Jazz Appreciation Month digs far, wide and deep

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 8:36 p.m.

Lou Donaldson and Kenny Garrett are 34 years apart, but both come to jazz from the heart and soul.

“The music is all about rhythm and blues,” says Donaldson, 86. “Some people stretch it too far and then you miss people. They don't feel anything anymore.”

Donaldson and Garrett are two saxophonists who play with a great deal of passion. It is why they are two of the features of “Diggin' Deep,” the celebration of April's national Jazz Appreciation Month by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Garrett, 52, agrees, saying honesty with music is the easiest way to reach listeners.

“My music is the music I heard when I was growing up in Detroit,” he says. “It was Motown, it was jazz. There was even free jazz. But you just have to present people the music that is in you, and they will be able to receive it.”

Donaldson will open the celebration April 2 and Garrett will be featured April 9.

Janis Burley Wilson, vice president of education and community engagement for the Trust, says that sort of thinking is obvious in their playing. They are part of the month of programs for that reason.

“I mean, you listen to them and that music comes from deep inside,” she says. “It is not just playing notes.”

Besides their concerts, the sixth celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month deals with music and beliefs that come from deep inside in a number of ways. Weekly concerts at the Cabaret at Theater Square, Downtown, also will include soulful singer Bettye Lavette, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and a second examination of jazz meets funk with trumpeter Sean Jones and bassist Dwayne Dolphin. They took a first look at that mix in a Jazz Appreciation Month show in 2010.

It also will include a stop by trumpeter Nicholas Payton, who is primarily a mainstream player, but is soulful in his dedication to jazz.

“I try to stay with the music I appreciate,” Garrett says. “That creates some honesty people can understand.”

Neither he nor Donaldson drifts far from the style for which they are noted. Donaldson has played in the groups of Horace Silver and Art Blakey, but is perhaps best known for work in his own soulful bands that have produced such classics as “Alligator Boogaloo.”

He jokes about the popularity of such songs, saying he always can count on people in the crowd calling for them.

“I open each show with ‘Blues Walk' so I can get it out of the way and not worry about it later,” he says with a laugh.

Garrett is known for his starring role in many famed groups, from Miles Davis' to Sting's. But from those groups to his own, he says he tries to carry the same sound and approach.

“I appreciate what others do with music, but I try to make sure my music always has the element people know,” he says.

Creating that element that make a performance identifiable is more than simply creating a sound, he says. It also has to do with method and style.

Garrett and Donaldson both express some pleasure at getting back to Pittsburgh.

“It's good coming back,” Garrett says. “It's been a long time.”

Similarly, Donaldson recalls visits to Pittsburgh that date back to Hill District stops in the 1950s.

“I've known a lot of people there over the years,” he says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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