Lou Donaldson: Blues Walk

1 Nov

Lou Donaldson's album Blues Walk

Lou Donaldson's 1958 album Blues Walk. He's kept up the pace ever since.

Birthday greetings to alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, who celebrates No. 85 today.

Don’t expect Donaldson to tweet out any birthday announcements. Donaldson has no “My Space, Facebook, or other social networking site,” according to the website Loudonaldson.com, although Donaldson does thank his fans who maintain what modern means of communication do exist.

Not surprising, given why Donaldson, a native of North Carolina, was dissuaded from baseball so many years ago: what point was there in pursuing a career in a segregated vocation?

“But back then, if you were black, you couldn’t play professional baseball,” he said in a 2010 interview on jazzwax.com. “You couldn’t even go in the ballpark. We had to peep thorough the holes in the fence.”

Donaldson’s baseball career — semi-pro after stints at North Carolina A&T and the navy, both segregated institutions in the 1940s — ended for good three years after Jackie Robinson’s major league baseball debut in 1947, according to another interview on the amiagency.com. “I thought I was the best third baseman in the world, and I wasn’t too far off,” he said in the interview, but he injured a finger and when it healed, he saved it for the alto sax. Too bad. If he handled the bat anything like he handled the musical instrument, baseball lost a pretty good infielder.

It was a good trade for music, and not bad for Donaldson; music’s been very, very good to him, and vice versa. “By now, Lou has been around a while,” wrote Joe Goldberg on the liner notes to Gravy Train. If Mr. Goldberg only knew — that was in 1961, 50 years and more than 30 albums ago. In 2007, Will Friedewald of the New York Sun wrote: “My first impulse is always to describe Lou Donaldson as the greatest alto saxophonist in the world.”

Compare that to praise from 53 years ago. “The Donaldson horn represents a musician who has matured in his chosen field past the point of mere competence,” wrote Ira Gitler on the liner notes to Blues Walk in 1958 (cover above, link to the title track below). “Lou just plays jazz in a straightforward manner without resorting to gimmicks.”

We’re just going to guess that the man who doesn’t need “social networking,” doesn’t need his praise to hit too high a note, either.

sources: loudonaldson.com, bittersuiteband.com, the amigency.com


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