Category Archives: Lou Donaldson

A Man With A Horn: Lou Donaldson

2017 has dawned. The World is still spinning. I’m delighted to declare that after an abstemious Festive Season, my head isn’t. So, Happy New Year everybody and let’s hope it turns out to be much less ‘interesting’ (in the sense of the Chinese curse) than 2016. Here’s a fresh post to get matters underway at downwithit.

Over the last two months A Man With a Horn has been the most played album on my system and it has led me to an even greater respect for Lou Donaldson.

It is not one of Donaldson’s better-known albums, mainly because it was not released in the early sixties. The two sessions that make up this recording were from 1961 and 1963 and they remained in the vaults until 1999. It was over 35 years before they were dusted down as part of the Blue Note Connoisseur CD series, a conduit for rare and previously unissued material. As far as I am aware, this set has never been issued on vinyl but that does not mean it should not merit attention.

Both sessions featured guitarist Grant Green who was encouraged to move to New York and introduced to the Blue Note label by Donaldson. The earlier session utilises Jack McDuff on Hammond organ in a rare Blue Note outing, whilst John Patton, another Donaldson protege, plays the keyboard on the 1963 date. McDuff is used as an accompaniest, playing understated swirling chords on the five ballads from ’61, while John Patton is given more space to solo.

The CD alternates between songs from each of the sessions and I have marked 1961 tunes with a single asterix (*) and 1963 with double asterixes (**). I initially wondered why the set had been sequenced in this way. I eventually grouped and played through the tracks in the two discrete sessions. This leads me to the conclusion that while the 1961 session, which consists of mellifluous ballads is strong, the tunes benefit from being interspersed with the more uptempo offerings from 1963. As presented there is the variety and texture to turn this CD into a more rewarding listening experience.

The Errol Garner standard Misty* is given a lush rendition as opener. The purity of tone from Lou Donaldson’s alto sax is exceptional and is well-matched by the sensitive contributions from the other three musicians, especially Grant Green. It is currently on Youtube courtesy of Zateuz and you can watch here:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow

Hipity Hop** starts off in the manner of a 1950’s swing tune before John Patton plays an incredible solo starting with a Morse code like trill held for a full 24 bars. It certainly catches the attention. This Donaldson composition is an uptempo and funky toe-tapper and he plays an assertive and exemplary alto sax solo before Grant Green and Patton contribute to a rich confection flavoured by Irvin Stoke’s wah-wah muted trumpet.

It is then back to 1961 for Please*, a second delicate romantic ballad on which all four musicians acquit themselves well.

On My Melancholy Baby** Lou Donaldson builds on riffs that owe much to Charlie Parker’s school of soloing, with an engaging contribution delivered from the trumpet of Stokes.

Man With A Horn* features more delectable and sensitive playing from the 1961 quartet in a track that is a bit of a smoocher.

Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White** is delivered over a playful cha cha rhythm and contains a solid portion of Grant Green’s ever-tasteful guitar.

Prisoner Of Love* is a standard which was in the charts courtesy of James Brown and The Famous Flames (If still on YouTube this is too good to miss) when this was recorded.

Then it is off to the church of funk with Soul Meetin’**, the second Donaldson composition here and one of those great finger-snapping ‘Baptist Beat’ numbers. I’m very fond of them when they occasionally appear on Blue Note sets. As a New Year bonus this is the second YouTube post courtesy of The Nada73

To play, touch or click on the arrow

The set closes with Star Dust*, a fifth ballad that maintains the high standards of the other four. In his excellent and informative ‘The Jazz Standards’ Ted Gioia refers to it as’…the song to which their parents and grandparents courted, romanced and wed’ and traces the history of this formally much-loved song which is slowly fading into obscurity (in the way of all things).

If you come across this set on CD (and it is relatively rare) don’t hesitate to purchase it as it captures Lou Donaldson playing on the ballads with a very clear and intense tone and also includes a good balance of more uptempo tunes from the 1963 date. Grant Green is on great form, as is John Patton on this very worthwhile jewel from the vaults.

The band etc: Tracks marked * Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); Jack McDuff (organ); Joe Dukes (drums). Recorded: 25 September 1961
Tracks marked ** Irvin Stokes (trumpet); Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); John Patton (organ); Ben Dixon (drums). Recorded: 7 June 1963.
Both session recorded at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Ed Hamilton. Cover design: Patrick Roques. Cover photo: Francis Wolff. Issued as Blue Note 21436.

Likes(3)Dislikes(0)

The Sermon: Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith The Sermon cover

Time to get going again! My last posting here was over three months ago. So, no excuses, time to get to work and get something new out.

The Sermon is a good place to start. Three tracks are taken from two recording dates in August 1957 and February 1958. This set was Smith’s fourteenth Blue Note release during a period from 1956 onwards when his Hammond organ albums were the label’s major cash cow. Indeed on hearing him play in Greenwich Village, Miles Davis told label boss and producer Al Lion, ‘Alfred, he’s going to make you a lot of money.’ He recorded no less than 10 sessions in 1957 alone. The Sermon is the second of two titles to be taken from the August 57/February 58 sessions with House Party being released first, in 1958.

