Very Vari!


There are worse things in life than hanging out with Sonny Stitt, Lou Donaldson, Eddie Harris and Rusty Bryant. All of them, with Stitt at the helm, played the electric Varitone saxophone and the Gibson Maestro Attachment in the late ‘60s, as a means to spice up their groove and experiment with sound.

Selmer introduced the Varitone extension on July 10, 1966 on a convention in Chicago. The Varitone is a control box for the attachment that fits on the bell of the saxophone, which is connected to a large amplifier. The player is enabled to achieve volume control, tone variations (allegedly 60 different sounds) and echo and tremelo effects. The octave effect – by pushing buttons the saxophonist can add a note an octave lower or silence the top note – is attractive, creating ways to experiment with timbre.

Stitt was fast. Merely two days after the convention, The Lone Wolf recorded his first album on Roulette with the use of the Varitone extension, What’s New!!!. Macabre ballad, lovely pun. Stitt used a killer band including trombonist J.J. Johnson and tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet (who himself gave the Varitone a go on two rare occasions on the album) and the rhythm section of guitarist Les Spann, pianist Ellis Larkin, bassist George Duvivier and drummer Walter Perkins, who are present as well on follow-up I Keep Comin’ Back. Parallel-A-Stitt was a small ensemble session featuring organist Don Patterson.

In the Downbeat issue of October 6, 1966, Stitt says, “It’s a revelation. It enables you to probe and find. It projects your own tone – not a distorted tone. Your individual sound doesn’t change. The mind will never get lazy with that help. You’re thinking all the time what to do next. All this gives you is something more to work with. It doesn’t help you to think better. It sounds so pretty. I love it. It’s the most beautiful thing that’s happened to me.”

“Big bands, organs, electric guitars, loud drummers can be quite frustrating to a person who’s trying to think while playing. With this new saxophone, a fellow can hear himself above anybody. He can play in a big ballpark and still be heard.”

Indeed, Stitt’s style remains the same, and while his Varitone records are not essential Stitt, he plays fluently supported by killer line-ups while toying with octaves and different sounds, prominently a hard and hootin’ sound which features a slight distorted edge that, despite his comments, I do hear. Nothing wrong with that. Anyway, unfortunately you won’t find anything of these three records on YouTube except the balladeering of What’s New. While checkin’ tunes after my vinyl listening session, I did come across a live performance of “electrified” Stitt with one of his greatest regular groups of Don Patterson and Billy James, playing The Shadow Of Your Smile at the Left Bank in Baltimore. Nice!

By 1970, likely Stitt’s contract with Selmer had run out. On Turn It On!, Stitt uses the Gibson Maestro Attachment. Hear him blast away on the title track with Virgil Jones, Melvin Sparks and Idris Muhammad.

Eddie Harris wanted his penny’s worth. The saxophonist played the Chicago Maestro Attachment on Plug It In! and Silver Cycles. Harris added the Echoplex, which could provide multiple tape loops which played back the recorded sound at constant intervals. It was therefore possible to play new melodies over the basic motif. Harris used the attachments to the benefit of his hodgepodge of soul and avant-leaning jazz of that period, like Lovely Is Today, Free At Last and
Coltrane’s View. Anything goes with Eddie, lots of grease and lots of feverish vibes and arguably the most interesting electrified player of this bunch.

Lou Donaldson quickly latched on to the Varitone. He played it on some of his popular jazz funk records with organists Charles Earland and Lonnie Smith and drummer Idris Muhammad. Donaldson used it sparingly, focusing on his tone, all silk and velvet and satin. Listen to Turtle Walk from Hot Dog and Everything I Play Gonna Be Funky from Everything I Play Is Funky.

On his only association with the Varitone attachment, Rusty Bryant pulled out all the stops on Night Train Now!, 1969 jazz funk affair with Jimmy Carter on organ, Boogaloo Joe Jones on guitar, Eddie Mathias on bass and Bernard Purdie on drums. Heavy artillery. Buzzing like a bee, howling like a bear, Bryant hits Cootie Boogaloo and John Patton’s Funky Mama right out of the ballpark.

