Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

September/October 2015: Vincent Gardner

Mike LeDonne and Friends: Convergences

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One of the great joys about having a life in jazz is watching people you know and care about grow and make important contributions to this music. The Mike LeDonne Quartet, this year’s season opener of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances, is a convergence of four musicians whose paths have connected with mine over the years.

Mike LeDonne and I go back a long way. When I was a teenager, our common friend, the great drummer Eddie Locke told me, “Man! Go down to this piana player’s house, Mike LeDonne. I told him about you and he invited you to a session. He’s a beautiful cat and he plays his ass off! You oughtta know each other!” (Eddie pretty much spoke Loud most of the time…) Mike was already one of the most in-demand jazz piano players in NYC, playing with Milt Jackson, Tom Harrell, Sonny Rollins and others, so it was a thrill for me to get to play with him. He called me for a few gigs and I played on his recording, Soulmates.

For a while in my early 20s, I lived in their building, the Manhattan Plaza. Mike and his wife Margaret would invite me up for dinner about once a week—the best Italian food you’ve ever eaten! I grew up poor and don’t think I realized until five years after I moved out that I probably should have brought something to my hosts. I called Mike and said, “Man! You guys invited me to dinner like, 15 times! I don’t think I ever brought anything but my outsized appetite!” Mike said, in typical LeDonski fashion, “Nah, it’s cool Jon,” and we just laughed.

Mike is also one of the world’s great jazz organists, and recently won the DownBeat Critics poll for jazz organ. He’s been a major contributor on the scene for over thirty years and I couldn’t be prouder of him and all he’s done during the time I’ve known him.

I’ve known Steve Kirby since the late 80s when we were at Manhattan School of Music. We met on the 1 train one day, went to the cafeteria to eat, and talked for a good long time. (We’re both known for that trait to this day, in fact!) I immediately realized this was a very special guy who had lived through some things that gave him wisdom and depth. What I didn’t know, until Steve hired me at the U of Manitoba a couple years ago, was the kind of leader he is. As all of us know, Steve’s made a huge cultural contribution here in Winnipeg. I’m so glad he asked me to be part of it!

Greg Hutchison was a freshman at MSM when I was a senior, but you could tell right away that he could Really Play! I remember we stayed after band rehearsal and played duo a couple times. He had it all! And he got working right away. That’s really the best way to grow: take the chance to get out there and play with great players. Greg’s gone on to be one of the most in-demand jazz drummers on the scene over the past 25 years. It’s been great to catch up at a gig, festival or recording with him over the years and watch him grow and develop as an artist.

Jimmy Greene and I met at the Monk Competition in 1996 and have been friends ever since. We were in Harry Connick’s band together for a few years and he was my best friend in the band. We also worked with Rufus Reid, Bill Charlap and a few other folks over the years. Anyone who spends any time with Jimmy quickly realizes that he’s a very special person, and he has a very personal voice on both the tenor and soprano saxophones.

Jimmy’s had an incredible career as a sideman over the past two decades, working with Tom Harrell, Kenny Barron, Lewis Nash and many others. He’s made some wonderful recordings as a leader too, most notably his most recent release, Beautiful Life, dedicated to his daughter, Ana Márquez-Greene. Those of us in the jazz community who know and love Jimmy couldn’t be prouder of him, of all he’s accomplished, and of the example of courage and grace that he shows us. Love Wins…

These four guys will have a busy weekend. On September 19 and 20, they perform three concerts (aptly named “Blowin’ the Blues Away!”) to kick off the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances season, and all three out-of-town guests will be offering free masterclasses while they’re here. We’re in for a great time!

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