My theory about the Hammond organ phenomenon is that in a time when live popular music was usually played in small venues without powerful amplification, the sudden introduction of this behemoth of an instrument created a new kind of live excitement. In the case of the Hammond, what is played in a small venue can extend beyond the aural to become something that is almost palpable. You can hit all the right notes on other instruments but it is the swells and trills of the mighty B3 organ, played at volume, that seem to me to have a tangible quality all of their own. My own instrument was the tenor sax (played very badly) and I love its sound but the Hammond does something that is very different. I’m not a keyboardist but I am aware that modern technology enables all sorts of sounds to be emulated but unless somebody invites me to a blindfold audition and convinces me that the contrary applies I’ll continue to believe that it is impossible to capture and faithfully replicate the sound of a Hammond and Leslie speaker. Of course, this is an invitation for any of you out there to tell me that this is nonsense and prove your case with suitable sonic illustration.

The title track, one of two JS original compositions here, is a tribute to Horace Silver and opens with a long opportunity for Jimmy Smith to stretch out and develop his ideas before the baton is passed to the great Kenny Burrell. A typically tasteful laid back exploration follows, somehow so appropriate for the lazy Sunday morning that I’m writing this on. Then it’s over to Tina Brooks, whose mellow mid-register tenor saxophone adds a deliciously sour texture for an extended solo. Jimmy Smith sends out long note signals for Brooks to wind up, but they are ignored because Tina’s really blowing the blues here. His solo ends and is followed by a couple of words that I cannot quite make out, but which sound like appreciative ones. Over to Lee Morgan which contains punchy staccato notes and a longer run. Lou Donaldson’s solo is another masterful contribution to the whole before the ensemble briefly reappear and Jimmy Smith gleefully leads us to the fade. Art Blakey plays drums with understated power but no solo here.

On the sleeve notes to the RVG CD edition, Bob Blumenthal reminds us that the recent introduction of the 12 inch long playing record allowed musicians the space to record with more space to develop ideas and less need to limit a recording to the shorter length which was the previous limit of what could be captured and released in earlier 10″ 78 rpm disc format. Although some, so-called, blowing sessions could sound self-indulgent, The Sermon uses the extended period to great effect. You can hear the full track from YouTube via the following link:-

To view, click on or touch the arrow

J.O.S. was recorded during the previous year, in the August of 1957 with George Coleman (alto sax), Eddie McFadden (guitar) and Donald Bailey (drums) rather than the greater stellar magnitude of Burrell, Blakey and Donaldson. It is a pacy outing with a fluent alto solo from Coleman. Jimmy Smith signals the end of this with what Ira Gitler’s original sleeve notes liken to a musical buzzer. He later becomes increasingly insistent that Morgan should end his solo but Morgan is in full flow and wisely ignores a full four blasts to offer another fine chorus. McFadden’s guitar picking is deft and delightful before the session leader duly takes the last solo.

Flamingo is from the February 1958 session, although Brooks and Donaldson sit out. It starts with a beautiful statement of the theme on Morgan’s trumpet before it is swapped to Burrell and then taken back again. There’s a sense of smoochy luxuriance here- the sort of ballad that you have to be in the right sort of mood for and a bit too MOR for some ears. It was written in 1940 by Ted Grouya and Edmund Anderson, with Duke Ellington as an early performer before Earl Bostic too it to the top of the R&B charts in 1951. Miles Davis would have done it differently and played half as many notes but Morgan’s own greatness shines through.

I’ve struggled with this review, which suggests that I don’t regard this as the essential Jimmy Smith set that the newcomer should seek out immediately. However, it does have its charms and delights.

With a writing block dispensed with, I’m away out of the traps again with lots of ideas about what is to follow. Thanks for visiting downwithit.info

The band etc:- Jimmy Smith (Hammond organ); Tina Brooks (tenor sax); George Coleman (alto sax); Lou Donaldson (alto sax); Lee Morgan (trumpet); Kenny Burrell (guitar); Eddie McFadden (guitar); Art Blakey (drums); Donald Bailey (drums). Recorded 25 August 1957 and February 25 1958. Produced: Al Lion; Manhattan Towers, New York City. Sleeve Notes: Ira Gitler. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Cover Design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note BLP 4011.

Likes(2)Dislikes(0)

Good Gracious: Lou Donaldson

Good Gracious Lou Donaldson cover

Stuff happens and time has flown by since the last post on downwithit.info but it is anticipated that the site will benefit from more frequent updates from now on. I’ll kick off, on the first day of August 2015, with a quick look at this relatively straightforward set from Lou Donaldson. At 18.30 on 1st August 2015, just under two years after starting downwithit.info, I’ve finally received 10,000 visits to the site, so I’ll drink to that later.