Why did Stitt or the others did not extend their experiments with the Varitone and CMA in the ‘70s and beyond? Perhaps they eventually preferred the authenticity of acoustic sound over the ‘clumsy’ Varitone. Or maybe they felt constrained by the endorsements of the devices. I coincidentally heard just yesterday from my jazz friend Jean-Michel Reisser-Beethoven, who was friendly with Sonny Stitt, that Stitt hated the Varitone, which contrasts with his enthusiastic Downbeat comments.

Why did fusion artists did not pick up on the electric attachments? Most likely, before anyone cared to try, synthesizers provided all the sounds one could wish for. Or am I missing something?

Possibly. Immersed in the heavy sounds of these hot cats.

Bruut Superjazz (Dox 2017)

Thanks Lou. Thanks Quinten. Thanks Dick. For six years now, Holland’s hippest crossover jazz group Bruut! has made grateful use of differing styles of music, creating a hodgepodge that the foursome dubbed ‘superjazz’ almost from the word go. A likely title for its fourth album, a rockin’ blend of surf music, funky jazz and jolly swing, underscored by the alluring alto sax of Maarten Hogenhuis.

Bruut! - Superjazz


Maarten Hogenhuis (alto saxophone), Folkert Oosterbeek (organ), Thomas Rolff (bass), Felix Schlarmann (drums)


in 2016 at Moon Music, Roermond, The Netherlands


as Dox 276 and MOVLP1844 in 2017

Track listing

Side A:
Side B:

Maarten Hogenhuis, organist Folkert Oosterbeek, bassist Thomas Rolff and drummer Felix Schlarmann bring their brand of postmodern popcorn grooves and hi-octane soul jazz with a sense of joyful interaction not unlike like-minded outfits as Flat Earth Society and Medeski, Martin & Wood. I’ve always felt there just might be that young newcomer to jazz having a revelation after hearing Bruut! perform an homage to the boogaloo period of saxophonist Lou Donaldson. Wishful thinking? I don’t think so.

Sparse boogaloo traits on Superjazz, strictly speaking, but Papa Lou’s spirit is certainly hovering over the exotic Camel. And the increasingly hot groove on Plume, which starts as the sound of a shellac disc of Cab Calloway, Wild Bill Davis or Bill Doggett that one might find in an East-Texan thrift store, develops into a cut many will recognize from the late sixties funk jazz output on Prestige and Blue Note by the likes of Rusty Bryant and Boogaloo Joe Jones. There’s Yamazaki, a fast-paced cartoonesque bopswing tune right out of the Raymond Scott bag. The old-timey Sonora swings merrily in 4/4 time.

The soundtracks of Quinten Tarantino have always been a big inspiration for Bruut!. Maybe one day the director might consider including Saga in one of his flicks, a sleazy grunge affair that reveals a lot of ‘rage against the machine’… Organist Folkert Oosterbeek conjures up his meanest Hammond sound available. Throughout the album, the playful Oosterbeek alternates between textures that range from shades of the Farfisa organ, old-fashioned, accordion-type chords to the crunchy sound and crisp lines of the organ modernists from the sixties. Above all, the sing-songy, slightly husky alto sax of Hogenhuis earmark the straightforward, Dick Dale-influenced surf tunes Baha and the punky, jumpin’ and jivin’ Prince as quite out of the ordinary. Occasional twists, turns and flurries of notes reveal the work ethic of a jazz cat that grew up with Parker and the Parker-influenced giants of jazz. The poppy ballad Loulou finds Hoogenhuis, like a daddy soothing a daughter with a fractured knee, reaching for a soft spot in the heart.

Bruut! appeals to the hearts and minds of jazz and popular music fans that appreciate tongue-in-cheek, uplifting tunes performed with deftness and unbridled enthusiasm.


Bruut! released Bruut! (2012), Fire (2013), Mad Pack (2015) and Superjazz (2017) and toured Japan, Poland, Burkina Faso, Germany, England, South-Africa, Spain, Surinam, Turkey and Belgium. Recently, Bruut! worked together on a much acclaimed theatre production with the Dutch theatre/tv maker and writer Wilfried de Jong.

Find Superjazz on Dox Records here.
Check out Bruut!’s website here.
Superjazz is also available on vinyl here.

