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