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Lou Donaldson: Say It Loud


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: Lou Donaldson: Say It Loud
It's hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the sound of jazz could be heard lingering in the smoky corners of neighborhood bars in every major city from New York to Los Angeles. These ghetto hangouts were on what was often called the 'chitlin' circuit,' a network of predominantly black operated venues that presented organ combos as the norm. Be it at The Smiling Dog Saloon in Cleveland or The Front Room in Newark, jazz and more popular styles began to mix liberally during the mid to late '60s, and such recognized names as Sonny Stitt, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Hank Crawford, and countless others led the pack.

At the ripe age of 78, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson was also a key player in popularizing a more visceral and hard swinging form of jazz that met with great popular appeal, its visibility being further heightened by record labels such as Prestige and Blue Note, both major proponents of the style. While times have changed and many of the spots of yore are long gone, it seems that the kind of groove-oriented jazz that Donaldson specializes in is still very much in demand by audiences around the world, making this reissue of Say It Loud! all the more welcomed.

A child of the bebop era, Donaldson got his start playing clarinet while still a teenager. Later, he would take up the alto saxophone while in the armed services, playing in a Navy band that included Clark Terry and Ernie Wilkins. At this point, Donaldson and scores of other alto men had fallen under the spell of jazz innovator Charlie Parker. But with a sweet and full-bodied tone that owes just as much to the elegant stylings of Johnny Hodges, "Donaldson at his best exemplifies the Parker spirit without being a slavish imitator," as esteemed producer Bob Porter once said.

Through his recorded work with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Donaldson would strike a deal with the Blue Note label, a fruitful association that would last nearly twenty years. While Donaldson's records were hot sellers during the late '50s, his biggest crossover success was yet to come. Eschewing the more bop—oriented approach of his earlier work, Donaldson first explored the use of an organ combo on 1961's Here 'Tis, which featured the soulful B3 strains of Baby Face Willette. Then came The Natural Soul and Good Gracious!, further soul-jazz forays that brought to the fore the talents of organist Big John Patton and Grant Green. Working at his peak with one of his first great bands, Donaldson inexplicably stopped recording for Blue Note right after 1963's Good Gracious!, the team of Donaldson and Patton heard only two more times on the Argo LPs Signifyin' and Possum Head.

Fast-forward to 1965 and the alto man would put together his finest group to date with an up-and-coming George Benson, organist Lonnie Smith, and drummer Idris Muhammad (then known as Leo Morris). "That was a great group," affirmed Donaldson during a 2001 phone conversation with this writer. "I'd play that music for nothing-no money!" Following a half dozen more sides cut for Argo and a January 1967 ballads session for Blue Note that would lay dormant for years, Donaldson officially celebrated his return to the Blue Note fold in April of '67 with the smash hit Alligator Boogaloo. The album would be one of the label's biggest sellers, charting on Billboard and selling into the hundred thousands within a few years.

As Donaldson told me during our aforementioned chat, the title track from Alligator Booglaoo was "just a throw in on a record date; it wasn't a direction I was going in. They [Alfred Lion and Blue Note] wanted to get into competition with pop music." Nonethless, within six months after its recording, Donaldson was back into the studio for the similar minded Mr. Shing-A-Ling, which was followed in a comparable amount of time by Midnight Creeper.

By November of 1968, when Say It Loud! was recorded, the methodology had further solidified even if the line-up had changed. A young Charles Earland was making his label debut taking the place of Lonnie Smith, while guitarist Jimmy Ponder would spell Benson. The premise was still more about dancing to the beat than swinging hard in be-bop fashion. Some might even find Donaldson's use of the electronic Varitone attachment just too dated for their tastes, but there's more than enough substance to be found in Muhammad's solid drum grooves or in the melodically virile solos of trumpeter Blue Mitchell to make this one of Donaldson's more memorable trinkets from the late '60s.

Taking its cue from James Brown's anthem, which speaks for African American pride and the pursuit of political power, "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" carries an undeniable flair that should appeal to more than just jazz aficionados. With stop-time riffs serving as the tune's bridge, Donaldson, Mitchell, and Ponder get a chance to blow over the funky beat, the two lead horns then trading licks for the fade out. The next two tracks, a bossa treatment of "Summertime" and a swinging romp through "Caravan," are in a more traditional vein, the former being one of the tastiest versions ever of this well-worn standard, while the latter hints at Donaldson's earlier roots.

It's the pair of lengthy tracks that conclude the date that really make for some soulful listening, with plenty of room to stretch out for all the soloists. Both "Snake Bone" and "Brother Soul" preach their message with a back beat rhythm that can't fail to get feet tappin' and fingers snappin.' Ponder is particularly in his element, mixing Wes Montgomery-inspired octaves with a twangy blues flavor directly inspired by B.B. King. Earland, even at this early stage of the game, shows his talent for creating dramatic climaxes through the use of tension and release. In fact, Donaldson may be the least effusive soloist of the bunch and it's his record! But I guess there's something to be said for a degree of selfless leadership.

In many ways, Say It Loud! was really the last great record that Donaldson would record for Blue Note. Of the seven remaining albums that would conclude his tenure with the company, only Everything I Play Is Funky peaked briefly on the charts. But by then, Alfred Lion had left his beloved label, corporate powers had begun dictating musical directions, and much of the excitement that had started with Alligator Boogaloo and peaked with Say It Loud! was already not much more than a distant memory.

Liner Notes copyright © 2024 C. Andrew Hovan.

Say It Loud! can be purchased here.

C. Andrew Hovan Contact C. Andrew Hovan at All About Jazz.
An avid audiophile and music collector, Chris Hovan is a Cleveland-based writer / photographer / musician.

Track Listing

Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud; Summertime ; Caravan; Snake Bone; Brother Soul.


Lou Donaldson
Charles Earland
organ, Hammond B3

Album information

Title: Say It Loud! | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Water

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