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Catching Up With

Lou Donaldson: Jazz Paths

By Published: August 15, 2012
LD: I liked Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson
1917 - 1988
sax, alto
; he played the same horn I played. It was a mixture between blues and jazz. I still do that, and try to do a little singing too. It's the same thing. Nobody is really playing anything now. They're just replaying what already has been played.

AAJ: You've also sung some blues tunes like "l had a Dream" (Big Bill Broonzy, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson...) and "Whisky Drinkin' Woman..."

LD: You have to do a little singing in some clubs or else they'll send a singer up. Rather than doing that I'd rather do it myself [laughs]!

AAJ: What are your feelings about Bird today? What was your relationship with him?

LD: Well, he changed the style of playing and that was very important. He was a character, so he had some bad habits too. You gotta be careful. Some good, and some bad. We were friends, I used to talk to him a lot and play with him sometimes.

AAJ: In 1954 you recorded live A Night at Birdland (Blue Note) with Art Blakey and an all-star lineup with Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, bassist Curly Russell
Curly Russell
Curly Russell
and yourself. How do you remember that experience?

LD: It was a great album, I was happy. I would have played for no money. It was nice... best album I ever recorded [laughs]. Horace [Silver] was in my group, so we were very friendly. Art [Blakey] sort of, you know. He was hard to deal with sometimes. It was a date for the company but nobody was the leader. He acted like he was the leader but not really.

AAJ: How important was Blue Note for capturing the sound that jazz musicians were developing and playing at the time?

LD: The company was doing what everybody else wouldn't. Nobody would record [pianist Thelonious] Monk, they didn't like his sound; but Blue Note recorded him and some other musicians too. They gave me a break when I was a young saxophonist. I brought Horace, [trumpeter] Blue Mitchell
Blue Mitchell
Blue Mitchell
, [guitarist] Grant Green
Grant Green
Grant Green
1935 - 1979
, [saxophonist] Stanley Turrentine
Stanley Turrentine
Stanley Turrentine
1934 - 2000
sax, tenor
, [trumpeter] Donald Byrd
Donald Byrd
Donald Byrd
1932 - 2013
... all those musicians I brought to the label. They first recorded with me. Alfred [Lion] and Frank Wolf were very friendly guys. You didn't have problems like you did with other labels.

AAJ: How did the organ change the overall sound of jazz?

LD: You sound more like a big band with an organ. The reason I used organ was because people never had a piano and we couldn't rent it because it cost too much money. So we just bought an organ; I didn't know it would work as well as it did, but it did. I stuck with it because I did some records that people liked so I have to have that sound. That's why I keep the organ.

AAJ: Looking back at some of your recordings, you can notice similarities between tunes like "Blues Walk" (1958) and "Signifyin'" (1963), "Alligator Boogaloo" (1967) and "Midnight Creeper" (1968). Same thing seems to happen with Lee Morgan and his successful "The Sidewinder" (1964). Where these recordings all part of the same idea?

LD: Once you start making records you're stuck because after a record sales people remember the music and if you don't play it like that they get angry. If you play it a different way... no good, especially in the ghetto [laughs]. Once it started working and selling records we followed the same line.
AAJ: What was the social significance of the music back then and its relationship with the upcoming black power movement?

LD: At the time I didn't think much about it, but now I realize that music was good because it was associated with that. It means a lot to people. Even Muhammad Ali used my music in his training camp. When he did his ropes and stuff, he used to play "Gravy Train" [laughs].

AAJ: Your style has been linked to many different jazz subgenres according to the times like bebop, hard bop, soul jazz... how did you think about the music you played as your career kept growing?

Lou Donaldson—Here 'TisLD: Well, I didn't think about it really. I just had to play my type of music for the people I was working for. But it's different things for different people. If you're like in the ghetto you have to play a little different music than you do at the Vanguard and places like that. It's different music.

AAJ: Different jazz styles have been associated with different decades. How do you see today's jazz scene?

LD: They have polluted jazz so there's nothing happening now. Everything is too technical, too mechanical... there's no movement going on now. The younger musicians today don't have the background to play real jazz. They're playing like a custom-made suit. They got too much from here [the brain] and too little from here [the heart].

AAJ: Do you notice there's a different music appreciation in Europe compared to the States?

LD: Of course, much better. I first visited Spain to play in a little club outside from Barcelona. [It was] a couple of years before coming to Madrid [Lou Donaldson performed at San Juan Evangelista Jazz Festival in March 1984, with pianist Herman Foster, bassist Geoff Fuller and drummer Victor Jones].

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