Lou Donaldson New Faces New Sounds (Blue Note 1954)

Lou Donaldson’s New Faces New Sounds plays a considerable part in the evolution of hard bop, not only for its introduction of future trumpet star Clifford Brown. As journalist Marc “Jazzwax” Myers suggested, something’s going on with Bellarosa, the last track of the Blue Note 10 inch, which was recorded on June 9, 1953.

Lou Donaldson - New Faces New Sounds


Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone), Clifford Brown (trumpet), Elmo Hope (piano), Percy Heath (bass), Philly Joe Jones (drums)


on June 9, 1953 at WOR Studios, New York


as BLP 5030 in 1954

Track listing

Side A:
Carvin’ The Rock
You Go To My Head
Side B:
Brownie Speaks

Considering hard bop, you can’t get around alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson. The Charlie Parker-influenced saxophonist steered jazz into different directions twice during the fifties and sixties. Donaldson is best known by the general public for his commercial output during his second stint with Blue Note in the mid and late sixties, when he recorded a string of soul jazz and jazz funk albums that not altogether met the criteria of jazz snobs but remain popular to this day. Small wonder, because they distilled a juicy, crafty brew out of black contemporary music like boogaloo and James Brown. Although Donaldson’s ‘commercial’ jazz has its occasional superficial moments, I think it has been playing an essential role in keeping jazz lively and fresh for jazz buffs and attractive for newcomers who might otherwise be scared off by the so-called ‘difficult’ art form of jazz.

Earlier on, in the mid-fifties, Lou Donaldson’s intuition for what could give jazz a lift had been spot-on as well. Instead of recording frequently, Donaldson made miles on the chitlin’ circuit, drenching his modern jazz style with r&b, a move that reached out to the urban Afro-American community, coinciding with the remarkably classy taste that community had back then. As soon as Donaldson went back into the studio in 1957, he laid down the bluesy, hard-driving results on albums as Wailing With Lou and Blues Walk, as well as organist Jimmy Smith’s Jimmy Smith Trio + L.D.

The North Carolina-born altoist was part of the second generation of bebop players that followed the footsteps of Parker, Powell, Gillespie and Monk. Donaldson recorded with Monk as early as 1947. He played in the groups of Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver and Blue Mitchell in the early fifties and recorded with Milt Jackson in 1952. Then, on February 21, 1954, Donaldson appeared on the Art Blakey Quintet’s seminal Live At Birdland I & II, including Horace Silver and Clifford Brown.

The key figures of hard bop, or mid/late fifties mainstream jazz are Horace Silver, Art Blakey and Miles Davis. Horace Silver incorporated into modern jazz catchy (but very intricate) tunes imbued with gospel and blues feeling, Art Blakey the big beat on 2/4 and effective fills/bombs as opposed to interval-filled rhythm, (meanwhile introducing a host of young, future jazz stars) and Miles Davis the stress on expression (less is more) and dark-hued colours instead of a speedy flight through astringent changes. As early as the early fifties, Silver experimented with new song structures and Davis’ recording of, for instance, Dig, hinted at things to come. The mid-fifties tunes and albums of this influential threesome, especially Silver’s compositions The Preacher and Doodlin’ (From Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers, February 6, 1955), Art Blakey’s Live At Bohemia-album (November 23, 1955), Miles Davis’ composition Walkin’ (April 29, 1954) and the trumpeter’s work with his first great quintet of 1956 (That quintet consisting of Davis, Coltrane, Garland, Chambers and Philly Joe Jones is considered a key figure in itself) are defining moments and pointed the way to a music that, even if it was indebted to bebop, broke out of the straightjacket of its song structures and uptempo rhythm in favor of a mid-tempo, minor-keyed and more urban kind of jazz.

Arguably, the invention of new musical paths (and creative paths in general) is not the outcome of a ‘lightbulb’ or ‘Eureka’ moment by one or another major inventor. It’s more a gelling of spirits, the result of simultaneous experiments by like-minded artists, in this respect also including Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Sonny Clark, Cannonball Adderley et al. Hard bop wasn’t a clear-cut blueprint which everybody consciously decided to work with, it was more elusive, kind of like a coloring picture that was continuously reshaped by the distinctive colors of the modern jazz personalities. A few guys brought along the coloring picture, while the rest influenced these inventive few in the process and were essential for bringing about their visions.

