Born November 1, 1926 in Badln, North Carolina, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson was and has remained among the most diligent of Charlie Parker’s disciples. His fierce tone, quickfire phrasing and blues colorings replace Bird’s acidity with a sweetness that’s always engaging, hence his nickname - Sweet Papa Lou. One of the key architects behind much of the funky `60s Blue Note Jazz sound popularized via sampling by US 3, it was the bluesier aspects of Charlie Parker's playing where Lou found his initial inspiration.
The son of a preacher and a music teacher, Lou obtained much of his musical training in the Navy. He came to New York in the early '50s and immediately began recording for Blue Note, first with Horace Silver, then with his own groups. Lou was a participant in the one greatest live Jazz recordings ever made, 'One Night at Birdland,' which featured Clifford Brown on trumpet, Silver on piano and Art Blakey on drums.
In the late '50s, the 'New York Times' reported that “Donaldson mixes a warm, full tone, remarkable dexterity and a roaring sense of swing, but can also project ballads with deeply felt expression.”
By the '60s, Lou started concentrating on blues-based, funky material and it has been his staple ever since, pleasing audiences all over the planet. His basic repertoire has become a combination of down-home melodies with New Orleans r&b drums, intermixed with ballads and an occasional Charlie Parker song.
Lou's distinctive alto saxophone tone has been heard in a variety of small group settings, and he has recorded dozens of worthy and spirited albums since he arrived on the New York Jazz scene in the '40s. Like Frank Morgan and Phil Woods, Donaldson at his best exemplifies the Charlie Parker spirit without being a slavish imitator. He can insert clever quotes, make dazzling harmonic maneuvers at fast or slow tempos and play beautiful, compelling blues and ballads.
His current quartet, considered among his best, includes Dr. Lonnie Smith on organ, Peter Bernstein on guitar, and the incomparable rhythm machine, Idris Muhammad on drums.
A long-time resident of the Bronx, Lou spends most of his free-time on the golf course.