Lou Donaldson

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"Sweet Poppa" Lou Donaldson

Louis Andrew Donaldson (* 1. November 1926 in Badin , North Carolina ) is an American jazz - saxophonist , bandleader and composer . In his over 60-year career he played a. a. with Milt Jackson , Thelonious Monk , Art Blakey , Jimmy Smith and George Benson . Musicians like Horace Silver , Clifford Brown , Ray Barretto , Grant Green , Big John Patton , Lonnie Smith , Blue Mitchell and Donald Byrd made their first recordings with Donaldson.

Lou Donaldson is a pioneer of both hard bop and soul jazz and one of the most widely sampled jazz musicians.


Lou Donaldson (3rd from left) on stage with Scott Hamilton in Paris

Louis A. Donaldson was born the second of four children in Badin, a small town at the foot of the Uwharrie Mountains . His mother, Lucy Wallace Donaldson, was a trained concert pianist and worked as a music teacher at Badin High School and as an organist in a church. His father, Louis Andrew Donaldson, Sr., worked as an insurance salesman and pastor. When Lou Donaldson was nine, his mother gave him a clarinet . At the age of 15 he played in the local marching band . During college, he was drafted into the Navy in 1945 . He played in the local military band and switched to his actual calling, the alto saxophone . His great role model was Charlie Parker , who was then at the height of his musical career. After completing his military service, Lou Donaldson resumed his interrupted college education and graduated in 1947 with a Bachelor of Science . After that, he aspired to a semi-professional baseball career . It was only at the urging of the drummer Poppa Jo Jones that he moved to New York City in 1950 , where he performed numerous weekend appearances in Harlem's jazz clubs .

First stage at Blue Note (1952–1963)

Discovery and early recordings

At a gig at Minton's Playhouse , Donaldson was discovered by Alfred Lion , founder and talent scout of Blue Note Records . Lion hired Donaldson as Charlie Parker-style saxophone accompaniment for a record of the Milt Jackson Quartet , later the Modern Jazz Quartet . On May 30, 1952, Lou Donaldson accompanied a session by Thelonious Monk, which appeared on the Blue Note album Genius of Modern Music: Volume 2 . Satisfied with the recordings, Alfred Lion offered him recordings as a solo artist; one of the most fruitful collaborations of the jazz label began. From 1952 to 1963 Lou Donaldson recorded three 10 "and thirteen 12" LP's for Blue Note Records, among others with percussionist Ray Barretto and drummer Art Blakey. The 1960 album Midnight Sun (Blue Note LT-1028) with Ray Barretto and Horace Parlan was not released until 1980 and only in Japan. Donaldson's signature song of the era is Blues Walk .

A Night at Birdland

Lou Donaldson played in the Art Blakey Quintet in 1954 , a short-lived preliminary stage to the famous Jazz Messengers . The quintet included drummer Art Blakey, pianist Horace Silver, trumpeter Clifford Brown and bassist Curly Russell . A testament to this collaboration is the live album A Night at Birdland , which was released on Blue Note Records and was one of the first to be assigned to the new sub-genre of hard bop . The double album was recorded on February 21, 1954 in the New York jazz club Birdland . Pee Wee Marquette's announcement of the evening (with the introduction of all musicians involved) has become a classic in its own right and can be heard as a sample in excerpts at the beginning of the acid jazz standard Cantaloop by the formation Us3 .

“It's the best, best-recorded session ever done live… You got the energy, the projection from the music to the people, and you can hear it on the record. It was great. It was a different kind of music. As anybody knows that plays music, sometimes you're just into it better, you play better. Same songs every night, but it's a different thing. Some nights a different thing. "

“This is the best live session ever recorded… you can hear all the energy of the people in the room as it is being recorded. It was just great, a very special shot. Everyone who makes music knows, sometimes you are better, you just play better. You play the same songs every night, but some nights are just special. "

- Lou Donaldson : December 21, 2012

Band leader

As a band leader, Donaldson has considerable “group experience”. Musicians like Horace Silver, Clifford Brown, Ray Barretto, Grant Green, Big John Patton , Blue Mitchell, Lonnie Smith, Donald Byrd, Horace Parlan , Tommy Turrentine , Al Harewood , George Tucker , Jamil Nasser and Curtis Fuller made as accompanists for Lou Donaldsons Tape their first recordings. In addition, Donaldson accompanied the organ legend Jimmy Smith on several early albums, for example on the successful Blue Note album The Sermon! .

