Art Works Blog

Spotlight on Lou Donaldson

"Lou Donaldson reminds us that no matter how much technique you have, you cannot really play this music unless you play it with a large amount of soul. And for that, I thank you, Lou." ---Saxophonist Sherman Irby

"Very few artists of any genre have been able to maintain the highest level of creativity and performance for over 60 years as has Lou Donaldson. He is one of the pioneers of the modern jazz sound, and a keeper of the blues tradition." ---Alto saxophonist Steve Wilson

For the next few days on the blog, we'll be looking at the 2013 class of NEA Jazz Masters, beginning with Lou Donaldson. Donaldson's distinctive blues-drenched alto saxophone has been a force in jazz for more than six decades. Donaldson began playing the clarinet at age nine, and by 15 was enrolled in North Carolina A&T College, where he would later receive a BS degree. He was drafted into the United States Navy in 1945 and became a member of the Great Lakes Navy Band. Donaldson moved to New York in 1950 where he attended the Darrow Institute of Music and played at Harlem clubs at night. Charlie Parker was initially an influence on Donaldson's sound, but he eventually developed his own style. Alfred Lion, co-founder of Blue Note Records, heard Donaldson playing at Minton's Playhouse and invited him to record for his label. In 1954 Donaldson recorded A Night at Birdland with Art Blakey, considered one of the first in the hard bop genre. During the 1950s, Donaldson spent much of his time as a bandleader touring with a band that featured organist John Patton. Donaldson began using the organ-saxophone format exclusively and the sound -- which he called "swinging bebop"---helped, for a time, make jazz as popular as it had been during the swing era. Donaldson is the recipient of an honorary doctorate of letters from his alma mater---now called the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University---that also awards an annual scholarship in his name. He was inducted into the International Jazz Hall of Fame in 1996.

On January 14th at 7:30 p.m., tune in to our live webcast of the 2013 NEA Jazz Masters Ceremony and Concert! The evening will feature performances by past NEA Jazz Masters such as Sheila Jordan, Ron Carter, Paquito D'Rivera, and Randy Weston, and will celebrate this year’s class of honorees: Lorraine Gordon, Mose Allison, Lou Donaldson, and Eddie Palmieri. Click here for more information.


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