Hardly a major stylistic innovator, instead Lou Donaldson is a hard bop frontrunner who colored the picture with the tastes of urban Afro-Americans while retaining the forward motion of bop. New Faces New Sounds, Donaldson’s cooperation with the burgeoning trumpet star Clifford Brown, isn’t a fully grown hard bop album yet. Even if customary breakneck speeds are largely absent, style-wise it’s bebop all the way. The group plays a faithful version of Bird’s Dewey Square and the standard You Go To My Head, is treated by Lou Donaldson the way Charlie Parker plays ballads. Lou Donaldson’s tone differs from Bird’s, it’s silky and has a slight, alluring vibrato. Donaldson’s way of phrasing possesses an attractive, sing-songy quality. A tad of charming nonchalance as well, while the inherent logic stays evident.

The years 1952-54 comprise a fascinating transitional period between bebop and hardbop. Blue Note not only introduced Lou Donaldson and Clifford Brown as ‘new faces’, the label also put a series of other players in the New Faces New Sounds-10-inch-package, such as Kenny Drew, Elmo Hope, Wynton Kelly and Gil Melle. Highly collectable jazz artifacts. New Faces New Sounds marked Clifford Brown’s recording debut, pre-dating an 11 June Prestige 10inch with Tadd Dameron (A Study In Dameronia), a J.J. Johnson date (The Eminent J.J. Johnson I & II, June 22, 1953) and his debut as a leader on August 28, New Star On The Horizon. Already very impressive, Brown was nevertheless yet to make his indelible, iconic mark with the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet in 1955.

Clifford Brown is a perfect match (if Donaldson was inspired by Charlie Parker, Brown’s indebtness to trumpeter Fats Navarro is evident) and delivers a top-notch tune, Brownie Speaks. He shines brightly on Carvin’ The Rock, which also boasts a driving Elmo Hope solo and articulate, probing and explosive drums by Philly Joe Jones.

Marc Myers, contemporary jazz ambassador without peer, conducted an enlightening interview with Lou Donaldson in 2010. I can understand that Myers enthusiastically calls Bellarosa ‘a hard bop anthem if ever there was any’, but which monicker should we then reserve for Horace Silver’s The Preacher, Miles Davis’ Walkin’, Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’ or Hank Mobley’s Funk ‘N’ Deep Freeze? Bellarosa, nevertheless, definitely stands out. The tricky theme is taken at a brisk, medium tempo and the tune swings effortlessly. Donaldson’s solo, excepting a customary (excellent) flurry of Parkerisms, holds back on the usual bop embellishments and instead opts for easygoing, slightly-after-the-beat swing. Donaldson’s tale, consisting of a relaxed start, evenly arranged phrases and a long note held in suspension on the bridge is as alluring as they come. Excepting Donaldson’s tone, which is more developed and characteristic in 1953, Bellarosa is reminiscent of Donaldson’s November 19, 1952 take of Horace Silver’s Sweet Juice, which included Silver and Blakey. Sweet Juice reveals the tentative, developing working methods of Silver, while Donaldson’s statements cautiously wheedle their way off the stage of bebop’s theatre.

There’s this tune organist Charles Earland wrote that was dedicated to his former bandleader, Lou-Lou, in 1970. (recorded on Rusty Bryant’s Soul Liberation) And a while ago, the popular Dutch jazz group Bruut! performed their boogaloo tune, Lou, on national tv. Just two examples showing that Lou Donaldson was and still is a hard bop personality with a capital P. Donaldson, just shy of 90 years old and rarely performing these days, himself has been vocal enough in this respect, having repeated his mantra time and again that jazz ain’t nothing without the blues. Sure ‘Nuff! Imagining Donaldson’s shrill, frivolous voice is enough to raise a broad smile on your face.