Second stage at Blue Note (1967–1975)

Sweet Slumber / Lush Life

In 1963 Donaldson broke away from his ancestral label and signed with the Chicago record label Argo-Cadet for four years , where he recorded six albums. When he returned to Blue Note in 1967, he made 13 more albums for the jazz label. To get back on track, Donaldson recorded a record of slow love songs, which he called Sweet Slumber and in retrospect called it his best album. The album was arranged by Duke Pearson .

The label Blue Note Records changed hands in the meantime and was sold to competitor Liberty Records . The ballad album, which was rather untypical for Donaldson, disappeared into the drawer and was first published in Japan in 1980 under the title Lush Life and then in the USA in 1986.

Soul-jazz phase

Instead, Donaldson recorded a new album with a completely new band. For this purpose he brought two musicians from the young George Benson Quartet to Blue Note: the jazz guitarist George Benson and the organist Lonnie Smith . A spontaneous improvisation, which arose under time pressure and was supposed to fill up the free minutes on the album, became the alligator Bogaloo . The instrumental piece became the opening number of the album of the same name and developed into Donaldson's new signature song. Both the album and the single release are among Donaldson's most successful releases. At the same time, Alligator Bogaloo has become a milestone in the emerging soul jazz genre, not least thanks to the groovy organ sound of Lonnie Smith.

Motivated by the commercial success, the similarly catchy albums Mr. Shing-A-Ling , Midnight Creeper , Say It Loud! , Hot Dog and Everything I Play Is Funky . However, these albums were already produced by Francis Wolff , as the label founder Alfred Lion had since withdrawn from the music business. Both optically and tonally, there was a change with these jazz albums with their psychedelic record sleeves. The hard bop of the fifties gave way to the soul jazz of the sixties and the piano was replaced by a Hammond organ . In addition to the "modern" sound, the use of the innovation Hammond organ was primarily due to the tour life, as a concert grand was rarely available on site.

The hits of that phase experienced a revival in the first half of the nineties with the boom in acid jazz and as samples in jazz rap . Blue Note Records satisfied the demand of new customers with specially compiled albums like The Righteous Reed! The Best of Poppa Lou (1994) and Lou Donaldson - Blue Break Beats (1998).

Every year further soulful albums were released into the 1970s, which were increasingly adapted to contemporary tastes with funky overdubs and background singers. The 1973 album Sassy Soul Strut had nothing in common with the sound of the previous decade, and Donaldson finally left the Blue Note label in 1975.

Later years

Sweet Poppa Lou

Lou Donaldson received his late nickname "Sweet Poppa Lou" from radio DJ Bob Porter . During a recording session in the early eighties, Donaldson played him the ballad If I Should Lose You . Bob Porter, who enjoyed the recording exceptionally well, let himself be carried away by the excitement "Oh, Sweet Papa Lou!" The accompanying album, Donaldson's first for Muse Records , was then also titled Sweet Poppa Lou (1981). In 1974 the saxophonist had already recorded a record for Blue Note under the title Sweet Lou .


Despite his advanced age, Lou Donaldson continues to perform live, most recently on January 3, 2016 as the Lou Donaldson Quartet at the Club Jazz Standard in New York. On the occasion of the 75th birthday of Blue Note Records in 2014, the Lou Donaldson Quartet performed in its most successful constellation - with the organist Dr. Lonnie Smith . The band played the two hits Whiskey Drinkin 'Woman and Alligator Bogaloo . In his announcement, Lou Donaldson announced his motto as a musician - "no fusion, no confusion" - and described himself as the oldest survivor of the record label's original crew.

Musical creation

Lou Donaldson with Lonnie Smith on the organ

Lou Donaldson is one of the jazz musicians who developed bebop with blues and soul elements into hard bop in the mid-1950s . In the 1960s he developed a catchy sound, soul jazz, with the help of a conga (Ray Barretto), guitar and Hammond organ . This is probably one of the reasons why he is one of the most popular jazz musicians of the 1960s and is featured on many best-of-samplers from Blue Note Records.

