Keyboardist/pianist Mike LeDonne has had a remarkable career, having played his first professional gig at the age of 10. He was born May 11, 1956 in Bridgeport, CT, where his parents ran a music store. LeDonne groomed his skills all through junior high and high school before attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.
After graduation he stepped out into the big world of New York Jazz. During that time and over the years that followed, he met and played with Roy Eldridge, Benny Goodman, Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson, Al Grey, Ruby Braff, Art Farmer & Clifford Jordan, James Moody, and many others.
He has traveled the world spreading the joy of jazz wherever he goes. A number of years ago he settled into a weekly gig at Smoke Jazz Club in New York City, and it’s a rare Tuesday night that he and his band can’t be found there, bringing down the house.
Having said that, it will come to you as no surprise that the Mike LeDonne album I want to write about today was recorded at Smoke and released in August 2008.
The album is called ‘FiveLive,” and features LeDonne’s long-time cohorts:
Mike LeDonne, piano
Eric Alexander, tenor sax
Jeremy Pelt, trumpet
John Webber, bass
Joe Farnsworth, drums
“FiveLive” gives us three LeDonne originals and a mixed bag of other songs. The opener is one of LeDonne’s, a nice tune called “Encounter.” This one opens with everyone jumping right in and takes off from there. Pelt’s trumpet work is a standout on this one, as is Alexander on sax.
The Stevie Wonder song “You And I” provides a change of pace, carrying the listener forward with a gentle melody that is quiet but never boring before it hands us off to another LeDonne original called simply “Hands.”
I have no idea of the provenance of the title, but I can tell you that all hands acquit themselves well in the presentation. Ha. Pun fully intended. Accept it or leave, because it may not be the only one. You are warned. 😉
You will find “Hands” to be a sparkling, happy piece, as did the audience at Smoke that night.
“Hand” is followed by a delightful song from trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, the aptly-named “Good Times.” Despite a comparatively quiet opening, the rhythm section’s discreet energy pulls this one along with cold fire until Alexander steps forward and that big, round, warm sax sound boils out.
Dizzy Gillespie’s “Mante ca” is up next, although the casual listener who hadn’t read the track list might be caught by surprise by the new opening LeDonne has given this classic. Eventually Alexander’s tenor hits full speed and, unexpected opening or not, we take flight into the late night sky, propelled by note after note after note…
In 1941, Duke Ellington and Paul Francis Webster wrote a nice, quiet little song that achieved a bit of popularity. At the time, I’m sure neither man had the slightest inkling that 70-odd years later, people would still be making new recordings of their handiwork. Dozens of artists have indeed done just that, ranging from Cannonball Adderley to Shirley Horn to Billy Holliday to Carly Simon.
The song I am talking about is the seemingly immortal, “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good).” It is showcased here with just LeDonne on piano and drummer Farnsworth giving his brushes a nice workout in the background. Delightful, simply delightful.
“I Got It Bad” is followed by the third and final LeDonne original, “Little M,” which in turn is followed by the final song in the set, Cedar Walton’s “Bleeker Street Theme.” I would love to tell you more about them, but I’m afraid our time is up for today. 🙂
In case I need to spell it out, yes, I do believe you will find Mike LeDonne’s “FiveLive” to be a wonderful addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
The moribund jazz.com web site has a nice interview with LeDonne that was conducted shortly after the release of “FiveLive.”
LeDonne loves the Hammond B3 organ, and the folks at Hammond like him also. You can read a short bio of him on the Hammond web site.
Last but not least, Rhythm Planet has a nice bio of LeDonne on their web site.
Thanks for reading this.
Wood Village, Oregon
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