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A monthly guide to early rock, blues, country, folk, and traditional jazz in the Seattle area and beyond.
Editor and Publisher: Doug Bright
E-mail: subscribe@heritagemusicreview.com

---------------------------------------- PART TWO:

By Doug Bright

Summary of Part One:
In refreshing contrast to most of today's artists, who are scared to death to risk their youth appeal by identifying with older genres and styles, vocalist Catherine Russell has staked her claim there. The daughter of parents who made their own important contributions to the swing era, she surrounds herself with accompanists who share her passion for vintage jazz, and her latest album, ALONE TOGETHER,
Alone Together
was just nominated for a Grammy award.

A native New Yorker, Catherine Russell was born in 1956 to pianist Luis Russell, who led an influential band of his own in the late 1920's before becoming musical director for Louis Armstrong's orchestra, and singer/guitarist/bassist Carline Ray, who was a key member of the legendary all-female band The International Sweethearts of Rhythm
Hot Licks
in the mid-1940's and enjoyed a long and eclectic musical career until her death in 2013. Catherine's father had stopped performing by the time she was born, and he died when she was seven years old, but the records he made before and during his years with Armstrong provided some of her earliest childhood inspiration. She was also deeply influenced by the emerging soul artists of her time.

Meanwhile, the young and precocious Russell was beginning to explore a range of artistic pursuits that would propel most kids into premature burnout. Joining choreographer Katherine Dunham's dance company at seven, she put in four seasons in a Metropolitan Opera production of "Aida" before abandoning the cutthroat competition of the ballet life to focus on music. She sang in choirs, studied classical violin in elementary school, then tuba, saxophone, and trumpet, and finally drums in high school. Having learned to accompany herself on her grandfather's mandolin as a child, she also developed a love of country music, joining a Southern-style old-time string band during her college days in California.

inspired by the political protest and innovative rock music of the hippie culture, Russell had left home for the Golden State at the age of fifteen and joined a commune in Sonoma County. She gained valuable experience a few years later with gospel innovator Daryl Coley's choir, The New Generation Singers.

Back home in New York, she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, graduating in 1980. "I just really wanted to have a career in the music business," she told NPR interviewer Terry Gross, "and I just didn't know how to start, so I started with whatever blues I knew and sat in wherever I could in clubs around New York City, and that kind of turned into a career in backup singing and touring."

Russell spent the next 26 years touring and/or recording with a virtual Who's Who of contemporary artists, including Al Green, David Bowie, Paul Simon, Cyndi Lauper, Steely Dan, Diana Ross, Jackson Browne, and Rosanne Cash. Despite her lifelong love for the music of her parents' generation, it never occurred to her to turn that love into a solo recording career until husband/booking agent Paul Kahn talked her into it. "I was turning 49 at the time," she recalled in the San Francisco Chronicle, "and I said, Well, it's really the only thing I haven't done; let's try this."

The resulting album, simply entitled CAT,
emerged on the World Village label in 2006 to widespread critical acclaim. Encompassing an astonishing range of roots-music territory, it showcased Russell's expressive alto voice with accompanists whose versatility fully matched her own. Like its predecessor, Russell's 2008 World Village release SENTIMENTAL STREAK
Sentimental Streak
placed her in well executed small-group settings on material ranging from the old-time jazz-blues of Bessie Smith and Alberta Hunter to wistful, brooding ballads from later decades. Nevertheless, it sported a few more elaborate accompaniments, making good use of Stephen Bernstein's horn arrangements to take her into Thirties big-band and classic Dixieland territory.

