The Lou Donaldson Quartet Heats Up the Midwest

by Don Berryman, Jazz Police
August 2, 2008

Lou Donaldson is one of the most respect alto player with a career spanning over a half a century performing bebop, hard-bop and soul jazz. The Lou Donaldson Quartet featuring Randy Johnston on guitar, Akiko Tsuruga on organ, Fukushi Tainaka on drums along with Lou on alto sax will perform at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago on August 7-10 and at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis on August 11-12.

An 'old school' player, the octogenarian Donaldson states that his playing style is a cross between Charlie Parker and Johnny Hodges, adding, “you know, the people that I listened to when I was coming up”. The great jazz pianist, Horace Parlan said of Donaldson, "One of the unique qualities of Lou's work is that he incorporates a great deal of the whole jazz tradition in his playing. He's listened to just about everyone, and not only alto players. With this knowledge of the entire jazz language, Lou is definitely an individual voice."

A pioneer of the jazz organ combo, Lou had four distinct groups that he would use for the organ sound: one group was John Patton on organ, Bill Hardman on trumpet, Grant Green on guitar, and Ben Dixon on drums. Another group was Lonnie Smith on organ, Billy Kaye on drums, Mark Elf on guitar -- and sometimes Melvin Sparks on guitar, and Joe Dukes on drums -- possibly the greatest organ drummer of all times. Later he had another group with Caesar Frazier on organ, Eric Johnson on guitar, and Billy Kaye on drums. Another of Lou’s groups had Charles Earland on organ, Jimmy Ponder on guitar, Blue Mitchell on trumpet, and Idris Muhammad on drums.

The newest member of Lou's current quartet, filling in the large shoes of Dr. Lonnie Smith (who was Donaldson's organist for many years) is the talented, New York City based Hammond Organist and pianist, Akiko Tsuruga, who has established herself as an 'in demand' player since arriving from her hometown of Osaka, Japan in 2001. After arriving in New York, Akiko established herself as one of the area’s top organist /pianists. Her trio featuring guitarist Eric Johnson and drummer Vincent Ector has been one of the area’s top groups, working at many jazz nightclubs including Dizzy’s (at Lincoln center) and The Blue Note. Her trio also plays private parties and summer outdoor concerts. Her long awaited debut CD, “Harlem Dreams” featuring Grady Tate and Frank Wess was released in Japan on the M&I Company label on 2004. "Sweet and Funky", Akiko's first release in the US and Canada and her second in Japan, has been receiving rave reviews. It has reached #13 on the jazz radio charts and received a four-star review from Downbeat magazine.

"I don't care what kind of style a group plays as long as they settle into a groove where the rhythm keeps building instead of changing around. It's like the way an African hits a drum. He hits it a certain way, and after a period of time, you feel it more than you did when he first started. He's playing the same thing, but the quality is different -- it's settled into a groove. It's like settin' tobacco in a pipe. You put some heat on it and make it expand. After a while, it's there. It's tight." - Lou Donaldson

The Jazz Showcase is now located at Dearborn Station, 809 S. Plymouth Court in Chicago. Check the Jazz Showcase website for updated information at or call (312) 360-0234.

The Dakota is located at 1010 Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. For reservations and updated schedule information, visit