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Hardbopjazz

Lou Donaldson in Jazz Times

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07/09/15

Christian McBride

To the 88-year-old alto saxophone sage Lou Donaldson, the current scene—with its tourist-friendly, high-cover clubs featuring clean-living, overeducated musicians—is pretty sterile and uninspired. Considering the jazz environment he cut his teeth in, full of soulful, entertainment-minded players, corner-bar venues and an audience that may or may not be packing heat, how could it be anything else?

In this live interview, conducted by bassist and fellow swing-defender Christian McBride as part of the Portland Jazz Festival in February, the soul-jazz trailblazer takes a sidesplitting trip down memory lane.

I call Lou Donaldson the Don Rickles of jazz because nobody’s safe around him. I love how he’s very judicious and fair with all of his “complimentary insults,” as I call them. You tell a great story about when Redd Foxx came to sit in with you at Count Basie’s club. Would you mind telling that story?

He came to the club and when I saw him I said, “No, don’t come up here,” because he agitates. Any time he sees a musician, he’s in trouble. The manager came over and said, “Now, look, people want to see Redd sing a song. You have to let him sing.” I said, “Well, what does he want to sing?” Redd said, “I want to sing ‘I Can’t Get Started With You.’” I said, “We don’t know that.”

I had Larry Young, the organ player, and he really didn’t know it. Redd started to sing it, and it was the worst singing you ever heard. Larry Young, about 23 years old at that time, was 6-foot-4 and weighed about 250, without a pound of fat anywhere. Redd was my size, so he was looking down at Redd and I thought he was gonna hit Redd. Redd had a split in his pants and he could go down to his knees, and he pulled a razor out and hid it. So that made him about three feet away from where Larry Young and I were sitting. He put it around [Young’s] throat and said, “That’s the reason I can talk like that.”

You don’t see that in jazz anymore.
But I got it worse than that. I was working at the Five Spot and they brought in Ornette Coleman.

Uh oh…

…and Redd came down to hear him. Everybody was standing on their feet, commenting about this new saxophone player with the new style. Redd came up and someone said, “Well, Redd, what do you think of Ornette Coleman?” Redd said, “Well, they tell me he plays the music of tomorrow, and that’s when I want to hear it: tomorrow.” He said, “Today I want to hear some music of today.” [both laugh]

That’s a new one; I never heard that one before.

And he was right! [more laughs] Ornette told me one time, he said, “Lou, you need to play some of this free music.” I said, “Uh-uh, I don’t do that. I like to get paid.”

Yeah, but it’s interesting. There’s a new thing in jazz now. You play free and you can win a half-million-dollar grant. You want to play free now?

Oh, no. Not me. I told David Murray one night, “David, I just had a pretty good record. I think I’m gonna buy a club and you’re gonna be my first attraction. And I’m gonna let all the people in free and I’ll put Mike Tyson on the door and make everybody pay to get out.” [laughs]

Ornette Coleman, check. David Murray, check. [laughs] I want to ask you about a legendary record you played on: the classic A Night at Birdland with Art Blakey, Clifford Brown, yourself, Horace Silver, Curly Russell. You’ve told me many times that you were actually the catalyst that put that band together. Art Blakey wasn’t even originally on that gig.

He wasn’t even in New York! Art Blakey was stranded in California. The president of the company [Blue Note Records], Alfred Lion, sent Art money two or three times, and Art would call back each time with a different answer. The worst one he ever had was that he was on his way to the airport and a guy mugged him and took the tickets. [laughs]

To read the rest of this story, purchase the issue in print or from the Apple Newsstand. Print and digital subscriptions are also available.

http://jazztimes.com/articles/162710-back-in-them-days-the-lou-donaldson-interview

Edited by Hardbopjazz

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Love his remarks about Ornette.  Still true, as far as I'm concerned.

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well, no ... might be entertaining at first, but whenever I start thinking about Donaldson's (a sage, ha!) remarks, he strikes me as (gulp) some sort of bebop fascist -

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A decent artist insulting a great one, not really funny.

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the jokes are getting really old. but we alredy knew that.

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He's earned the right to be wrong. He has.

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He's earned the right to be wrong. He has.

no denying that from my end - but it still falls back on him -- and makes him look very bad

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I don't worry about it. It's Lou Donaldson. Lou do what Lou do, Lou be how Lou be. I enjoy him and it for what they both are. It's not like any of these guys stared down history and froze Ornette, or anything. They tried, and time has shown that they have failed.

Same thing with Betty Carter and the "avant-garde", man, she was NASTY about it. But it was Betty Carter, dig? Betty Carter did what SHE did so badass that she earned the right to be wrong, imo. She was as seriously strong about what SHE did, that her worrying about what other people were doing became kinda irrelevant to progress at large, as long as she was alive she mattered for what SHE did, not what she thought about other people, and now that she's gone, all the more so.

