Editors Note: We regret to report that saxophonist Lou Donaldson is ill and unable to travel. We keep him in our thoughts and prayers and hope for his rapid recovery. The jazz continues, though, with world-renowned saxophonist, Sonny Fortune. Visit PghArts.org or call 412.456.6666 for TICKETS and information.
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s JazzLive series presents the legendary Lou Donaldson and his quartet Nov. 23 at 8 p.m. at the Cabaret Theater.
Vice President and Director of Jazz Programs Janis Burley Wilson, says, “The Cabaret was voted by Pittsburgh Magazine as the Best Jazz Club, so what better way to celebrate than to bring a jazz giant to Pittsburgh.”
A bona fide jazz giant, Lou Donaldson’s blistering alto saxophone style tells the entire story of mainstream jazz. He can dazzle with furious, Charlie Parker-derived bebop runs, dig deep into tasty, blues-based club grooves and soothe the soul with seriously beautiful ballads. A trailblazer of the Blue Note Records sound, Donaldson also came in on the ground floor of the soul-jazz movement, crafting a crowd-pleasing style while never losing sight of his bop roots. New groups like Soulive, Lettuce, and others learned their style from Donaldson’s classic recordings. Hip-hop recordings regularly feature samples of Donaldson’s grooves.
As a bandleader, Donaldson helped launch the careers of George Benson, Lonnie Smith and many others on hit albums such as “Alligator Boogaloo” and “Midnight Creeper.” He still plays with the same power and dexterity of his youth, while bringing a hearty sense of humor to the bandstand.
In the world of bebop jazz, Donaldson is one of the remaining wonders of the world. At 83, he is one of the truly great active figures in hard bop. He was born Nov. 3, 1926, which means that he has long outlived his near-exact contemporaries Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
Where his soul jazz beauties were once the staples of chitlin’ circuit jukeboxes and better bars all over America, Donaldson is one of the last touring direct links to the alto saxophone style of Charlie Parker. And if you’re not prepared for how good Donaldson can be in that style, he can knock you out of your socks.
Donaldson has close ties to Pittsburgh, where he performed regularly at famous clubs like Birdie’s and the Crawford Grill in the 1960s. Janis Burley Wilson met Donaldson in London at the famous jazz club, Ronnie Scotts, when he was performing there. When she told him she was from Pittsburgh, he started naming friends, some living, some gone, that made his concerts in Pittsburgh very memorable experiences.
Alligator Boogaloo,” his first big hit in the funk era of the late 1960s, and “Blues Walk,” Donaldson’s theme song, are always the highlight of every session with Donaldson. He promises that his show will contain “no fusion, no confusion,” just straight-ahead bebop-inflected jazz.
The roll call of Donaldson’s accompanists during his career is truly impressive. The organ lineups included such luminaries as John Patton, Charles Earland and Lonnie Smith, while drummers Art Taylor, Idris Muhammad and Bernard Purdie provided the pulse, as guitarists Grant Green, George Benson and Melvin Sparks picked and rolled around the rhythm. He is credited with creating the hard bop sound in a group led by Art Blakey, Pittsburgh native, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver and Curly Russell would later become the groundbreaking, Modern Jazz Quartet.
He continues to tour nationally, plays in New York at the Village Vanguard and twice a year the Birdland Club, as well as many jazz festivals, and concerts around the world. He is very proud of his current group that boasts the musical excellence of Randy Johnston on guitar, Pat Bianchi on organ and Fukushi Tainaka on drums.
(Tickets are on sale at the Theater Square Box Office, via phone at 412-456-6666, and online at pgharts.org. JazzLive is sponsored by Bank of New York Mellon, DUQ 90.5 FM, the New Pittsburgh Courier and Pittsburgh Jazz Society.)