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Lou Donaldson: The Clifford Brown Connection and Beyond

By Published: October 13, 2008
AAJ: How about tenor sax?

LD: I liked Illinois Jacquet, Gene Ammons, Lester Young—the more soulful, bluesy kind of tenor.

AAJ: Did you ever hear Lester Young in live performance?

LD: Are you kidding? I used to see him every night for years. I was in the house band at Birdland, and he lived right across the street at the Avalon Hotel, and he'd come over every night. He was the greatest.

AAJ: Dexter Gordon?

LD: We hung out with each other, especially when we were in Denmark.

AAJ:John Coltrane studied and practiced spirituality. Other musicians do as well. Do you?

LD: My father was an AME Zion minister. I grew up that way. I knew Coltrane in North Carolina. He grew up 18 miles from my town. I grew up in Greensboro. He was born in Hamlet but moved to High Point, near Greensboro. I saw him in one of the band contests. Unfortunately, his later music left something to be desired. It wasn't spiritual in my opinion.

AAJ: Some say he was like a preacher when he played.

LD: That's nonsense. I liked him in the earlier days, when he played with Miles, and way back with Earl Bostic's band.

AAJ: Did you ever play in big bands?

LD: Yeah, I played in a lot of big bands. That's all I played in until I came to New York. I played with Dud Bascombe's band—he had been with Erskine Hawkins; I played with Hot Lips Page's band. He was a great trumpet player: he could hit some high notes! But, once I came to New York in 1950, the music started changing from large groups to small groups. The big bands played for dancing. The small groups were for night clubs. Once bebop became prominent, people preferred a more intimate setting. The only big bands that did bebop were Dizzy Gillespie's band and maybe Billy Eckstine's band.

Lou DonaldsonAAJ: Charlie Parker played in Eckstine's band.

LD: Parker, Art Blakey, Fats Navarro.

AAJ: Did you do time on 52nd Street, where all those clubs were?

LD: No, they closed around the time I came to New York. I played at Minton's Playhouse and Small's Paradise in Harlem.

AAJ: Did you know Pat Martino back then? He often played at Small's Paradise.

LD: I knew him real well! He was in Willis Jackson's band. He worked with Willis for five or six years. He was a kid then. Willis worked in the winter at Small's Paradise, and in the summertime he went down to Atlantic City and worked at the Club Harlem. Pat got his blues training with Willis.

AAJ: Did you ever play at Sweet Basil in Greenwich Village?

LD: I was the house band there. I had a blind pianist, Herman Foster. He's from Philadelphia. He was my pianist on Blues Walk (Blue Note, 1958) and all those great albums I made in the late 1950s. They're great. You're really missin' somethin' if you don't have those.

AAJ: What are your plans for the near future?

LD: I just play it by ear. At my age, you got to take it easy.

AAJ: How old are you?

LD: I'm almost 82.

AAJ: God bless you! You don't sound that old.

LD: I don't look that old either! I live near two golf courses in the Bronx. When I play golf, I take all the money from the younger guys. They can't figure it out!

Selected Discography

Lou Donaldson, Relaxing at Sea Live on the QE2 (Chiaroscuro, 2000)

Lou Donaldson, Sentimental Journey, (Columbia, 1994)

Lou Donaldson, Lush Life (Blue Note, 1967)

Lou Donaldson, Rusty Dusty (Cadet, 1965)

Lou Donaldson, Gravy Train (Blue Note, 1961)

Lou Donaldson, Blues Walk (Blue Note, 1958)

Jimmy Smith, Sermon! (Blue Note, 1958)

Art Blakey, Live at Birdland, Vol. 2 (Blue Note, 1954)

Lou Donaldson, New Faces, New Sounds (Blue Note, 1953)

Clifford Brown, Brownie Eyes (Blue Note, 1953)

Photo Credits

Top Photo: Daniel Rommens

Bottom Photo: Courtesy of Lou Donaldson

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