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