Cleveland Heights, Ohio
November 18, 2001
There was literally just enough time to unload the bags from the car and into the house and then get back on the road. Friday night I had been in Columbus to catch the Herbie Nichols Project and visit some friends the following evening. Then, it was a two-hour ride back to Cleveland Sunday afternoon, just to catch the second set from jazz legend Lou Donaldson at Night Town. After all, Lou isn’t getting any younger and this would mark the first time he’s made a swing through Cleveland in over a decade.
Neither myself nor the crowd would be disappointed by the kind of straight ahead bop that Donaldson delivered in a manner that recalled his finest work. In short, the man still can blow with the best of them and it certainly didn’t hurt that he had organ grinder Dr. Lonnie Smith and guitarist Randy Johnston on hand to boot.
”Blues Walk” made for a catchy start to things, Donaldson getting right to the point before turning it over to Smith and Johnston. Charlie Parker’s “Wee” is prototypical bebop and Lou again impressed with his ability to navigate the horn even at a burning tempo. But then it was time to bring things down a bit, and the ballad “Laura” brought forth the crystalline beauty of Donaldson’s alto voice, a sly quote of “Jingle Bells” thrown in as part and parcel of his honest wit. But talk about personality, Lonnie Smith made the best of a testy organ on “Alligator Boogaloo” by kneeling down to play the pedal with his hands at one point and even wrapping the keys with his nose at another!
Lou’s droll banter led naturally into a few vocal numbers, most notably “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be,” where his own personal lyrics had the audience in hysterical laughter. More bebop in the guise of “Ornithology” and “Cherokee” finally led to an encore, a tart “Harlem Nocturne” chased away by a few more measures of high-flying bop. All had a grand time and during a period when we keep losing so many of our elder statesmen, it was great to see Lou still making the scene.