Celebrated Jazz Pianist and Organist Mike LeDonne Announces New Album with Groover Quartet and Gospel Choir, Wonderful, due out February 16, 2024 via Cellar Music Group

Cellar Music Group is thrilled to announce the release of Wonderful, the powerful new album by celebrated pianist and organist Mike LeDonne. Wonderful is an extraordinary exploration of the harmonious union between a gospel choir and the rich sounds of LeDonne’s long-time outfit, Groover Quartet. The confluence of jazz organ and gospel strikes an uplifting, soulful chord within LeDonne’s compositions and his thoughtful arrangements of popular songs. The album features an exceptional lineup of LeDonne’s longtime musical comrades including tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Joe Farnsworth, and special guest alto saxophonist Vincent Herring, and percussionist Danny Sadownick.

The album’s thematic thread is woven with the key element of love, serving as a heartfelt tribute to LeDonne’s wife Margaret, and daughter Mary, whose radiant image adorns the front cover. Titled Wonderful for his Mary, LeDonne’s latest endeavor strives to celebrate her and shine a light on others that are part of the disability community, celebrating their diversity as a beautiful aspect of humanity.

LeDonne’s journey as a father to Mary has been a source of inspiration for his music and activism. The creation of the Disability Pride Parade in New York City, initiated by LeDonne, was born out of his love for his daughter and the desire to showcase the vibrant and diverse nature of the disability community. “When I started out, I had no idea how to create a parade or a non-profit organization, but through Mary, I found strengths in myself that I didn’t know I had. When people thank me for my work creating the parade, I always tell them it wasn’t me – it was Mary,” he explained.

The musical inspiration behind Wonderful arose from LeDonne’s deep love for gospel music, a genre that has profoundly influenced his musical journey. LeDonne indicates, “To me, putting a gospel choir and a jazz organist together seemed natural – but, unbelievably, it had never been done before… Most of the music I love came from the grooves and feeling of gospel and the blues, and when I’ve listened to gospel choirs swinging hard on a refrain or a vamp, I’ve always wanted to get a piece of it. This recording was my chance to finally do that and not only add to the groove of the music, but also to expand the sound of the band with the most beautiful instrument of all – the human voice.”

To bring this momentous project to life, LeDonne collaborated with friend and talented singer Carolyn Leonhart, who assisted in arranging the choir parts. The diverse selection of songs includes gospel classics such as “Let Us Go,” featuring the vibrant spirit of the choir, and “Put It Back”, which highlights the great percussion section made up of Farnsworth and Sadownick, who both hit a serious pocket right from the start. The band shines on John Coltrane’s spiritual composition “Lonnie’s Lament”, which LeDonne dedicates to the late Dr. Lonnie Smith, the great B3 Master and wizard of the Hammond organ.

Bridge Over Troubled Water”, “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing”, and “Make Someone Happy” demonstrate LeDonne’s ability to reinterpret classics in a fresh, exciting way. The bandleader notes “these are a couple of songs that I’ve always loved that fit perfectly into the story I’m telling on this recording.” On “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, the organ does a call-and-response with the choir for the melody and then settles into a greasy shuffle groove. “Make Someone Happy” features a soulful rendition of the beautiful melody by LeDonne and Alexander, a wonderful solo by Bernstein after which LeDonne pulls out all the stops unleashing the full power of the Hammond Organ. 

The album also features original compositions, such as “Twinkies Organ Prelude/Wonderful”, which opens with a melody from the great gospel organist and singer Twinkie Clark, and leads into “Wonderful” a composition of LeDonne’s that documents his first venture as a lyricist. LeDonne notes “they’re simple words that express what my family means to me.” The album concludes with the lively closer “Genesis“, another LeDonne original which Farnsworth featured on drums, playing at a blistering tempo. A true ensemble piece, “Genesis” ends the album on a joyous note.

Wonderful is a testament to LeDonne’s musical versatility and his ability to seamlessly blend genres while delivering a profound message of love, unity, and celebration. This groundbreaking album promises to leave an indelible mark on the world of jazz and gospel, showcasing the power of love through the universal language of music.

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Track Listing

  1. Let Us Go (8:45)
  2. Lonnie’s Lament (8:30)
  3. Twinkie’s Organ Prelude/Wonderful (7:19)
  4. Put It Back (6:26)
  5. Bridge Over Troubled Water (6:05)
  6. Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing (5:59)
  7. Make Someone Happy (5:48)
  8. Genesis (7:06)

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