Mike LeDonne began his musical career playing piano, but a few years ago he transferred those skills to the Hammond B3 organ. He has since become an excellent, if underrated, B3 player.
According to the bio of him that appears on allmusic.com, he was born in Bridgeport, CT to a musical family. His parents owned a music store and his father was a jazz guitarist.
In “The Biographical Encyclopedia Of Jazz”, Feather & Gitler say LeDonne studied at the Manhattan School Of Music and with Jaki Byard at the New England Conservatory Of Music.
LeDonne has played with Roy Eldridge Joshua Redman and many others. He also was a member of the Milt Jackson Quartet, and after Jackson died LeDonne became the musical director of the quartet.
Here’s a video of LeDonne and the Milt Jackson Quartet from 1990:
|Smokin’ Out Loud, 2003, Savant
The Mike LeDonne album I want to tell you about this time ’round is “Smokin’ Out Loud”, released in on the Savant label. This album was LeDonne’s first outing as an organist.
The personnel are:
Mike LeDonne, Hammond B3 organ
Eric Alexander, tenor sax
Peter Bernstein, guitar
Joe Farnsworth, drums
And it’s surely worth mentioning that the recording engineer was the legendary Rudy Van Gelder.
The album gets off to a great start with “One For Don”, one of two LeDonne compositions to grace this disk. The “Don” of the title is Don Patterson, another under-rated organ player. This song is by turns energetic and mellow, but it never loses the fire from the Hammond B3 and Farnsworth’s drums. At 7:56 it is easily the longest song on the disk. As you might expect, everyone gets a workout, and the song does an excellent job setting the stage for the eight others to follow.
“You’ll See” is a Jimmy Smith composition, tailor-made of course for a fiery B-3. But Alexander’s sax takes the lead at the beginning, with LeDonne and the others stoking the flames. LeDonne eventually takes over, and it’s a white hot burn from there.
The second LeDonne piece on this disk is “Silverdust”. With perhaps a touch of blues, this song too mainly floats on Alexander’s sax at first. About a third of the way through, Bernstein and his guitar take the lead, followed by LeDonne and the others.
“French Spice”, written by trumpeter Donald Byrd, is a great song that the LeDonne really cuts loose on. In this one LeDonne finally steps out of the background and takes the lead for a good portion of the song. Then, perhaps predictably, Alexander once again takes the lead, followed by Bernstein on the guitar. And all the while, Farnsworth is playing his ass off in the background, ta-ta-ting, ta-ta-ting, ta-ta-ting… No rest for the cymbals as they beat out the time.
“[They Long To Be] Close To You” has never sounded better, other than when The Carpenters first recorded it of course. But with all due respect to Karen Carpenter’s memory, that version did not COOK the way this one does. LeDonne’s interpretation definitely lifts “Close To You” out of the love song category and drops it neatly into the “don’t touch or you’ll get burned!” section.
Eric Alexander has long been on my list of favorite sax players, and his contribution on this album is a work of beauty. I could sit back with my eyes closed and listen to this all day. Except, knowing me, I’d probably fall asleep. 😉 Not that the music is boring. I assure you, boring and sleep are two concepts that will not enter your mind as you listen to this album.
Mike LeDonne’s “Smokin’ Out Loud” is definitely a “must-have” addition for any jazz lover’s personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
To learn more about Mike LeDonne and his music, you can try to visit his web site at www.mikeledonne.com. I’m sure they’ll have things up and running there soon, much as Benny Carter’s site did a few weeks ago.