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Interviews

Lou Donaldson: The Clifford Brown Connection and Beyond

By Published: October 13, 2008
AAJ: It's amazing how many record dates he had in that short time, and with the best musicians.Lou Donaldson



LD: He was in demand because once they heard him, everyone wanted him for record dates. The fact that he could cut it tells you right there how powerful he was.



AAJ: How do you see your own music evolving since that time?



LD: It's hard to say. I'm probably one of the most fortunate musicians in this business. I saw music changin,' so I changed with it, so I've gotten good financial rewards. But I'm still basically what you would call a bebop saxophonist. I play Charlie Parker style.



AAJ: But how did you shift it around to keep up with the times?



LD: Blue Note Records was sold to the TransAmerica Corporation. They had a lot of money, and they wanted to compete with the more popular musicians. So we started covering a lot of tunes, like James Brown's "Say It Loud." We got into the commercial market and made a lot of money.



AAJ: So you adapted the music from that time period.



LD: Yeah, we recorded the hits.



AAJ: Who are some of the people with whom you've worked over the years?



LD: I've worked with anybody you can name. I was in New York, and I worked with everyone who was there at that time.



AAJ: Did you work with Miles Davis?



LD: Yeah, I worked with him, Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland. In fact, I had a group with Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones as my rhythm section. And Betty Carter was my vocalist.



AAJ: Oh, really! Did you record with her?



LD: No. But we used to work at the Audubon Ballroom every Sunday evening. In the early '60s, I worked with Kenny Dorham and Dizzy Gillespie.



AAJ: Did you ever work with Mickey Roker?



LD: Oh, sure. He was in my band.



AAJ: Who's in your band now? Do you have a steady group?



LD: I got an organ player—a Japanese girl—Akiko Tsuruga, Randy Johnston on guitar, and Fukushi Tainaka on drums.



Lou DonaldsonAAJ: Did you meet these folks in Japan?



LD: No, I met them in New York.



AAJ: Have you made some recordings together?



LD: Not with this group.



AAJ: At which clubs do you perform, these days?



LD: We play all over the country. We just came from Chicago and Minneapolis. We're going to play at Birdland here in New York City. We play a few times a year at the Village Vanguard. We just did the North Sea Festival in Europe and played in Paris and London.



AAJ: What do you do to relax?



LD: I play golf every day. That helps me stay in good shape.



AAJ: Are you married?



LD: I was married 55 years. My wife passed away two years ago.



AAJ: Do you have children?



LD: I have two daughters, but my daughter Lydia is deceased. She had a Masters degree, the other has her PhD, and my granddaughter is a lawyer. My grandson works on Wall Street. My daughter Carol Webster is a psychologist, and she also runs my website. She lives in Florida, and I go down and visit her in the winter time.



AAJ: And you live in New York, right?



LD: Yeah. They're trying to get me to move, but I won't—I'm a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. I'm like Redd Foxx. He said, you can live in New York all your life and never have a job. [Laughs.] You know, I grew up around 127th Street and Eighth Avenue, and the local folks there are still there doing the same thing after 60 years!



AAJ: That's in Harlem. There was a time when Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, and others all lived there.



LD: I played with Monk. I played with Rollins.



AAJ: You don't appear in Art Kane's famous Esquire magazine photo entitled "A Great Day in Harlem."



LD: I'll tell you a secret. The musicians in that photo were all unemployed then—that's how he got them all together! [Laughs.] I was in California with the Modern Jazz Quartet. If we hadn't been away, we would have been in that picture. They were disappointed they couldn't get us.



AAJ: There were tough times during those years.



LD: The only one who was working was Roy Eldridge, down at Eddie Condon's.



AAJ: By the way, J.J. Johnson had a couple of rough years then when there were no gigs. Did you know J.J.?



LD: I used to work with him a lot.



AAJ: There was a time when they all had trouble getting work.



LD: Yeah, that was because they couldn't get their cabaret cards—like Billie Holiday, and so on. Thank God, Frank Sinatra broke all that up. He told them that if they didn't book Billie Holiday, he wouldn't work in New York, so they revoked some of those crazy rules and regs. Sinatra did a lot to help the musicians.



AAJ: Do you know the disc jockey, Sid Mark, who does a regular all-Sinatra show in Philadelphia?



LD: I know Sid very well.



AAJ: Did you know the pianist Richie Powell? He and his wife died in that tragic car accident with Clifford.



LD: He was Bud Powell's brother. We were neighbors in Sugar Hill. Jackie McLean lived there too. Richie was working with the Max Roach group.



AAJ: Who were your saxophone idols?



Lou DonaldsonLD: Charlie Parker and Johnny Hodges.



AAJ: How about Sonny Stitt?



LD: Well, Sonny Stitt, of course. But he came along later. He was a wonderful saxophonist; I loved to hear Sonny.



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