Allen Touissant

R.I.P. Allen Touissant. The key figure in New Orleans r&b passed away during a tour in Spain on Monday, November 9. Touissant performed regularly from the nineties onwards, but is mostly known as an outstanding, prolific songwriter. His tunes were written for and/or covered by Ernie K. Doe (A Certain Girl), Lee Dorsey (Working In A Coalmine), The Meters (Ride Your Pony), The Rolling Stones (Fortune Teller), Q65 (Get Out My Life, Woman), The Band (Holy Cow), Bonnie Raitt (What Is Succes), Trombone Shorty (On Your Way Down) and many, many others. In the late sixties, jazz musicians looking for a commercial break also found their way to Touissant’s catalogue. For instance, Lou Donaldson and Grassella Oliphant. Great, greasy takes on Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky and Get Out My Life, Woman.

Listen here for Lou Donaldson

Listen here for Grassella Oliphant

Lou Donaldson Midnight Creeper (Blue Note 1968)

Of the popular jazz funk dates alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson did in the late sixties, Midnight Creeper is one of the best. It’s a driving date involving a mellow-blowing leader among a bunch of talented sidemen that were becoming successful leaders in their own right.

Lou Donaldson - Midnight Creeper


Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), George Benson (guitar), Lonnie Smith (organ), Idris Muhammad (drums)


on March 15, 1968 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey


as BST 84280 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Midnight Creeper
Love Power
Side B:
Bag Of Jewels
Dapper Dan

Veteran Donaldson, who was influenced, as many or most were, by Charlie Parker and whose cooperations with Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey and Jimmy Smith date back to the late forties and early/mid-fifties, had a good hand in picking new breed cats in his mid-sixties soul jazz and late-sixties/early seventies jazz funk heyday. To name but a few: Grant Green, Big John Patton, Ben Dixon, Charles Earland, Melvin Sparks. The group of Midnight Creeper is of similar high standard.

One only has to take a listen to Bag Of Jewels to appreciate the rapport of George Benson & Co. The artistic merit of a simple vamp like this one, written by organist Lonnie Smith, lies in the protagonists’ groove-ability. The drive of the rhythm section of drummer Idris Muhammad (formerly Leo Morris) and Lonnie Smith is tremendous. The twangy chords of George Benson add body to the bottom. Lonnie Smith is a wholesale dealer in juicy funk and enigmatic surprises. Smith, on this album, shows that he had become one of the most original organists of his time.

Following Smith, the rest of the soloists – Blue Mitchell, George Benson and Lou Donaldson – bring a lot of jazz finesse to the otherwise basic vamp. Worth mentioning are Blue Mitchell’s skilled work and buoyant style, Benson’s clever yet spicy build-up from low to high register, Muhammad’s stimulating way of announcing soloists with crackling press rolls and, finally, Donaldson’s deceptively casual, logically evolving tale.

The signature tune, Midnight Creeper, is an easy-going groove, a mellow boogaloo. The title and bounce suggest the nocturnal journey of a greasy cat, but for me that lazy gait ignites visions of old geezers in the park, scuffling around a chess board and glancing from under their Panama hats to attractive women passing by. That, of course, is one of the beauties of music, that it creates a variety of feelings.

Donaldson shines brightly on ballads, and Elisabeth is no exception. Not only does Donaldson have chops in abundance, his tone is warm and penetrating and the way Donaldson wraps his arms around the melody is breathtaking.

The funky beat of Love Power is irresistable. It has a kind of Bo Diddley twist as well. Lou Donaldson’s comments bring about a playful, calypso feeling. George Benson delivers a skilled r&b section, including bent strings and slurs. In short, the cover of Teddy Vann’s tune – recorded by The Sandpebbles in 1967 – is a spicy stew.

The album Midnight Creeper is an appetizing melting pot as well. Lou Donaldson’s commercial jazz funk albums, even if not all of them are up to par with Midnight Creeper, include classic groove tunes that, I’ve always felt, have the vital function of keeping jazz accessible for newcomers into the jazz realm. At least it worked like that for me as well as a number of teenage buddies in the mid-nineties. Donaldson reminded us of the blues and soul music we were passionately involved with. Midnight Creeper and Lou Donaldson’s other boogaloo gems spelled: wow, this is jazz as well! We’re enjoying the ‘far out’ Coltrane and Monk, but let’s get low, down & dirty for a change! Yeah, let’s just.