Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Toots Thielemans. “There are worse ones”, summarizes Michel Donato, with a mischievous eye, about some of the Maurice Richards of jazz with whom he has dialogued on stage. Meeting with the legendary double bass player, who will celebrate his 80th birthday on Saturday evening at the FIJM.
Posted at 7:00 a.m.
At 15, Michel Donato was hired by accordionist Michel Sauro to accompany him on the double bass. The teenager had already been playing the “big machine” (his expression) since he was 12 thanks to his father Roland, a semi-professional musician who presented shows in dance halls, such as that of the Windsor Hotel.
“Sauro asks me to play Bésame mucho “recalls the musician, met one sunny morning in a park in Côte-des-Neiges, his neighborhood. “And me, I immediately left in fear. The almost octogenarian mimics an avalanche of notes, his left hand moving frantically on the imaginary fretboard.
Sauro said to me: “It’s good, what you are doing, but the problem is that here we would both need a player of bass.”
The lesson—that of the inestimable virtues of economy of means—will become for him like a modus operandi. Alongside the greats of jazz and pop, Michel Donato has first and foremost been an unfailing ally, even if his discography includes several recordings allowing us to take full measure of the extent of his melodic vocabulary. His two duet albums with Karen Young in 1985 and 1988 remain the best proof that Michel Donato, behind his instrument, is himself a kind of singer.
But a bassist, he insists, “is someone who makes a good floor for everyone.” “I had paid the draft at one time and had hired Charlie Haden [mythique contrebassiste du quatuor d’Ornette Coleman, c’était en 1996]. I made myself walking [porter] by Charlie Haden! It is in this time that you understand all the comfort that you can offer to a soloist, when he feels listened to. This is where he can be as good as he really is. »
Child of Little Italy, born on August 25, 1942, Michel Donato joined Vic Vogel’s big band at the age of 16 and will never stop rubbing shoulders with exceptional creators. “I’m just lucky,” he repeats several times.
And it is because he was aware of this chance that he always tried to extract all their juice from these major meetings.
In Pittsburgh, during a tour with Oscar Peterson during the first half of the 1970s, Dizzy Gillespie asked the Montreal pianist if he could borrow his double bass player, his being absent. “Oscar responds: “Safe.“Of course I knew Manteca [une des plus grandes compositions du trompettiste], but I wanted to pay the draft. I said to him, “Mr. Gillespie, can we go into the dressing room and have you play me some?” I got played Manteca by Dizzy Gillespie, all alone! »
He will use the same stratagem – to feign ignorance – with Félix Leclerc, with whom he records in 1979 Songs in memory long. “I was blackmailed Me, my shoes by Mr. Leclerc, his foot on the chair, with his guitar. That too was no worse. »
This palpable admiration for his comrades of an evening or of a life will however never have been paralyzing. In 1977, Michel Donato agreed to join Philly Joe Jones and Bill Evans, at the latter’s invitation, at the Rising Sun, a legendary jazz club on Sainte-Catherine Street.
“I was between Bill and Phil and at first I was intimidated, you know. I was holding myself back a bit, but at some point I was like, “Fuck, there, I’m going to play for real, go ahead, Donato!” And as soon as I did that, Bill got up, he looked at me and he said, “Yea, baby!” “He will however prefer not to follow them on tour in order to stay with his lover and their two children.
In 1992, Michel Donato prepares to attend with his wife the concert of the pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Schedule conflict: Rubalcaba is late, but his bassist, Charlie Haden, is expected elsewhere, in another room.
Menard [André, cofondateur du FIJM] comes to me: “Donato, do you have your bass?” I found myself on stage with Gonzalo, who I had never spoken to. I looked at him, I made a sign of the cross, then we left. Wicked pianist! It was much better than being in the room.
The difference between a good musician and a very good musician? “It’s like sport”, answers the one whose writer and host Stanley Péan is preparing the biography. “There are hockey players and there is Maurice Richard. A very good musician, everything he does looks easy. When Lemieux outsmarts three guys, you feel like you could do it too. »
He will be on Saturday evening surrounded by about twenty guests among the elite of Quebec jazz, whom he has chosen himself. Has his game changed over the years? “I make fewer notes, but I think I make more beautiful ones. »
Michel Donato and guests – 80 years of Michel DonatoJuly 9 at 6 p.m., at the Gesù