STLJN Saturday Video Showcase: The Return of Lou Donaldson


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Once upon a time, just about every major city in the USA had at least a couple of guys who played in a similar style, if not with the same amount of skill, as alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, who's coming back to St. Louis next week to perform Wednesday, October 9 through Saturday, October 12 at Jazz at the Bistro.

Fronting a trio of organ, guitar and drums, Donaldson offers a mix of bebop, blues and ballads that evokes the very center of the jazz mainstream of the post-WWII era, with the influence of Charlie Parker predominant. Back then, the North Carolina native, who cut his first record in 1952, was just one of a host of players working in that style. Today, still remarkably spry and sly at age 86, Donaldson is one of the last remaining veterans of that era still touring.

Donaldson worked with many leading musicians of the 1950s, including Milt Jackson, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Art Blakey and Clifford Brown, before settling in during the 1960s with Blue Note Records for a long tenure as one of their most popular artists. That's also when he began adding to his repertoire more backbeat-driven numbers like “Alligator Boogaloo," which proved to be the final ingredients in the musical recipe that sustains him and a legion of fans to this day.

Last featured in this space back in 2010, Donaldson has been a regular visitor to St. Louis in recent years. Those who are already fans don't need any more convincing to go catch him at the Bistro, but for those who aren't familiar with him, these six videos offer a preview of the sort of things you're likely to hear at a typical Lou Donaldson performance.

In the first clip up above, Donaldson plays the swinging blues “Gravy Train," and in the second down below, a slow blues called “It Was A Dream." Both clips feature him with his frequent collaborator, organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, who unfortunately will not be along for this trip to St. Louis.

Below that, there are four more videos featuring Donaldson with the musicians who perform with him most frequently on dates when Smith is not involved: guitarist Randy Johnston, organist Akiko Tsuruga and drummer Fukushi Tainaka.

The first of those clips, recorded earlier this year in Madrid, shows them working out on the Donaldson staple “Midnight Creeper." Below that, Donaldson pays homage to Louis Armstrong with a version of Armstrong's 1960s pop hit “What A Wonderful World," recorded in Vancouver with Johnston, Tsuruga, and Rudy Petschauer subbing on drums.

The remaining two videos feature Donaldson's versions of evergreen standards, the ballad “Body And Soul," recorded in 2010 at Dizzy's in NYC, and “Cherokee," in a clip that's undated but probably from the mid 2000s.

There is at least one thing new since Donaldson's last visit, though, as he was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2013. For more about Lou Donaldson, check out this podcast he recorded with Jazz St. Louis' Bob Bennett before his appearance in 2010 at the Bistro.

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This story appears courtesy of St. Louis Jazz Notes by Dean Minderman.
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