By the time Catherine Russell's third release, INSIDE THIS HEART OF MINE,
Inside This Heart of Mine
emerged, she had permanently installed multi-instrumentalist Matt Munisteri, who had played solid Twenties-style banjo on her previous effort, as her musical director. On this album, he contented himself most of the time playing acoustic rhythm guitar behind Mark Shane's spirited stride-style piano and taking tastefully inventive single-string solos when his time came to do so. Thanks to trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, the program was also graced with irresistibly authentic horn arrangements. Kellso's luxurious Dixieland setting was perfectly suited to "Slow As Molasses",
Inside This Heart of Mine
Rachelle Garniez's ode to summer. Munisteri, trombonist John Allred, and clarinetist Dan Block all took good solos, but Kellso's stood out, recalling the rippling vibrato and high-flying phrasing of the great Louis Armstrong. The album's closing track, the Armstrong classic "Struttin' With Some Barbecue",
Inside This Heart of Mine
swung out with all the unrestrained exuberance of his All Stars line-up in the 1950's.

On her fourth album, 2012's STRICTLY ROMANCIN',
Strictly Romancin'
Russell's vocals reflected the influence of earlier sources, but as with previous efforts, the interpretations were uniquely her own. One of the album's most unusual and compelling tracks was Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "He's All I Need",
Strictly Romancin'
a classic gospel-soul duet featuring Russell and her mother, Carline Ray, and accompanied fittingly and single-handedly by pianist Mark Shane. Russell delivered the 1946 Billie Holiday hit "No More",
Strictly Romancin'
a triumphant reversal of the torch-song theme with a demandingly complex melody, with notable conviction while Jon-Erik Kellso's horn arrangement ingeniously captured the mood with considerably less orchestration. In Kellso's capable hands, the hot-jazz standard "Everybody Loves My Baby"
Strictly Romancin'
became one of the album's hottest and smartest tracks. He preceded Russell's vocal statement with a tightly harmonized ensemble passage and closed the tune in all-out Dixieland mode.

Meanwhile, guitarist Matt Munisteri fully justified his role as russell's musical director on this album, forming a tight rhythm section with pianist Mark Shane, bassist Lee Hudson, and drummer Mark McLean. Their expertise reached its peak with their approach to "I Haven't Changed A Thing".
Strictly Romancin'
In addition to creating fine, jazzy individual solos, Munisteri and Shane combined forces to produce the kind of seamless ensemble work that called to mind Nat Cole and guitarist Oscar Moore in the King Cole Trio. When teamed up with accordionist Joe Barbato in the rhythm section, Munisteri switched to acoustic guitar for lyrical solos in Django Reinhardt's French Gypsy-jazz style.

The name of catherine Russell's 2014 Jazz Village release, BRING IT BACK,
Bring it Back
was as much a mission statement as an album title. The slow and bluesy title track,
Bring it Back
whose recorded history I was unable to determine, could easily have been sung in the 1950's by Dinah Washington or Esther Phillips, but many of Russell's selections dated back much further.

The oldest song, now somewhat out of favor in these politically charged times, was the well-known "Darktown Strutter's Ball".
Bring it Back
Russell, who deserves plenty of "Profiles In Courage" points for bringing it back at all, even resurrected the all-but-forgotten introductory verse while making no particular effort to match her accompaniment to the song's historical setting. Instead, she simply gave it her own briskly swinging treatment, with Matt Munisteri taking a blues-flavored electric guitar solo. "You Got To Swing and Sway",
Bring it Back
gleaned from Roaring Twenties blueswoman Ida Cox, was taken at an even faster tempo than that of the original record,
Ida Cox Vol. 5 (1939-1940)but like her source, Russell's treatment featured plenty of Dixieland brass-and-reed interaction, with trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and trombonist John Allred making very good use of an old-fashioned mute technique that has all but disappeared from the working musician's toolkit. Much the same can be said of "You've got Me Under Your Thumb"
Bring it Back
from Thirties-era singer/pianist Cleo Brown.
Here Comes Cleo

It was one of the hottest tracks on the album, with Mark Shane delivering some exuberant stride piano and Munisteri demonstrating the chord-based acoustic guitar solo style that has hardly been used since Brown's heyday.

