Lou Donaldson (as) “Baby Face” Willette (org) Grant Green (g) Dave Bailey (d) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, January 23, 1961
A counterweight to all the brain-food of late, time for a little soul-jazz, with Lou Donaldson; kick off the shoes and get into the groove.
Recording for Blue Note first in 1952, Donaldson’s output was nothing if not prolific – well over twenty titles as leader if you include the Liberty years and countless other as sidesman. At the age of 88 he is still swinging
His distinctive alto always maintains a strong bluesy and R &B sound. His phrasing, to my mind, has the manner of a blues guitarist, reaching in the same climactic fashion for those top notes in the upper register, the same wail as a sustained string vibrato, but with the more rapid fire and agility of movement offered by the alto sax. With a lesser player it could end up sounding like 1980 all over again, cue David Sanborn, but Donaldson is a Bop-Master, he played with Monk, Blakey, Dorham, and countless others. His lines are a bluesy flavour of Bop, always grounded in that tradition.
His is not especially cerebral music, rather, somewhere lower down. An unrepentant crowd-pleaser, in a recent interview Donaldson set out his stall: “Today’s jazz is too intellectual. It’s not compatible with the general public because the musicians study too much. They go to school and they study and they know too much about the music. Back in our days, we played whatever the people liked. That’s what we played.”
“Here ‘Tis is one of Lou Donaldson best records up there with Blues Walk, an exceptionally funky soul-jazz session which swings hard, with his supporting trio of Green, Willette, and Bailey, who keep the groove gritty and flexible, always flowing. Green and Willette have their time in the spotlight: Green’s single-note leads are clean and inventive; Willette is rhythmic and forceful, but soulful and mellow where the tempo requires, and miraculously he manages not to fall into the Jimmmy Smith School of “Death by Hammond B3″.
Whatever happened to “Babyface” Willette? After just a few recordings for Argo and Blue Note, he disappeared into obscurity and, reportedly, died in 1971 at the age of 38.
Vinyl: BST 84066 – stereo original released 1961, NY labels, 170 gm vinyl.
The only Blue Note I have with just one ear, a real Van Gogh. The run-out Side 1 is so narrow I suspect they left out the ear to avoid stamping it in the grooves. It is found on side 2, along with the VAN GELDER and STEREO stamp.
Side 2 Runout – detail – a beautifully formed Plastylite ear, to make up for the missing one. How do you explain to anyone not a medical professional that you find the mere sight of the ear, shall we say, uplifting? It is because you know your ears are going to be in for a treat.
Source: Ebay Location: UK
LOU DONALDSON QUARTET:HERE ‘TIS US BLUE NOTE 84066 NY STEREO. W/GRANT GREEN/ BABY FACE WILLETTE/ DAVE BAILEY. LP EX /COVER EX- BROWN TAPE RESIDUE ON BACK CORNER SEE PHOTO
Inexpensive result at auction, Donaldson is too often lumped in the not very collectible soul-jazz box alongside others whose music has not aged well – Stanley Turpentine and Jimmy Spliff. I rate him higher than that but perhaps I am in a minority. Betraying a little personal history, as a former blues guitarist, I still love that idiom, and Donaldson’s earlier playing 1950s and the early Sixties, hits the spot for me, if not his later and in my view lesser works:
Nice covers though, it needs to be said, very mid to late Sixties. I own a copy of number 4 above, Midnight Creeper sans couverture – obviously the person who stole its cover from the record shop thought so too.
UPDATE: Popsike auction history for Lou Donaldson Here ‘Tis
Very wide spread of values for our Lou, some copies sold at ten times the price of others. Surprises me, and may be more of a bargain than I figured.