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The Gig: The Geezers & the Punks

The jazz generation gap

Lou Donaldson

“Ladies and gentlemen, I finally made it into this NEA Jazz Masters program,” said Lou Donaldson, in his high rasp of a voice, alto saxophone tucked under one arm. “I didn’t press it, but I was wondering …” he chuckled, and waited a comic beat, “… why it took so long.” Addressing a roomful of his fellow luminaries during an awards ceremony at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in January, Donaldson played the role of sly old rascal to the hilt. But he was clear about his appreciation for an honor that, as he put it, goes to “a musician who has earned his keep, by paying his dues.”

Donaldson, one of four recipients this year-the others were singer-songwriter Mose Allison, Village Vanguard proprietor Lorraine Gordon and Latin-jazz pioneer Eddie Palmieri-tossed off another comment that stuck with me like a burr. He was outlining the breadth of jazz styles, from ragtime to bebop to “some of this music they play today,” and then he said this: “I don’t know what that is, but young musicians are young musicians. They’re still living at home, with momma and poppa paying their dues, so they don’t ever have to worry about work. But as soon as they have to play for a living, they’ll change their tune.” Amid much laughter, he added: “I guarantee it.”

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