Another standout was "Public Melody Number One",
Bring it Back
a now-obscure Harold Arlen piece with a reference to J. Edgar Hoover. Russell's inspiration came from a Louis Armstrong record
Luis: Louis Armstrong and Luis Russell 1929-1940
made during her father's tenure as his bandmaster, and Jon-Erik Kellso's "hot cornet" solo constituted a textbook example of the Satchmo style. Russell was obviously having the time of her life singing this one, taking the Armstrong effort a step further by singing the complete introductory verse. Likewise, she delivered the well-known standard "I Cover The Waterfront",
Bring it Back
verse and all, with all the heart and soul of the 1945 Billie Holiday record
Billie Holiday: The Complete Decca Recordings
that inspired her, complemented by a luxurious tenor sax solo.

As you might expect, BRING IT BACK
Bring it Back
also contained a generous serving of vintage rhythm-and-blues material. Russell revived Al Hibbler's 1956 hit "After The Lights Go Down Low"
Bring it Back
at a more laid-back tempo than he had recorded it,
After the Lights Go Down
drawing it out the way Etta James might have done. Pianist Mark Shane and Hammond B3 organist Glenn Patscha created a highly compatible keyboard setting for Russell's voice and Matt Munisteri's electric guitar. Russell used the same line-up for Little Willie John's 1956 hit "I'm Sticking With You",
Bring it Back
enhanced by a hand-clapping backbeat that took it right back to the heart of the rock'n'roll era. The album stands up as one of Catherine Russell's most inspired efforts.

Russell's next album, 2016's HARLEM ON MY MIND,
Harlem On My Mind
continued her mission to "bring it back" with a tribute to the birthplace of swing. It was described by Arik Danielson in Columbia, Missouri's DAILY NEWS as "a love letter to a place--and its people--she knows well." For the title track,
Harlem On My Mind
Russell drew obvious inspiration from Ethel Waters' 1933 rendition
An Introduction to Ethel Waters: Her Best Recordings 1921-1940
of Irving Berlin's poignant composition, capturing all the wistfulness of an American expatriate homesick for the Cotton Club and all the vitality it represented. Instead of a full orchestra, however, she accomplished her purpose with Mark Shane's lyrical stride piano, Tal Ronen's solid acoustic bass, and Mark McLean's deliberately simple brush-drumming.

Russell's sassy revival of "You've Got The Right Key But The Wrong Keyhole",
Harlem On My Mind
a jazz-blues written and recorded by Clarence Williams with his Blue Five in 1924,
Clarence Williams, 1924-26
made Williams' vocalist, Virginia Liston, sound stiff and lethargic by comparison. The Blue Five line-up at the time featured two of this critic's greatest jazz heroes, Louis Armstrong and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet, and although Russell's primary trumpeter, Jon-Erik Kellso, was a fine candidate for the Armstrong role, he appeared only in the mix behind the vocal refrain, leaving the solos to be split between alto saxophonist Dan Block and banjoist Matt Munisteri. As demonstrated on Russell's previous albums, Munisteri showed a perfect grasp of the Twenties banjo style, and Block's impassioned vibrato and free-wheeling, bluesy improvisation showed definite familiarity with Bechet's work.

Russell's unearthing of another Clarence Williams composition, "Swing, Brother, Swing",
Harlem On My Mind
was obviously influenced by Billie Holiday's 1939 Columbia recording,
The Quintessential Billie Holiday, Vol.8: 1939-1940
but Russell and her band accelerated the tempo to an all-out romp, with Mark Shane drawing inspiration from Teddy Wilson's effortlessly flowing stride piano and Erik Kellso reviving the all-but-forgotten muted trumpet style of Buck Clayton.

Drawing from another legendary composer of the early jazz age, Russell delivered Fats Waller's "Blue Turning Gray Over You"
Harlem On My Mind1
at about the same leisurely but rhythmically swinging pace at which Billie Holiday recorded it in 1950 for Decca,
Billie Holiday: The Complete Decca Recordings
but with Lady Day's voice heading into gradual decline, Russell's rendition surpassed. The haunting ballad "You're My Thrill"
Harlem On My Mind
had been recorded by a number of people, including Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, but once again, Russell's version, set in a gently swaying band arrangement enhanced by lyrical clarinet and trumpet work, comes out on top.

