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February 24, 2009

Conversation with Lou Donaldson

The second talk I attended for the 2009 Portland Jazz Festival was a conversation with Lou Donaldson at the PCPA Art Bar. It was moderated by Larry Appelbaum of JazzTimes for a piece called "Before and After." Appelbaum described this to the audience as a blind fold test where tracks were played and Lou was meant to discuss them and share his wealth of knowledge. Out of the 11 songs displayed, he was able to identify, I'd say at least nine of the horn players on them. Being 82 years old and the oldest living Blue Note artist, he had quite the opinion to share about each tune -- old and new, positive and negative.

Rather than talk about each song played and Donaldson's input I'll just share his personality and some of his knowledge (I'll let the article in JazzTimes elaborate further about the tracks). First of all, Donaldson doesn't look anything like 82 years old, he could pass for an early 70s, perhaps even late, late 60s. He's been on the scene since his military days playing clarinet for the Navy Band in Chicago during the 1940s. That's when he first heard Bird and was inspired to toss his clarinet into the water and stick to alto. "I'm a Parker man, everything else is just sax playing," he said as he further discussed Parker's tone and how he would move around the chords. I was surprised to hear some of Donaldson's opinions on a lot of other musicians of his era. Most of them quite low, but you couldn't help to not judge him -- even though he was trashing some of my favorites like Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Eric Dolphy -- This man has been around and his expressions of these artists are more authentic and sincere than mine or any jazz critic.
For example, Lou stated you can't play jazz unless you can play the blues. I'd say that's a fair assessment. However, when asked about Coltrane he said Coltrane could never play the blues. Right there he just proclaimed Coltrane couldn't play jazz. But who cares! It's Lou Donaldson and his thoughts were absolutely brilliant. Another example is he said Monk was a terrible performer. That he was a genius bop composer but couldn't play greatly -- another pretty wild fact to state. Again, if this was a random local at the pub telling me this I would argue them into the ground, but Lou Donaldson was there. He knew these guys. He recorded hit records on Blue Note. So one has to take these words with sheer credibility.

I did get some homework from this talk. When talking about Hank Crawford, Donaldson noted his favorite album of his was Misty. And when asked what his top five all time favorite records were, Lou was hesitant to list them, but did mention Flying Home by Illinois Jacquet as the greatest he had ever heard, but not in his top five. These are added to my list of records to get.

Post about the concert next.

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