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Lou Donaldson, Saxophonist
Lou Donaldson, one of the true keepers of the classic jazz, is a witty raconteur with stories galore. His distinctive, blues-based tone has been heard in a variety of small-group settings, and he has recorded dozens of worthy and spirited sets throughout the years.
He began playing clarinet at 15, and soon switched to the alto sax. He attended college and performed in a Navy band while in the military. Donaldson first gained attention in 1952, when he started recording for Blue Note as a leader. At the age of 25, his style was fully formed, and although it would continue growing in depth through the years, Donaldson had already found his sound. In 1954, he participated in a notable gig with Art Blakey, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver and Tommy Potter that Blue Note records documented extensively, and which directly preceded the Jazz Messengers. He recorded as a sideman in the 1950s and occasionally with Thelonious Monk, Milt Jackson and Jimmy Smith, among others, yet he has been a bandleader from the mid-1950s up to now.
Donaldson's early Blue Note recordings were straight-ahead bop dates. In 1958 he began to incorporate a conga player, and from 1961 his bands often used an organist rather than a pianist. His blues-drenched style became a staple of soul-jazz, the musical context he's best known for by the jazz public. His association with Blue Note (1952-63) was succeeded by some excellent (if now-scarce) sets for Cadet and Argo (1963-66). Donaldson returned to Blue Note in 1967 and ventured into the more commercial leanings of the label; in this vein, he played an electronic Varitone sax, which some critics say watered down his sound. Yet, the success of "Alligator Boogaloo" in 1967 belied such criticism.
In the early '80s began recording soul-jazz and hard bop dates for Muse, Timeless and Milestone, which found him once again in prime form, not diminished to this very day. For proof of this claim, hear him proclaim that "Kenny G shouldn't try this," at one of his concerts, as he launches into a furious up-tempo number that he handles with aplomb, with blues and bebop lines and even occasional references to "Flight of the Bumblebee."