In terms of both a tight horn section and exuberant vocal delivery, Russell seems to have drawn the most inspiration from Dakota Staton's 1959 treatment of "When Lights Are Low".
Harlem On My Mind
She was, in fact, apparently having such a good time with this lesser-known number that she couldn't resist going for three full choruses instead of the usual two. With her vocal approach and a similarly soulful horn arrangement, she paid fitting tribute to Dinah Washington on "Let Me Be The First To Know", but in Russell's version,
Harlem On My Mind
the tenor saxophonist who filled in sensitively behind her voice also got a luxurious solo.

Unsurprisingly, Russell also displayed plenty of influence from her vintage rhythm-and-blues heroines in this album. "I Want A Man",
Harlem On My Mind
a down-home blues backed by a hard-driving rhythm section, calls Ruth Brown or Etta James to mind whether they ever recorded it or not. Her revival of Little Willie John's "Talk To Me", with its sensitively crooning sax section, placed her in her best soul-ballad setting, echoing the way Etta would have sounded during her heyday in the late Fifties and early Sixties. All in all, the album
Harlem On My Mind
proved to be one of Russell's most memorable efforts, resulting in her first solo Grammy nomination.

(This article will be continued in the next issue of Heritage Music Review. Catherine Russell's CD's are all available through her website, www.catherinerussell.net.)

Discover "The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll" At Phinney Books

"I didn't set out to revolutionize the world," Sam Phillips once told biographer Peter Guralnick. Nevertheless, that's just what he did as owner and operator of the Sun record label that launched Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Your copy of Guralnick's book, SAM phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll, is waiting for you at Phinney Books in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood.

Phinney Books 7405 Greenwood Avenue North
Phone: 206/297-2665
Web: www.phinneybooks.com ----------------------------------------

120-bass Accordion At Dusty Strings
Dusty Strings Acoustic Music Shop in the Fremont district, long known for its array of fine stringed instruments, instructional workshops, and folk concerts, has recently acquired a full-size 120-bass Rivoli accordion, made by Sonolo, in perfect playing condition. I've tried this instrument out myself and can happily testify that it even has the so-called Bassoon keyboard setting that I choose for simulating clarinets and big-band reed sections in my role of preserving vintage jazz as Dixieland Doug. It sells for $595, and although it isn't displayed on the Dusty Strings website, you can request a photo by emailing music@dustystrings.com

Dusty Strings Acoustic Music Shop
3406 Fremont Avenue North
Phone: 206/634-1662.
Web: www.dustystrings.com
Find Classic Bluegrass Albums On Bop Street
Bop Street Records, the place to go for collectable vinyl in Seattle's Ballard district, recently acquired a large collection of vintage bluegrass albums, including 33 by the Stanley Brothers. Other artists include Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, the Louvin Brothers, and the Delmore Brothers. "They were owned by a guy who was 91, totally loved bluegrass," says proprietor Dave Vorhies.

Bop Street Records
2220 Northwest Market Street
Phone: (206) 297-2232.
Web: www.bopstreetrecords.com.

1966 Fender Jaguar At Emerald City Guitars
Emerald City Guitars in Seattle's Pioneer Square, well known for its fascinating selection of new and vintage acoustic and electric guitars, amps, and accessories, has just acquired a 1966 Fender Jaguar electric in good condition with original hard shell case. "Tons of switching options for a wide range of tones," the website proclaims. "Plays great with an excellent vintage feel. The original single-coil pickups have a fantastic sound, producing the classic Jaguar twang with a bright, percussive, woody tone."

Emerald City Guitars
83 South Washington Street
Phone: 206/382-0231.
Web: www.emeraldcityguitars.com.

The print edition of HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW is available by mail for $15 per year and on sale at the following Seattle newsstands and music venues:

Dusty Strings Acoustic Music Shop: 3406 Fremont Avenue North.

Bulldog News 4208 University Way Northeast

Phinney Books: 7405 Greenwood Avenue North

Emerald City Guitars: 83 South Washington Street.

Queen Anne Book Company: 1811 Queen Anne Avenue North

Elliott Bay Book Company: 1521 10th Avenue.

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