All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Catching Up With

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

8

Lou Donaldson: Jazz Paths

Josep Pedro By

Sign in to view read count
One of the few remaining musicians that defined the sound of jazz after the bebop musical revolution, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson illustrates the richness and ambiguities of jazz evolution during the crucial period between the late forties and early seventies. During these intense and fascinating times of contemporary United States history, jazz exploded into a variety of paths that ran parallel with different environments, artistic, social and political concerns.

In coexistence with the upcoming Black Power movement and its multiple expressions, jazz took off with different responses and approaches. Some were involved in an innovative search for something higher or qualitatively different, defined by strong personalities and (sometimes) artistic genius. Others were part of a more popular or mass-representation culture that, despite holding generally high standards, was closer to the idea of popular music than to art. With people pulling from both sides—and all the conflicting mix around—both positions were finally criticized, though with the passing of time the innovator leader has usually been valued most, despite many not liking the results of their innovations.

Donaldson fits into the second category, and belongs to a group of musicians that more or less stayed faithful to their sound, aware that the music they played was not only their group creation but also a collective music meaningful for its impact on people. Often underestimated, Donaldson's music and trajectory not only speak about jazz's perception and guiding codes but also about more abstract matters such as the functions and roles of artistic expression in the contemporary world.

Born in Badin, North Carolina in 1926, Donaldson moved to New York in 1950, after the insistence of jazzmen like saxophonist Illinois Jacquet and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Like most saxophonists at the time, he grew up with the influence of Charlie Parker, who inspired him to take in the bebop language. Donaldson's ability to sound like Bird earned him his first recording date for Blue Note, in fact, where he embodied the label's bluesy, night-evoking sound. Coming out of the bebop foundations, Donaldson—along with people like pianist Horace Silver and trumpeter Clifford Brown—proved his virtuosity and skills, and made a name for himself by participating in legendary recordings including drummer Art Blakey's A Night at Birdland (Blue Note, 1954), a keystone for what came to be known as hard bop, a style that went back to the popular roots of blues and gospel.

Lou Donaldson—The Artist SelectsDonaldson then took off on his own particular journey, absorbing new and classic sounds into his own language, and stressing the importance and value of groove and feeling. His first and biggest hit arrived in 1958 with "Blues Walk," an irresistible blues spiced up with percussionist Ray Barretto's Latin touch. The sensuality and nocturnal ambiance of the tune contributed to making Donaldson a crossover artist, admirable for taking jazz to the people and ultimately aligning himself in the understanding of jazz as popular music for regular people.

Assuming "Blues Walk" as his signature tune, Donaldson's music announced a changing African American sensibility that looked back to its past to better understand itself and its history. In a move that merged bebop and rhythm & blues as two dominant Black music forms, Donaldson's subsequent recordings stood out for their straight-ahead approach, blues base, and rhythmic repetition; a swinging soul potion that hung over a common cultural tradition and went for emotional, heartfelt communication.

In opposition to cool jazz arrangements and tricks, hard bop traced back to Black church imagery and devices, combining it with a talkative, colloquial, street-like style. Participating on albums such as organist Jimmy Smith's The Sermon (Blue Note, 1959), along with a dream team line-up (Art Blakey, trumpeter Lee Morgan, saxophonist Tina Brooks and guitarist Kenny Burrell), Donaldson soon incorporated the organ, contributing to the establishment of blues-based organ combos that would continue from then on. Here 'Tis (Blue Note, 1961), a relaxed and happy album, was first, followed by The Natural Soul (Blue Note, 1962), where the altoist took a harder pulse and initiated a growing orientation towards dance that would continue with Signifyin' (Argo, 1963) and Alligator Bogaloo (Argo, 1967), culminating with a new high-point, Midnight Creeper (Blue Note, 1968).

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Taz Modi: Submotion Orchestra is a unique blend Catching Up With
Taz Modi: Submotion Orchestra is a unique blend
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: April 14, 2018
Read Adam Nussbaum: Back To Basics Catching Up With
Adam Nussbaum: Back To Basics
by Ludovico Granvassu
Published: April 5, 2018
Read Helen Sung: Celebrating Monk Catching Up With
Helen Sung: Celebrating Monk
by Jim Trageser
Published: April 3, 2018
Read Ben Allison: Between Groove and Melody Catching Up With
Ben Allison: Between Groove and Melody
by Angelo Leonardi
Published: March 20, 2018
Read Charles McPherson: The Man and His Muse Catching Up With
Charles McPherson: The Man and His Muse
by Joan Gannij
Published: March 15, 2018
Read Gilad Hekselman: New music on the Horizon Catching Up With
Gilad Hekselman: New music on the Horizon
by Friedrich Kunzmann
Published: March 6, 2018
Read "Martin Torgoff Discuss Bop Apocalypse" Catching Up With Martin Torgoff Discuss Bop Apocalypse
by Steve Provizer
Published: May 14, 2017
Read "Adam Nussbaum: Back To Basics" Catching Up With Adam Nussbaum: Back To Basics
by Ludovico Granvassu
Published: April 5, 2018
Read "Gunhild Carling: Sweden's Incredible Talent" Catching Up With Gunhild Carling: Sweden's Incredible Talent
by Nicholas F. Mondello
Published: November 25, 2017
Read "Taz Modi: Submotion Orchestra is a unique blend" Catching Up With Taz Modi: Submotion Orchestra is a unique blend
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: April 14, 2018
Read "Django Bates: Delightful Piano Touch" Catching Up With Django Bates: Delightful Piano Touch
by Enrico Bettinello
Published: January 16, 2018
Read "Eric Burdon’s Summer of Love" Catching Up With Eric Burdon’s Summer of Love
by Walter Atkins
Published: July 30, 2017