I haven’t posted about one of Lou’s albums before, mainly because I’m not the greatest fan of alto sax. Without trotting out a whole series of prejudices, suffice to say that my introduction to playing tenor sax was in a Jazz workshop where all the other sax players were on alto and the tunes that we were handed were frequently Charlie Parker classics, most of which start with fast and fluent phrases, requiring the altoist to play with both alacrity and dexterity. Of course, they were in the key of E Flat and since tenor is in the key of B Flat and my transposing skills were poor, I was onto a loser (or a very steep learning curve, if you like) from the b of the bang.

Couple my own nonsense with the standard response to Lou Donaldson, which is that his music is generally light, unsophisticated with little technical adventurousness and there is a case explaining why I’ve not given his recordings much of a listen. However, over the next year or so, I will attempt to give him a fair hearing.

Donaldson joined the New York jazz scene in the late 1940’s. Although his love of blues and pre-bop stylings was never lost and was to serve him well throughout his career, Charlie Parker was a very strong influence. He played alongside his idol and had many conversations about music with him. He is quoted in Kenny Mathieson’s ‘Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-65′ as saying: “He made a big, big impression on me, at least in a musical sense”. His next statement, a sober comment on Parker’s heroin addiction, suggests that he successfully avoided the then common fallacy that abuse of narcotics was what gave Parker his edge as a musician and the route to be followed if he was to be emulated.

Joe Goldberg’s sleeve notes offer some explanation of the musical course that Donaldson was charting at this stage. He notes the importance of the club circuit ‘… where patrons are laughing, talking, drinking; enjoying themselves rather than listening to the music with solemnly exclusive attention.’ He then says that Donaldson has attempted to offer something different in the social lounge setting: ‘His playing evidences more reserve and control than the emotion-dispensers whose honking and shrieking has tended to label anyone who works in this format.’ So LD was seeking the middle ground between the club and the concert hall and perhaps that captures the dilemma. By being neither in one genre or the other, he is easy for the critic to pass over ((for example Richard Cook barely mentioned this stage of LD’s career in ‘Blue Note Records: The Biography’). LD, however, was candid in his view that he was happy with regular live work and steady album sales and that he had not wish to be a starving, though unheard and unrewarded, cutting-edge genius.

Good Gracious was recorded on 24 January 1963. It finds Lou Donaldson presiding on alto over a trio of Hammond organ, guitar and drums, featuring early appearances in the careers of Patton and Green, who, as well we know were to become Blue Note stalwarts.

Bad John sets a bright opening fast blues tempo. Although Donaldson starts off with a light intro, the piece becomes a vehicle for first, John Patton on Hammond and then Grant Green’s guitar. Lou’s own solo is fluent, yet unchallenging, though easy on the ear.

The sanctified organ on the slow gospel blues The Holy Ghost takes us off to the land where it is perpetually Sunday morning. Lou’s alto sound here is melodic, shading towards the saccharine.

Cherry, a Don Redman tune harks back to an earlier era of 30’s swing and Donaldson’s solo quotes but does not launch into detailed exploration of a series of bebop phrases.

Caracas is, as the name suggests, a nod to bossa nova. LD had recorded an earlier version, years earlier, in the mid-50s during his well-regarded sextet date with Kenny Dorham and Art Blakey from 1954. I’m not familiar with that incarnation, yet, so I can’t currently comment on it.

Good Gracious is finger-snapping jump jazz featuring some gorgeous guitar from Grant Green. If ever a tune was calling out for a blistering solo from a saxophonist, this is one. LD’s is fast and fluid but again a little thin on excitement. What do you think?

Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me, a ballad made famous as part of Billy Holliday’s songbook and written by Rube Bloom and Ted Koehler (incidentally, Koehler wrote the lyrics to the great standard song, Stormy Weather). Once again, Grant Green takes a memorable solo, played with exquisite restraint that is matched by Lou Donaldson’s own contribution.

As our quick tour through Good Gracious has shown, the set is one of those Blue Notes which attempts to cover all bases and on a cursory listen fails to impress as it shifts from juke box to standard to Bossa to ballad, although the six tracks do include four LD original compositions. Despite that it is an album which you may consider to repay a little extended listening, in which the variety it offers eventually becomes a virtue. That said, it is probably one for the seasoned collector rather than a stand-alone purchase for somebody new to the genre. As I’ve said above, well return to consider other Lou Donaldson sets in the not too distant future.

Cover photography was by Ronnie Braithwaite, brother of Strich specialist George Braith. Some will view it as an image, which is inexcusably sexist, while others may chose to interpret it differently. While a full consideration of its semiotics would perhaps be of interest, I’ve got to get this blog post out now and I’ll not offer up my tuppence worth now.

The band etc: Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone); Grant Green (guitar); John Patton (organ); Ben Dixon (drums). Recorded: 23 January 1963. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Joe Goldberg. Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Ronnie Braithwaite. Model: Rose Nelmes (Grandasssa Models). Issued as Blue Note 84125.

Likes(1)Dislikes(0)