The musicians who accompanied him at record sessions include well-known colleagues such as the electric organists Brother Jack McDuff , Big John Patton , Dr. Lonnie Smith , Charles Earland and Leon Spencer , drummers Art Blakey, Art Taylor , Grady Tate and Ben Dixon , trumpeters Kenny Dorham , Donald Byrd and Blue Mitchell, and guitarists Grant Green , George Benson and Melvin Sparks .

In addition to his own pieces, as usual in the genre, he interpreted a lot from others, for example standards such as Duke Ellington's Caravan or George Gershwin's Summertime . His jazz adaptations of songs from the soul and funk genre, for example Curtis Mayfield's If There's Hell Below (We're All Gonna Go) or James Brown's Say It Loud! (I'm Black And I'm Proud) . At the beginning of the 1970s, Donaldson turned his timbre to the emerging funk music and integrated it into his work (Sassy Soul Strut) .

Lou Donaldson's playing has always been influenced by the blues . He explained his musical approach in 1989 as follows:

“Playing jazz without the blues is like cooking potatoes without salt. You have something, but it doesn't have any flavor. The blues are at the heart of everything I do. Even if I've added some Latin flavors - and I was the first to put in a conga player - it's still the blues. "

“Playing jazz without the blues is like cooking potatoes without salt. You have something but you have no taste. The blues is at the heart of everything I do. Even if I added some Latin essences - and I was the first to use a conga player - it's still the blues. "

- Lou Donaldson


Lou Donaldson had been married to his childhood sweetheart Maker from North Carolina since the 1950s. The relationship resulted in two daughters: Lydia and Carol, today's psychologist Dr. Carol Webster, author and founder of the African American Success Foundation based in Fort Lauderdale . Maker Donaldson died in 2006. He dedicated the composition Maker's Dream on the 1977 album Color as a Way of Life to his wife .


Lou Donaldson has been a member of the International Jazz Hall of Fame since 1996 and the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame since October 11, 2012 .

In 2013 Lou Donaldson received the prestigious NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship after his companions Horace Silver (1995), Jimmy Smith (2005), Ray Barretto (2006) and George Benson (2009) .

Reception (samples)

  • 1991: The French rapper MC Solaar used a sample from One Cylinder (1967) for Qui Sème Le Vent Récolte Le Tempo .
  • 1991: De La Soul used It's Your Thing (1969) for Bitties in the BK Lounge (on De La Soul Is Dead ).
  • 1992: A Tribe Called Quest used a sample from Who's Making Love (1969) in Hot Sex (on Boomerang OST ).
  • 1992: Us3 used a sample from Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky (1969) on their single Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia) .
  • 1992: Dr. Dre used the drums from Pot Belly (1970) in Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat (on The Chronic ).
  • 1993: Hot Dog used De La Soul for 3 Days Later (on Buhloone Mindstate ).
  • 1993: Donaldson's rendition of Ode to Billie Joe (1967) used Cypress Hill in 3 Lil 'Putos (on Black Sunday ).
  • 1993: Us3 used a sample from Cool Blues (1961) in It's Like That (on Hand on the Torch ).
  • 1993: Run DMC used a sample from Donkey Walk (1970) in 3 in the Head (on Down with the King ).
  • 1994: Madonna used It's Your Thing (1969) for I'd Rather Be Your Lover (on Bedtime Stories ).
  • 1996: De La Soul used Who's Making Love (1969) for Wonce Again Long Island (on Stakes Is High ).
  • 2013: Eminems Bad Guy (on The Marshall Mathers LP 2 ) uses a drum sequence from Ode to Billie Joe (on Mr. Shing-A-Ling ; 1967)
  • 2015: A $ AP Rocky 's song L $ D (on At.Long.Last.A $ AP ) also uses the drum sequence from Ode To Billie Joe (on Mr. Shing-A-Ling ; 1967)

Film appearances

  • Lou Donaldson has a brief guest appearance in the documentary Blue Note: A Story of Modern Jazz by German director Julian Benedikt . At the beginning of chapter 4 he introduces himself with the words: “ My name is Louis A. Donaldson, better known to jazz fans as Lou Donaldson. "Afterwards he meets bassist Bob Cranshaw and other unnamed companions in the Rudy Van Gelder Studio , who warmly greet the 70 year old.

