NY Daily News: For jazz to mean a thing, it’s got to have blues and swing

Every few months, jazz keyboard standard-bearer Mike LeDonne uses Facebook to set the online jazz world ablaze with his views about the music’s current direction.

In September, LeDonne, 56, wrote a post about younger musicians who mainly check out the music of their peers or a generation once removed — and not the masters of the jazz idiom. The post generated more than 200 responses.

In November, he wrote that when he first came to New York, in the 1980s, there were certain measures musicians usually took. For instance: “knowing all standards in all keys and being able to play all tempos. There were no rehearsals and no music on the gig. Guys would go into tunes at will and you either knew them or you walked away with egg on your face.”

LeDonne has practiced what he preaches for 12 years at Smoke, holding court almost every week with his Groover Quartet organ group. On Tuesdays this month, saxophonist Eric Alexander, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Joe Farnsworth are joining LeDonne to present their version of what in the trade is called “grits and gravy” jazz. This is groove music that’s fun and good for the soul.

 “Instead of playing what people can’t understand,” as with some of the music now being labeled as jazz, “we try to play stuff that even younger people might relate to. I like to draw them in,” he says. “For instance, I might play R&B tunes that I grew up with, but swing style. Like music by Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.

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