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Jazz Perspective: Catherine Russell


Vocalist Catherine Russell performs a great mix of jazz, blues, and soul. The daughter of two famous jazz musicians, Russell draws on her swing era jazz roots to create a distinctive style.

Some of Catherine Russell's earliest memories are of visiting Louis Armstrong's house in Queens, New York. Her father Luis Russell and her mother Carline Ray were both prominent jazz musicians in the 1930s and 40s. She remembers what happened when Satchmo Armstrong picked her up as a child.

“[There’s a] film of Louis Armstrong picking me up,” says Catherine. “My dad was filming. I wasn't too happy at that moment. Satchmo's mouth was big. I was the only one there not having a good time.”

Russell grew up listening to all kinds of music from classical to calypso. But given her parents preferred musical genres, it should be no surprise that she has a natural affinity for the classic songs known collectively as the Great American Songbook.

“I like the way the music sounds,” says Russell. “I like the writing style from that period. People had fun recording those tunes. It puts a smile on my face when I hear music from ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s. I find a lot of tunes from those decades that make me happy. The marriage of that music with blues and jazz. When I do my shows, people say I haven't heard that song since. It's nice. It brings the audience together, as did dancing to music in those days.”

Russell demonstrates her bluesy appreciation of the old standards in this rendition of “Under the Spell of the Blues” from her 2012 CD called Strictly Romancin’.

She explains that Ella Fitzgerald had recorded this tune very early in her career when she was singing with the Chic Webb orchestra.

“This was one of her earliest hits,” says Russell. “I fell in love with the melancholy lyrics against the swing rhythm. She was a teenager when she recorded that. I love the sound of her voice.”

"I'm Checking Out, Goom'bye" in which Russell has a musical conversation with trombonist John Allred is particularly great. She was inspired by an earlier version of the tune performed by Ivy Anderson.

“In studio, we came up with: Why not have a dialogue?” says Russell. “It was natural and fun. A lot of these things I work into the show. I see if they work and fun to play and we decide to record them.”

Catherine Russell is performing on June 22 at Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz, June 23 at Yoshi's in San Francisco, and on June 26 at Los Gatos Jazz on the Plaza.

Hear more Jazz Perspectives at www.jazzcorner.com/innerviews.