I mean, up until the day he died, I don't think Stanley Dance ever made a full peace with bebop, never mind anything past that. So when Stanley Dance would write all those Radio Free Jazz/Jazz Times reviews/JJI articles (well into the 1980s, iirc) with all the pissy asides about "modern" this and that, he, fuck it, it's Stanley Dance. What he knew, he knew WELL, right? Everything else, just...people we love aren't always right about everything...for that matter, people we hate aren't always wrong about everything.

Lou's an old guy occupying an increasingly shrinking space in an increasingly shrinking plot of living history. Enjoy it for what it is, warts and all, before it's no longer there.

 

 

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I don't worry about it. It's Lou Donaldson. Lou do what Lou do, Lou be how Lou be. I enjoy him and it for what they both are. It's not like any of these guys stared down history and froze Ornette, or anything. They tried, and time has shown that they have failed.

Same thing with Betty Carter and the "avant-garde", man, she was NASTY about it. But it was Betty Carter, dig? Betty Carter did what SHE did so badass that she earned the right to be wrong, imo. She was as seriously strong about what SHE did, that her worrying about what other people were doing became kinda irrelevant to progress at large, as long as she was alive she mattered for what SHE did, not what she thought about other people, and now that she's gone, all the more so.

I mean, up until the day he died, I don't think Stanley Dance ever made a full peace with bebop, never mind anything past that. So when Stanley Dance would write all those Radio Free Jazz/Jazz Times reviews/JJI articles (well into the 1980s, iirc) with all the pissy asides about "modern" this and that, he, fuck it, it's Stanley Dance. What he knew, he knew WELL, right? Everything else, just...people we love aren't always right about everything...for that matter, people we hate aren't always wrong about everything.

Lou's an old guy occupying an increasingly shrinking space in an increasingly shrinking plot of living history. Enjoy it for what it is, warts and all, before it's no longer there.

 

 

Yeah that.

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Amazing how, at this stage, so many posters here feel threatened by a different opinion.  Why not just enjoy the music you like and let others have their say?

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If it was 1965, the fight would still be drawing blood, so, yeah, in 1965, fuck that about Lou Donaldson, but still, here comes all those Melvin Sparks/Leo Morris/Lonnie Smith/Leon Spencer/etc records that he did for the money, but did RIGHT for the money, so...yeah, fuck you Lou Donaldson, but anyway, when will your next record be available?

But in 2015? The time where that shit has any meaning outside of "here he is, still crusty at 98" type of thing has passed...and today, I don't care when his next record is coming out, or even if there will be one.

It that time of life for Lou Donaldson, and it's that point in time for jazz.

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Amazing how, at this stage, so many posters here feel threatened by a different opinion.  Why not just enjoy the music you like and let others have their say?

I don't feel threatened at all ... or wait, maybe I do, but we're not supposed to talk politics.

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Some funny remarks, but if the music went where Lou wanted it to go, it might never have gone beyond swing or jazz influenced r&b. I wish McBride had played him some Bird, so we could read his comments on that music. With Bird, he might have toned down what he had to say.

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I don't know much about Christian McBride, other than the fact that he can play the bass quite well, but if he's encouraging some 'mouldy fig' line in 2015, that's pretty lame. There's been enough music before and since McBride was born for him to know better.

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But then Isn't that the whole selling point of doing an interview with Donaldson?

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For the record, McBride isn't just a neobopper.

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Amazing how, at this stage, so many posters here feel threatened by a different opinion.  Why not just enjoy the music you like and let others have their say?

sometimes a stupidly-expressed opinion is just a stupidly-expressed opinion.

Edited by Guy Berger

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Some funny remarks, but if the music went where Lou wanted it to go, it might never have gone beyond swing or jazz influenced r&b.

Somehow I have always been under the impression that Lou Donaldson constantly played in a style of jazz that went BEYOND that, so .... ?

Besides, just looking at the excerpt in the opening post: If you just take the core of one man's opinion and observations from his presence on the scene and even take them with a bit of salt, there STILL is a grain of "emperor's clothes" truth to it after all. Acquired wisdom (of what one - at large - is supposed NOT to disagree on) isn't always where wisdom really is. ;)

 

 

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Some funny remarks, but if the music went where Lou wanted it to go, it might never have gone beyond swing or jazz influenced r&b.

Somehow I have always been under the impression that Lou Donaldson constantly played in a style of jazz that went BEYOND that, so .... ?

