Lou Donaldson Quartet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Lou Donaldson Quartet

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Alto saxist Lou Donaldson has been playing the same tunes, and a lot of the same riffs on those tunes, for as long as I can remember--he even introduces them with the same commentary, delivered in his improbably high-pitched voice with the same torpid cadence. And for some reason, it never gets old. It reminds me of Jackie Gleason's set pieces on The Honeymooners: audiences would laugh first in anticipation of his toothless threats, then laugh again when he actually uttered them. Donaldson has always managed to blend true bebop with pure entertainment: for more than 20 years he's appeared as part of the Jazz Showcase's Charlie Parker Month celebrations, delving into the gutbucket side of Parker's music with more gusto than any of his other legitimate successors. Donaldson's sweet-and-sour tone brims with the blues, perfect for the funky soul-jazz records he churned out for Blue Note in the 60s. But he'd made his mark in jazz history long before then: a contemporary of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins, in 1954 Donaldson appeared alongside trumpeter Clifford Brown in the front line of the Art Blakey Quintet, a precursor to Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Jazz has been famously described as "the sound of surprise"; Donaldson won't deliver much of that, but don't discount the joy of hearing a delightful old rascal, still spry at 78, tell his well-traveled tales with consummate timing. See also Wednesday and Thursday; the quartet's stand runs through Sunday, August 7. Tue 8/2, 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $20.

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