Floor. For Reservations Call: 212 258-9595 or -9795. Seating is available on a first-come first-served basis either at tables or at the bar. For more information, visit:

Jazz at Lincoln Center is a not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to jazz. With the world-renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and a comprehensive array of guest artists, Jazz at Lincoln Center advances a unique vision for the continued development of the art of jazz by producing a year-round schedule of performance, education and broadcast events for audiences of all ages.

Red-White-and-Blue Note

Posted in REVIEWS

The New Yorker

The New Yorker

January 28, 2009

In 1939, two German-Jewish immigrants, Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, started a record label, Blue Note, devoted to jazz. Seventy years later, it’s still in business, both with its amazing and essential reissues of its back catalogue—one of the crucial libraries of modern jazz—and its recordings of contemporary artists.

Last night, at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the label threw itself a bash to celebrate both its seventieth year and the twenty-fifth anniversary of its relaunch under its current president, Bruce Lundvall, who spoke movingly about his lifelong love of jazz, starting in the nineteen-forties, when he redeemed bottles to buy used 78s. The centerpiece of the festivities was a performance by one of the label’s longtime mainstays, the eighty-two-year-old pop-jazz alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, who played four tunes and was joined on three of them by his former longtime bandmate, the organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, whose funky yet mercurial burblings were the evening’s musical highlight. Even in his earliest days as a bebopper alongside Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, and Clifford Brown, Donaldson was no innovator, but a smooth popularizer, who truly found his musical voice with the R. & B.-inflected “Blues Walk,” from 1958, and went on to record such albums as “Mr. Shing-A-Ling” and “Alligator Bogaloo.” As Donaldson’s winsome performance made clear last night, he’s an entertainer, who punctuates the music with bandstand shtick of the highest order, a scintillating, engaging raconteur whose wise and hearty humor displays flashes of the hard and wild night life of his younger years and a depth of experience that lends his derivative music its authentic substance. Donaldson and his regular band is at the same venue now through Feb. 1st.

Posted by Richard Brody

Donaldson Showcases Decades of Artistry

Posted in REVIEWS


By Howard Reich

Chicago Tribune critic

August 9, 2008

In an earlier era, jazz musicians didn’t play just their instruments—they played the audience.

Reaching out to listeners with casual repartee, they took pains to make a sometimes elusive music that much more accessible.

Perhaps no veteran jazz artist working today epitomizes this tradition more charmingly than alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, who drew smiles for his stage banter and ovations for his instrumental prowess Thursday night at the Jazz Showcase.

“This is not for fusion artists; this is not for confusion artists,” Donaldson quipped before launching into a characteristically complex number.

“You have to practice to play this kind of music.”

Indeed you do—not that practice alone will vault many altoists into Donaldson’s league. A bebop veteran whose gleaming tone and bluesy sensibility always distinguished him from peers, the octogenarian virtuoso has lost little to the passing decades.

He proved as much with his opening number, “Blues Walk,” a cocky, strutting tune that has served as an anthem for him for roughly half a century. To this day, though, Donaldson infuses it with the slightly overripe timbre and plaintively sighing phrases that are his musical signatures. With an organ swelling behind him, Donaldson played as if the late ’50s and early ’60s—his heyday—never went away.

If Donaldson’s band didn’t match his level of intensity or technical mastery, at least organist Akiko Tsuruga, drummer Fukushi Tainaka and guitarist Eric Johnson didn’t get in the way.

The Lou Donaldson Quartet plays at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday; 4 p.m., 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Sunday at the Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.,; $20; 312-360-0234.

Often Sampled, Never Duplicated

Posted in REVIEWS

August 9, 2008

Lou Donaldson has a sugar mama, and her name is Madonna. The 81-year-old alto saxophonist has never met the Material Girl, nor heard much of her music. He doesn’t know which Madonna song sampled his music — triggering the royalty checks he gets now — or, for that matter, which tune she sampled.”There’s about 15 or 20 acts that have done it but Madonna is the big one, her and Mary J. Blige. I’m not bragging, but I’ve made some money off it. I don’t have to work if I don’t want to,” Donaldson said by phone from his New York City apartment.

But there’s never been any question about Lou Donaldson going to work. Even as he spoke of Madonna and Mary J., he was packing his bags to play a jazz cruise, then take his quartet to Chicago for four nights before arriving in Minneapolis to play the Dakota Jazz Club on Monday and Tuesday. He’s been a road warrior for more than half a century, and constantly putting himself in front of an audience has shaped the way he sounds.

Like almost every altoist who emerged in the 1950s, Donaldson’s style is indebted to the torrid bebop flights of Charlie Parker. His early recordings and musical associations were with seminal boppers such as Horace Silver, Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk, but Donaldson, who was born and raised in rural North Carolina, didn’t want to stay put in the city. So he worked the phones along with a like-minded guitarist and another guy moonlighting from a booking agency and built his own itinerary.

“I was in clubs nobody was working but me, what I call ‘ghetto clubs’ in black neighborhoods, a circuit from New York to California,” he said. “We had Rochester, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, down south and out west; we played about 20 clubs twice a year. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it kept us busy. But that bebop didn’t work right away in the ghetto clubs, and so we had to moderate it down, like in the chitlin circuit. They wanted to hear the blues and some swing — danceable music. Once I got them in my corner, then I could sneak in some of that other stuff.”Then in the mid-1960s, “everyone had started using Fender basses and electric pianos,” Donaldson explained. “But there was a problem getting amplification in some of these clubs that didn’t have the electrical setup. So that’s when I started working with a B-3 [organist].”

Pop hits and cover songs

The serendipitous result was Donaldson’s now-classic blend of razor-sharp bop and down-home blues and gospel. His rich tone has always been sweeter than that of most other Parker acolytes, and meshes well with the soulful but funky bottom generated by the rumbling organ. Taking advantage of the organ-jazz vogue, Donaldson wrote two pop hits during the ’60s, “Alligator Boogaloo” and “Midnight Creeper,” which, along with another minor hit, “Blues Walk,” are still part of his repertoire.

And then there are the samples. Donaldson said that when Liberty Records bought out the Blue Note label in the late ’60s, “they had people who suggested we do cover tunes. They were paying good money — Blue Note had just paid us scale — so we did it.” One of those covers, of the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing,” includes the riff sampled by Madonna, as well as by rappers De La Soul and Brand Nubian.

Donaldson has kept the same template for decades now, spooling out songs that simultaneously relax and energize. Occasionally he’ll throw in a new wrinkle.

“I’ve got a blues I sing that is very political and very funny, about George Bush and his mistake starting the war, that people really seem to like,” he said.

Even better news is that Donaldson seems to be playing better than ever. At the beginning of the summer, he was an emergency replacement at New York’s Village Vanguard, and played a week at the hallowed club backed by a piano trio, garnering rave reviews.

“It revitalized me, that people were going crazy because they didn’t know I could still play that way,” Donaldson said. So you can expect the bebop — the stuff he “sneaks in” — to be especially fresh.

“I tell you I’m really feeling good,” he enthused. “I’m 81 and I went out the other day and shot a 41 for nine holes, so you know I’m feeling good. Tell the people in Minneapolis that I appreciate the affection they show me. When they come to the club they know my music, and last time after I left there I sold a lot of records. That’s not easy because I don’t bring any with me [to sell at the show].”You see, there’s over a hundred of them with my name on them — another 50 with me as a sideman — so I wouldn’t know which ones to take.”

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