Besides, just looking at the excerpt in the opening post: If you just take the core of one man's opinion and observations from his presence on the scene and even take them with a bit of salt, there STILL is a grain of "emperor's clothes" truth to it after all. Acquired wisdom (of what one - at large - is supposed NOT to disagree on) isn't always where wisdom really is. ;)

 

 

Lou Donaldson did play in a style that went beyond swing or jazz influenced r&b in the 1950's, but his playing regressed (in terms of "modernity") after that, and it seems that he was happy to play only what people wanted to hear - even to the point of memorizing a recorded solo so that people would hear exactly what they were used to. That's fine for him if that's what he wanted to do, but why put down others who wanted to play something new? As for his putdown of John Coltrane, someone should tell Lou that Trane's records have probably easily outsold his over the years, so what does that say about his theories of music and popularity?

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Lou Donaldson did play in a style that went beyond swing or jazz influenced r&b in the 1950's, but his playing regressed (in terms of "modernity") after that, and it seems that he was happy to play only what people wanted to hear - even to the point of memorizing a recorded solo so that people would hear exactly what they were used to. That's fine for him if that's what he wanted to do, but why put down others who wanted to play something new?

But did he regress back beyond his bebop style later on and went back to swing and R&B? Honestly, can you really say somebody REGRESSED if he stuck to his guns throughout his career and did not feel like jumping on the free or electro-jazz or fusion or post-whatever bandwagon that came (and went, BTW) after the hard bop era? He may have stagnated (at most) - but regressed? IMO "modernity" is not an end in itself (in jazz, in particular) to be judged by what is just the current and most "modern" fad, or else any modernity would be just a gimmick. The tree of jazz branches out in many different directions and these stylistic branches can and should coexist.

And actually, I find his remark about and to Ornette Coleman about the pointlessness (for HIM) of playing "free" quite to the mark, given the niche character of jazz and the problems of making a living there. Besides, who was Ornette Coleman to tell Lou Donaldson he (quote) "needed" to play "some of this free music"? Why venturing out into something that you don't wholeheartedly believe in? And if you played something just because you felt (or were told) you "needed" to play this, then doesn't this sound like trying to follow a fad again?

Yes I am nitpicking a bit, but I find this automatically taking swipes at those who have their own take on the "holy cows"  of jazz a bit over the top. There is no "right" or "wrong" in this, just opinions. Particularly if it's the musicians among themselves.

Edited by Big Beat Steve

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Some funny remarks, but if the music went where Lou wanted it to go, it might never have gone beyond swing or jazz influenced r&b.

Somehow I have always been under the impression that Lou Donaldson constantly played in a style of jazz that went BEYOND that, so .... ?

Besides, just looking at the excerpt in the opening post: If you just take the core of one man's opinion and observations from his presence on the scene and even take them with a bit of salt, there STILL is a grain of "emperor's clothes" truth to it after all. Acquired wisdom (of what one - at large - is supposed NOT to disagree on) isn't always where wisdom really is. ;)

 

 

Lou Donaldson did play in a style that went beyond swing or jazz influenced r&b in the 1950's, but his playing regressed (in terms of "modernity") after that, and it seems that he was happy to play only what people wanted to hear - even to the point of memorizing a recorded solo so that people would hear exactly what they were used to. That's fine for him if that's what he wanted to do, but why put down others who wanted to play something new? As for his putdown of John Coltrane, someone should tell Lou that Trane's records have probably easily outsold his over the years, so what does that say about his theories of music and popularity?

1. Pretty sure it's Lou's stage patter that is canned, not his solos. And if bebop still counts as modern, then Lou still plays pretty modern, since he always includes a bop anthem or three, along with Alligator Boogaloo.

2. I'd venture a guess that it took some time for Trane's records to outsell his, and they didn't outsell them while they were both alive. And when it came to paying customers I'm pretty sure Lou had Trane beat pretty easily.  That was Lou's whole M.O., give the people what they want, and make sure you book reliable musicians to play your shows.  Guys like Trane and Ornette gave the people what they themselves wanted and let their music find their audience.  God love all of them.

I just don't get the sensitivity of the free jazz crowd.  YMMV of course.

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All I was referring to was a part of the interview where a customer complained that he wasn't playing a tune - I believe it was "Here 'Tis" - the way it was on the record. Lou learned the recorded solo and went back to the club to play it exactly as it was on the record and make the guy happy. If that's what Lou and the customer wanted, fine for them.

As for Trane's record sales, he certainly had steady sales while he was alive and was under contract from 1961 until his death. I've read that Coltrane's record sales helped to carry Impulse as a jazz label.

Lou can say whatever he wants. It's all just entertaining b.s. to me.

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I don't mind Donaldson's remarks, he's from another generation; more offended by McBride saying how you can play 'free' and win a huge grant. That kind of crap should be beneath him.

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L.D. makes me smile, playing or talking. 50 years ago or so the Inquiring Reporter for Sounds And Fury asked him something or other about homosexuality in jazz. LD said, "Jazz is screwing music."

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Jim said basically everything I would have said, but far more eloquently.  :)

I love Lou and I love Coltrane, what one said about the other really doesn't have any impact on my personally.  

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