Discographic notes

As a band leader

  • 1952/54 (1957): Quartet / Quintet / Sextet (Blue Note BLP 1537), with Horace Silver , Elmo Hope , Blue Mitchell , Kenny Dorham , Art Taylor and Art Blakey .
  • 1952: New Faces New Sounds (Blue Note BLP 5021), Lou Donaldson and Clifford Brown with Elmo Hope, Percy Heath and Philly Joe Jones .
  • 1957: Wailing with Lou (Blue Note BLP 1545), with Donald Byrd , Herman Foster , Peck Morrison and Art Taylor.
  • 1957: Swing and Soul - Lou Donaldson, Vol. 3 (Blue Note BLP 1566), with Herman Foster, Peck Morrison, Dave Bailey and Ray Barretto .
  • 1957: Lou Takes Off (Blue Note BLP 1591), with Donald Byrd, Curtis Fuller , Sonny Clark , Jamil Nasser, and Art Taylor.
  • 1958: Blues Walk (Blue Note BLP 1593), with Herman Foster, Peck Morrison, Dave Bailey and Ray Barretto.
  • 1959: LD + 3 (Blue Note BLP 4012), Lou Donaldson with Gene Harris and The Three Sounds .
  • 1959: The Time Is Right (Blue Note BLP 4025), with Horace Parlan , Peck Morrison, Dave Bailey, Ray Barretto.
  • 1960: Sunny Side Up (Blue Note BLP 4036), with Horace Parlan, Bill Hardman, Laymon Jackson, Sam Jones and Al Harewood .
  • 1960 (1980): Midnight Sun (Blue Note LT-1028), with Horace Parlan, George Tucker , Al Harewood, and Ray Barretto.
  • 1961: Here 'Tis (Blue Note BLP 4066), with Baby Face Willette, Grant Green, and Dave Bailey.
  • 1961: Gravy Train (Blue Note BLP 4079), with Herman Foster, Ben Tucker, Dave Bailey and Alec Dorsey
  • 1961/1963 (1999): A Man With a Horn (Blue Note 21436), with Brother Jack McDuff , Grant Green, Joe Dukes, Irvin Stokes, Big John Patton and Ben Dixon.
  • 1962: The Natural Soul (Blue Note BLP 4108), with Tommy Turrentine , Big John Patton, Grant Green and Ben Dixon.
  • 1963: Good Gracious! (Blue Note BLP 4125), with John Patton , Grant Green, and Ben Dixon.
  • 1963: Signifyin ' (Argo Records, Cadet Records LP 724), with Tommy Turrentine, Big John Patton and Ben Dixon.
  • 1964: Possum Head (Argo) with Big John Patton and Ben Dixon.
  • 1964: Cole Slaw (Argo LP 747) with Ray Barretto.
  • 1964 (1965): Rough House Blues (Cadet LP 768), with Grady Tate and Oliver Nelson .
  • 1965: Musty Rusty (Cadet LP-759), with Ben Dixon, Grant Green, William Gardner, and Bill Hardman .
  • 1965 (1970): Fried Buzzard (Cadet), with Leo Morris .
  • 1966: Lou Donaldson at His Best (Cadet LPS 815), with Grady Tate, Calvin Newborn , William Gardner and Bill Hardman.
  • 1967 (1980/1986): Sweet Slumber / Lush Life (Blue Note [J] GXF 3068), with Freddie Hubbard , Garnett Brown , Wayne Shorter , Al Harewood , Duke Pearson and others.
  • 1967: Alligator Bogaloo (Blue Note BLP 4263), with Melvin Lastie , George Benson , Lonnie Smith, and Leo Morris .
  • 1967: Mr. Shing-A-Ling (Blue Note BLP 4271), with Blue Mitchell, Jimmy "Fats" Ponder , Lonnie Smith, and Leo Morris.
  • 1968: Midnight Creeper (Blue Note BST 84280), with Blue Mitchell, George Benson, Lonnie Smith, and Idris Muhammad .
  • 1968: Say It Loud! (Blue Note BST 84299), with Blue Mitchell, Jimmy "Fats" Ponder, Charles Earland, and Idris Muhammad.
  • 1969: Hot Dog (Blue Note BST 84318), with Ed Williams, Melvin Sparks, Charles Earland, and Idris Muhammad.
  • 1969: Everything I Play Is Funky (Blue Note BST 84337), with Blue Mitchell, Melvin Sparks, Lonnie Smith, Jimmy Lewis , Idris Muhammad.
  • 1970: Pretty Things (Blue Note BST 84359), with Blue Mitchell, Ted Dunbar , Leon Spencer, and Idris Muhammad.
  • 1971: Cosmos (Blue Note BST 84370)
  • 1972: Sophisticated Lou (Blue Note BN-LA 024-G)
  • 1973: Sassy Soul Strut (Blue Note BN-LA 109-F), with Thad Jones and many others on
  • 1974: Sweet Lou (Blue Note BN-LA 259-G)
  • 1976: A Different Scene (Cotillion SD 9905)
  • 1977: Color as a Way of Life (Cotillion SD 9915)
  • 1980: Wee Small Hours / Red Garland (Full House [J] PAP 9211)
  • 1980: Fine and Dandy / Lou Donaldson, Red Garland (Lobster [J] LFA 1060)
  • 1981: Sweet Poppa Lou (Muse MR 5247), with Herman Foster , Calvin Hill, Idris Muhammad and Ralph Dorsey.
  • 1981: Forgotten Man (Timeless [H] SJP 153), with Herman Foster, Geoff Fuller, and Victor Jones.
  • 1982: Lessons in Living / Mose Allison (Elektra / Musician E1 60237)
  • 1982: Back Street (Muse MR 5292)
  • 1984: Lou Donaldson Live in Bologna (Timeless [H] SJP 202), with Herman Foster, Jeff Fuller and Victor Jones.
  • 1990: Lou Donaldson Plays The Right Thing (Milestone M 9190), with Lonnie Smith, Peter Bernstein, Bernard Purdie and Ralph Dorsey
  • 1992: Birdseed (Milestone M 9198)
  • 1993: Caracas (Milestone), with Lonnie Smith and Peter Bernstein .
  • 1995: Sentimental Journey (Columbia), with Lonnie Smith.

