Credit: Ron Scott photo

Some jazz and folk fans were still holding out hoping the horrific COVID19 pandemic imposing a worldwide blanket of death and lockdowns or shelter-in-place would be contained with the many precautions set in place, but unfortunately that has not happened. In light of this dreadful fact and health risks the Newport Jazz and Folk Festival organization has announced the cancellation of the 2020 festivals.

In a statement posted on the festival’s social media channels, Executive Director Jay Sweet called it “the letter I was praying I wouldn’t have to write, feeling we need the healing powers of live music more now than ever.”

In light of this decision the Newport organization was concerned with its ongoing financial support of music education programs around the country and its recently created Newport Festivals Musician Relief Fund to assist musicians faced with financial difficulties during the coronavirus crisis.

In an effort to best cope with these challenges, all 2020 festival ticket holders have been given three options: to donate all or a portion of the ticket price to the festival organization’s charitable and administrative activities; to apply that money to a new 2021 Revival Membership, which includes three-day tickets to next year’s festival; or to receive a 100% refund.

Sweet wrote in his statement, “Rest assured we have invited ALL the announced artists to join us next year.” Stay tuned for more details.

As live music continues to be only a recurring dream in the midst of this pandemic, The Jazz Gallery continues its weekly Happy Hour Hangs at 6 p.m. On May 7 the eclectic guitarist, singer/songwriter Becca Stevens, who stirs jazz, pop, chamber and folk music, will perform live—get your snacks ready. On May 8 the drummer for all seasons, who always brings a little combustion to the gig, will show off his stuff in the comfort of his home reaching to our homes, live online. On May 9 the pianist, composer Orrin Evans comes to your home with an appetite for inventions in new dimensions. On May 11, the Zoom Dance Party jumps off with guest DJ Terri Lyne Carrington. Yes, an opportunity to actually party with a celebrated jazz drummer turned DJ for the night, all in for the soul.

For more information, tickets and Zoom setup, visit the website at jazzgallery.org.

Danny Mixon Live at Space Chrio was recorded last year in South Korea. From my perspective this Harlem native is one of the most under-rated pianists on the jazz scene. He swings and even sings on Miles Davis’ “All Blues.” The album includes 11 jazz standards, from Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll” to Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk,” to Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” On “Body and Soul” Mixon has a beautiful tone that touches all 81 keys. His fingers dance in high register as he moves into a few bars of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” before brilliantly drifting back. He ends in a big crescendo playing deep heavy-chords that ascend to a higher pitch as the drummer injects cymbal blasts. On the medley “I Can’t Get Started” a ballad with drum brushes leads as Mixon lays that Harlem piano soul to the keys. “On a Clear Day” finds the trio in an uptempo hard swing from bass to drums. Mixon is outlandish on this one, heavy percussive hits, crazy improvisational hits that all come together like a moving rainbow canvas.

“Man, we had a great time. We only had one rehearsal but it was a good feeling and the audience loved it,” stated Mixon. It was Mixon’s first time to South Korea although he had met the owners of the club in the Blue Note jazz club in Osaka, Japan. When the club was finally finished, Mira Oka invited Mixon to perform in the new club. While there he also conducted music classes with young students. Mixon was invited to return this week (May 2-8) with his own band and his favorite vocalist Antoinette Montague. Unfortunately, COVID-19 cancelled those plans.

Mixon worked with noted vocalist Joe Lee Wilson before becoming a member of Betty Carter’s band (1971-72) that proved to be a learning bootcamp for pianists who were chosen. He was also a member of another camp, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, as well as played with Pharoah Sanders and jazz vocalists Joe Williams and Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Mixon was the musical director at the historical Lenox Lounge, where he regularly played until its untimely demise in 2012. He later became musical director at the newly renovated Minton’s Playhouse.

Call him “Papa Lou” or “Sweet Papa Lou,” but no matter what you call him Lou Donaldson at 93 years young remains the best alto saxophonist on the planet bar none. He earned the nickname “Sweet Papa” from his sensitive harmonies as he lays down the blues—just listen to his album “Blues Walk” (Blue Note 1958); on the title cut you get traces of Charlie Parker, one of Donaldson’s influences.

During a phone conversation with Donaldson last week, we were chatting about when he would be returning to the city from Florida where he usually spends his winters. He said not until it gets warmer, noting it was 90 degrees there. As the conversation moved towards Harlem and all the hip happenings going on in the 1950s (in the late 1940s he moved from his native North Carolina to Harlem, 127th Street and 8th Avenue), I asked about his album “Good Gracious!” (Blue Note 1963). He laughed and noted it was a really good album. The personnel included guitarist Grant Green, organist Big John Patton, and drummer Ben Dixon. The album is a burner from the first cut entitled “Bad John,” no doubt named after the organist, who swings out the gate smokin’ on all cylinders with Green riffin’ away and Papa Lou swinging like nobody’s business.

It’s the album cover that immediately grabs your attention. It has to be the most outrageous cover ever released by Blue Note Records. During the 1950s to early ’70s, the label photographed the most creative album covers in jazz history.

The cover and title were Donaldson’s concept; he says it came from regularly meeting his wife, Maker, at a hair-dresser in Harlem. When he saw a particular young hair-dresser one day, all he could say was “Good gracious.” The young lady was actually dating Elombe Brath (noted Harlem activist of the Pan African Movement internationally) at the time. Unfortunately, he doesn’t remember her name. However, she did agree to the photo shoot for the cover that was photographed by Frank Wolfe. “Elombe, his brother Kwame Braithwaite and I became good friends and I often played at their fundraisers,” said Donaldson.

The photo says it all, but now in the midst of the “Me Too Movement” this may seem extremely chauvinist. Hopefully, ladies are not offended and see it as a passing creative moment in jazz history.

Donaldson has a great sense of humor and is by far the most entertaining jazz musician on stage. As he comes on stage he informs his usual sold-out audience, “There will be no fusion, no confusion, just straight ahead jazz bebop and the blues,” and from that moment you are off on a most enjoyable journey.

Donaldson loves to swing but he makes it clear, “I swing—it’s not funk. Funk is James Brown and Kool and the Gang.” He admits to being a great dancer, noting, ”My sister and I used to win a lot of dance contests.” So swinging is his repertoire. That is why as a jazz musician he loves the organ so much. “With an organ I don’t need a bass player, it gives the sound of a big band.” Donaldson is seldom if ever without an organ nearby, since 1961. His sessions with the Argo and Cadet labels between 1964 and 1966 further expanded his use of the organ/saxophone soulful blues riffs. In early 1967, he recorded his big hit “Alligator Boogaloo” (Blue Note Records) which resulted in an ongoing union with organist Dr. Lonnie Smith. For the next three decades, Donaldson toured and recorded with leading organists, including Charles Earland and Leon Spencer Jr. and until recently Dr. Lonnie Smith.

“Jazz is something you feel and the swinging comes naturally,” said Donaldson. “You know the saying, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”

Donaldson became a NEA Jazz Master in 2012; that same year he was also inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Just last year, 2019, he was inducted into the South Florida Hall of Fame.

The Badin Town Council unanimously passed a resolution honoring Badin native and jazz saxophonist Lou Donaldson. The town applied to the North Carolina Department of Transportation for a name change of a portion of N.C. Highway 740. The council hopes to rename it Lou Donaldson Boulevard.

Faith over fear. Prayers and condolences to the many families who have lost loved ones on the planet. We remain vigilant…