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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



By Doug Bright

Summary of Parts 1-2
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 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 in the mid-1940's
Hot Licks
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
Luis: Louis Armstrong and Luis Russell 1929-1940
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 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. It also 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.

On her next three albums, Russell's vocals reflected the influence of earlier sources, but as with previous efforts, the interpretations were uniquely her own. Her sixth release, 2016's HARLEM ON MY MIND,
Harlem On My Mind
continued her previous album's mission to "Bring It Back"
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, Russell drew obvious inspiration from Ethel Waters' 1933 rendition 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 prior 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", 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" 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" 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". 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, 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", 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.

Catherine Russell's next and latest album, 2019's ALONE TOGETHER,
Alone Together
finds her on Dot Time Records, a New York label founded in 2012 and billing itself as "the new light in jazz". Although her approach to repertoire and her choice of musicians remain the same, this is her most mainstream album yet. The most vintage-styled tracks here are Fats Waller's "You're Not The Only Oyster In The Stew"
Alone Together
and "He May Be Your Dog But He's Wearing My Collar",
Alone Together
originally recorded by Roaring Twenties blueswoman Rosa Henderson with only piano accompaniment. Mark Shane's classic stride piano is the driving force on Russell's versions, but in addition, she's joined by Matt Munisteri for some delightfully old-time acoustic lead guitar work and anchored by Tal Ronen's rock-solid stand-up bass and a deliberately simple drumbeat from Mark McLean.

As the track selection moves into the big-band era, the sound of Russell's quartet updates accordingly. Shane's piano predominates for the relaxed, midtempo swing of the well-known standard "You Turned The Tables On Me".
Alone Together
Like Diana Krall twenty-three years earlier, Russell can't resist transgendering the Nat King Cole Trio's fast-and-furious "I'm An Errand Boy For Rhythm", but unlike the other two versions, Shane and Munisteri don't team up for a dazzling piano-guitar exhibition but content themselves instead with individual solos, giving bassist Tal Ronen time to stretch out on a hot solo of his own accented by Mark Shane's sharp brush-drumming.

For most of this album, Russell is backed by smartly swinging horn arrangements with fine solos delivered by trumpeter/arranger Jon-Erik Kellso, trombonist John Allred, and tenor saxophonist Evan Arntzen. The mood ranges from the relaxed balladry of "Shake Down The Stars",
Alone Together
recorded during the swing era by both Ella Fitzgerald and Helen Forrest, to the all-out romp of "You Can't Pull The Wool Over My Eyes",
Alone Together
a tune gleaned from vocalist Helen Ward's work with Benny Goodman's orchestra. The well-known ballad "How Deep Is The Ocean"
Alone Together
has been recorded by nearly everyone imaginable over the years, but Russell's treatment tops the list for pure, lyrical jazz sincerity.

As Russell moves into the realm of classic rhythm and blues, her horn-enhanced studio band moves expertly along with her for the New Orleans rhumba groove of Louis Jordan's "Early In The Morning".
Alone Together
Her approach to "I Only have Eyes For You" doesn't reflect an obvious influence from anyone in particular, but she gives it a vintage soul spin that suggests the way Aretha Franklin might have sung it. Her biggest inspiration for the 1936 classic "When Did You Leave Heaven"
Alone Together
seems to come from Nancy Wilson, but graced by lush chamber-style string orchestration, she goes her own way, underplaying the Dinah Washington styling that Wilson brought to it.

Alone Together
didn't manage to capture the Grammy award in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category where it was nominated, it rated Number One on Jazz Week's year-end jazz chart, racking up 5,465 radio airplays over a period of 27 weeks. It also made Glide Magazine's Top 20 jazz releases. "No artist has the musicologist's knack for capturing the best music of the twenties through the fifties and make it sound so vital and so true to its origins," a reviewer wrote. "She's a master at what she loves--blues-infused jazz tunes."

"It's part of my job to find and uncover these songs," Russell declared last March in Seattle on a KNKX-FM studio interview. "I search for tunes that haven't been done in sixty, seventy, eighty years, particularly tunes from the 1920's artists that we would never hear. I'll be doin' this for the rest of my life."

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.

1955 Modified Les Paul 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 recently acquired a modified 1955 Gibson Les Paul Gold Top electric in excellent condition. "This came to us shrouded in mystery," proprietor Jay Boone explains in a video on the "Pick of The Day" section of the Emerald City website, "and of course, we had to do our archaeology on it. The guy (who) brought it in knew it was from the Fifties. He had a brother who had passed away that did a lot of modifications on guitars, and this was one of his projects. This guitar plays great, and of course, you've got that old wood from the Fifties that makes it really magical. It's a great opportunity to own a Fifties Les Paul at a player's price."Emerald City Guitars 83 South Washington Street Phone: 206/382-0231. Web: www.emeraldcityguitars.com.---------------------------------------- ON THE NEWSSTAND: HERITAGE MUSIC REVIEW 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:FREMONT: Dusty Strings Acoustic Music Shop: 3406 Fremont Avenue North.UNIVERSITY DISTRICT:Bulldog News 4208 University Way NortheastGREENWOOD: Phinney Books: 7405 Greenwood Avenue NorthPIONEER SQUARE: Emerald City Guitars: 83 South Washington Street.QUEEN ANNE HILL:Queen Anne Book Company: 1811 Queen Anne Avenue NorthCAPITOL HILL: Elliott Bay Book Company: 1521 10th Avenue. For a free sample copy of the print edition, just reply to this message or, if this issue was forwarded to you, send your mailing address to subscribe@heritagemusicreview.com. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Forwarding of this Electronic Edition is strongly encouraged. If you wish to subscribe or unsubscribe, simply send your request to editor Doug Bright: subscribe@heritagemusicreview.com.----------------------------------------