“A friend of mine used to say that jazz is a participation sport, not a spectator sport. It’s a funny analogy but I thought: that’s really true.” This observation perfectly describes pianist/organist Mike LeDonne’s endeavors as both a sideman and as a leader. LeDonne’s resume includes stints with bandleader Benny Goodman, vibraphonist Milt Jackson and saxophonist Benny Golson as well as leading his own groups on both the piano and organ. Speaking about his career, LeDonne says, “I just want to get better. That’s really all I’ve ever focused on. How do I get better?”
A native of Bridgeport CT, LeDonne grew up in a musical household. His father was a guitarist who ran a local music store. LeDonne says, “We had a piano and an organ in our house. There was a record my used to play; a ragtime guy playing “Tiger Rag” and my first thing was sort of pantomiming to that when my parents had parties.”
LeDonne’s initial inspirations came from the R&B and soul-fueled sounds of Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett and James Brown. “I loved James Brown as a kid; it communicated to me,” he says. “When it was on, I was energized. And it’s that same thing with great jazz music and I think that comes from the rhythm. The human element is in that rhythm.”
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