A gifted jazz pianist and Hammond B-3 specialist, Mike LeDonne has earned praise for his deeply swinging work with jazz greats, as well as with his own trio and Groover Quartet. Arriving in New York in the early '80s, LeDonne distinguished himself as a regular member of the Milt Jackson Quartet, the Widespread Depression Orchestra, and as a sideman with such legends as Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, and Benny Golson. Along with sessions for Joshua Redman, Jim Snidero, and Eric Alexander, LeDonne has led his own highly regarded straight-ahead dates including 1988's Bout Time, 1993's Soulmates, and 2005's Night Song. He also leads his own funky Hammond organ group the Groover Quartet with saxophonist Alexander, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and drummer Joe Farnsworth, issuing albums like 2010's The Groover and 2016's That Feelin'.
Born in 1956 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, LeDonne became fascinated by music at a young age while listening to albums at his parent's music store. His father, a guitarist, introduced him to jazz and got him started on piano lessons at age five. By the age of ten, LeDonne was already good enough to begin playing on his father's gigs. After high school, he further honed his skills studying at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music. Graduating in 1979, he moved to New York where he played with the Widespread Depression Orchestra and toured the U.K. with Panama Francis and the Savoy Sultans. Returning to New York in the early '80s, he gained visibility as the house pianist at the noted jazz club Jimmy Ryan's. There, he met and played with a bevy of jazz greats, including Roy Eldridge, Papa Jo Jones, and Vic Dickenson, among others, and toured as a member of the Benny Goodman sextet; he worked with such luminaries as Buddy Tate, Ruby Braff, Art Farmer, James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sonny Rollins, as well as singers like Annie Ross and Etta Jones. In 1988, LeDonne joined the Milt Jackson Quartet and became the band's musical director after Jackson's death in 1999.
As a leader, LeDonne began recording in 1988, debuting with the post-bop album Bout Time on the Criss Cross label. It featured contributions by trumpeter and flugelhornist Tom Harrell, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, bassist Dennis Erwin, and drummer Kenny Washington. Several more albums followed on Criss Cross throughout the early and mid-'90s, peaking with the sextet album Soulmates, a straight-ahead recording which featured soloists such as alto saxophonist Jon Gordon, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, and trumpeter Ryan Kisor. Also during this period, there were sessions with Chris Flory, Duke Robillard, and others.
LeDonne switched to the Double Time label in 1998, issuing To Each His Own, a trio effort with bassist Peter Washington and veteran drummer Mickey Roker. He then paid homage to his former boss, vibraphonist Jackson, on 2001's Bags Groove: A Tribute to Milt Jackson, with saxophonist Jim Snidero, trumpeter Jim Rotondi, altoist Steve Wilson, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, bassist Bob Cranshaw, and drummer Roker. With 2004's Smokin' Out Loud, LeDonne moved to Savant Records showcasing his Hammond B-3 organ chops alongside tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and drummer Joe Farnsworth. Sticking with Savant, he returned a year later with Night Song, a trio date with bassist Ron Carter and drummer Farnsworth. On Fire arrived in 2006 and again showcased LeDonne's organ work with Alexander, Bernstein, and Farnsworth. FiveLive followed in 2008 and featured the pianist in concert at New York's club Smoke with Alexander, Farnsworth, bassist John Webber, and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.
In 2010, LeDonne continued exploring his love of organ jazz with The Groover, featuring his long-running ensemble dubbed here as the Groover Quartet with saxophonist Alexander, guitarist Bernstein, and drummer Farnsworth. The same group was on board for 2011's Keep the Faith, 2014's I Love Music, and 2015's AwwlRIGHT!, the latter of which also featured Bob Cranshaw and Jeremy Pelt. LeDonne then augmented his Groover Quartet with saxophonist Vincent Herring for 2016's That Feelin', and returned two years later with From the Heart. In 2019, he paired with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash for the trio date Partners in Time.
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