Welcome to the third installment of “Jazz For A Saturday Night”. This time ’round I’ll be discussing an album released some time ago by legendary saxophonist Lou Donaldson.
NOTE: This article was originally written and posted online on 8-27-2011. It was revised and expanded considerably on 10-13-2012. The original version ran to 409 words; this expanded version is 1280+ words. I hope you enjoy it!
A lot has happened for Donaldson since I wrote the original version of this article in August of 2011. Probably the most notable happening is, earlier in 2012 the National Endowment For The Arts selected Donaldson as one of this year’s NEA Jazz Masters.
The NEA Jazz Master award is, as their web site says, “the highest honor in jazz”. Previous winners include:
The entire Marsalis Family
The NEA Jazz Master award was created in 1982, and no more than seven are granted in any one year. The other winners this time are: Mose Allison, Lorraine Gordon and Eddie Palmieri.
You may read the official announcement of this year’s winners here.
Lou Donaldson was born on November 1, 1926 in Badin, North Carolina. His father was an insurance salesman and his mother was both a teacher and the music director at Badin High School. She was also a concert pianist, and taught the instrument to students.
When Donaldson became interested in music, he avoided the piano because his mother had a switch that she used to smack the fingers of students who made mistakes. Being the bright boy that he was, he wanted none of that!
When he was nine years old, his mother gave him a clarinet, which he basically taught himself to play. He began playing alto saxophone while serving in the US Navy during World War II.
After the war, Donaldson returned to North Carolina and continued his musical studies at North Carolina A&T College. In 1950 he moved to New York City and enrolled in the Darrow Institute Of Music.
In the years that followed, Donaldson played with a great many musicians. The list includes the Milt Jackson Quartet (Jackson, Percy Heath, John Lewis, Kenny Clark), Horace Silver, Grant Green, Clifford Brown, Tommy Turrentine, Blue Mitchell, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Donald Byrd, Mark Elf, and the list goes on and on and on seemingly endless.
Over the years Donaldson has travelled extensively, performing before live audiences all over the world. He has also recorded dozens of albums, including the one I want to talk about today: His 1991 release on the Milestone label, “Play The Right Thing”.
The personnel on this one are:
Lou Donaldson, alto sax and vocals on “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman”
Dr. Lonnie Smith, organ
Peter Bernstein, guitar
Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, drums
Ralph Dorsey, conga
“Play The Right Thing” is overall a rather mellow soul-jazz album, the type I like to listen to during the dinner hour and then later in the evening after the evening has begun to wind down.
The album kicks off with the title track, “Play The Right Thing”, which is one of three Donaldson originals on this disk. This is a lively tune in which the whole group participates and moves it right along. The warm welcome from Donaldson’s sax and Smith’s organ make this a tune I never tire of hearing.
“Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman”, also by Donaldson, follows. This isn’t my favorite version of this funky, bluesy tune, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. This kinky vocal (by Donaldson, no less) is either an ode to the concept “love is blind” or maybe “love is drunk” might be a more appropriate theme. Either way, this is a love song like no other, with the possible exception of “You’ve Changed”.
“Marmaduke” is next, an animated, fun Charlie Parker song. I just did a quick search of my collection and discovered that I don’t have a copy of this song actually performed by Bird, so I can’t compare the two. Safe to say this crew’s experience and accessible style virtually ensures enjoyment on several levels. As you might expect from a Parker refrain, “Marmaduke” offers us plenty of Donaldson’s alto. Of course everyone has their turn front and center, but I have to say that I especially like Bernstein’s fretwork.
Earl Hagen and Richard Rogers’ 1939 classic, “Harlem Nocturne” follows. Donaldson’s alto gives this classic just the right feel, while the rhythm section, as always, keeps the groove on. Guitarist Bernstein gets a nice stint up front, and Smith gives a mellow turn of phrase or two on his Hammond B3.
I don’t believe I heard “This Is Happiness” before I acquired this album. The song was written by no less than the great Tad Dameron, one of the greatest jazz composers ever. I have to say that this group does an excellent job of making the song live up to its name. It’s a quietly melodic delight from start to finish.
“This Is Happiness” is followed by “I Had The Craziest Dream”, from Mack Gordon and Harry Warren. This one opens with Donaldson and Smith in a mellow duet. They are joined by Purdie almost a minute in, and once again the rhythm section lays down a groove while Donaldson weaves wondrous notes of beauty. Then Bernstein takes the lead for a beautiful moment before turning things over to Smith. Then Donaldson returns and takes it to the end.
The standard, “The Masquerade Is Over” is next. It was written by one of the lesser-known songwriting teams I’ve run across, Herbert Magidson and Allie Wrubel. Donaldson’s plaintive alto and Smith’s mellow B3 give this ballad a very mellow start, with an occasional stroke of the brush from Purdie. This one remains a trio effort right to the final note.
“Foot Pattin’ Time”, the third Donaldson original here, is the final track on the album. As the name implies, this is another piece that moves right along, dominated by the frenetic keyboard work of Smith and “Pretty” Purdie’s drums. When Bernstein comes in about two and a half minutes along it’s actually a surprise. Not an unpleasant one though, as Bernstein burns up the fret board keeping the pace going. Speaking of burns up, I have to say the guys do burn right through this one. This is a great song with which to end a fantastic album.
When the last of your guests have left for home and you’re alone, perhaps enjoying the vacuum left by their departure, Lou Donaldson’s album “Play The Right Thing” will help provide a mostly mellow but occasionally not, bluesy-jazzy-soulful backdrop for what’s left of your Saturday night.
You can learn more about Lou Donaldson and his music by visiting his web site. Esteemed jazz writer Scott Yanow has written a short bio of Donaldson for the allmusic.com web site. A more complete bio appears here on Donaldson’s own web site.
I was looking forward to embedding one or two videos of Donaldson performing material from this album, as I have done in my more recent reviews. However, when I tried to get an embedding code for the only song here that I could find online, I received a message saying embedding had been disabled “by request”.
That being the case, I have decided to include NO embedded videos of Donaldson. Discretion is the better part of valor and all that.
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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