Last week was a big one for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and JazzLive International. They announced their annual summer festival lineup, which includes headliners Chaka Khan, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Marcus Miller and Pat Martino. Also last week, as part of April being National Jazz Appreciation Month, JazzLive sparked off their weekly concert series of accomplished jazz performers in Pittsburgh.
On April 2, it was saxophonist Lou Donaldson and his Quartet that included Akiko Tsuruga on organ, Fukushi Tainaka on drums, and native Pittsburgher Eric Johnson on guitar. It was a rare appearance by Donaldson, who shouted out Crawford Grill in the Hill District and other places of memory from past visits to the city. The 86-year-old’s music catalog dates back to the late ‘50s with many notable releases on the Blue Note Records label.
The Lou Donaldson Quartet began with the 1958 song “Blues Walk.” In addition to playing his own music, Donaldson covered classics by pioneering Jazz and Blues artists like Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong. Before transitioning into Armstrong’s popular song “What A Wonderful World,” Donaldson called the musician also known as Satchmo the "greatest music artist of all times."
Aside from a great showing by front-man Donaldson, whose raspy vocals were best displayed during the performance of “Whiskey Drinking Woman,” the Quartet had several chances to shine throughout the night. On “Fast and Freaky,” Tainaka performed a long drum solo as his band-mates stood to the side watching him swing his drumsticks all around his drumset. During “Alligator Boogaloo,” Johnson stepped off stage and walked around the audience, giving everyone a closer look at his strumming of the tune that originally featured fellow Pittsburgh native George Benson on the guitar. Maybe most impressive was Tsuruga, whose fingers flew across the organ all show long.
This Tuesday, April 9, Jazz Live welcomes the Kenny Garrett Quintet to the Cabaret Theater. Garrett’s Grammy Award-winning career includes work with Miles Davis, Pharoah Sanders, and Pittsburgh-born drummer Art Blakey. More info on tickets for this and other events can be found on the JazzLive website.