As an accompanying musician



  • Lawrence Koch: Donaldson, Lou . In: Barry Kernfeld (Ed.): New Grove Dictionary of Jazz , Macmillan 1994
  • J. Schafer: Music is my business . In: Down Beat , 1973, issue 12, p. 16
  • L. Tomkins: The Lou Donaldson story . Crescendo International, Volume 19, 1981, No. 11, p. 20, No. 12, p. 16

Web links

Commons : Lou Donaldson  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Signature tunes

Individual evidence

  1. Lou Donaldson Biography (Facts As Proudly Told by Lou - April, 2008) ( Memento from March 23, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
  2. whosampled.com
  3. Sweet Poppa Lou talks about the musical roots of his swinging bop saxophone sound.
  4. Lou Donaldson Biography (Facts As Proudly Told by Lou - April, 2008) ( Memento from March 23, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
  5. ^ NEA Jazz Masters 2013: Lou Donaldson
  6. The extract “Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, we have something special down here at Birdland this evening”, which lasts a few seconds, is much longer in the original and contains a. the round of introductions with Lou Donaldson on saxophone.
  7. Sweet Poppa Lou talks about the musical roots of his swinging bop saxophone sound.
  8. ^ Before & After: Lou Donaldson by Larry Appelbaum, May 23, 2011.
  9. ^ Richard Havers: Blue Note - The Finest in Jazz . Munich 2015, p. 351.
  10. To Interview With Legendary Saxophonist Lou Donaldson ( Memento of the original from May 18, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , by Abe Beeson, February 25, 2015. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.kplu.org
  11. Sweet Poppa Lou talks about the musical roots of his swinging bop saxophone sound.
  12. Lou Donaldson Quartet .
  13. Blue Note At 75, The Concert: Lou Donaldson & Dr. Lonnie Smith .
  14. ^ Brian Morton, Richard Cook: The Penguin Jazz Guide
  15. Julian Benedikt: Blue Note - A Story of Modern Jazz . 1997/2007, 4th chapter "It must swing!" .
  16. A film about friendship, love and jazz , on NDR -Online from June 28, 2018.