[Dixielandjazz] Catherine Russell interviewed -- Hartford Courant, December 22, 2014

Robert Ringwald rsr at ringwald.com
Thu Dec 25 07:40:57 PST 2014

The Celebrated Catherine Russell Brings Her Jazz Pedigree to Old Lyme
by Michael Hamad
Hartford Courant, December 22, 2014
Singer Catherine Russell knows how to lead a band. She knows how to lay back into
a supporting role. Over the years, Russell has worked every type of room imaginable
-- small clubs in Greenwich Village with Doc Cheatham, Dizzy’s Coca-Cola at Lincoln
Center, expansive outdoor sheds with Donald Fagen -- most often without the pressure
of being out front. She’s been in recording studios and on stage with David Bowie,
Levon Helm, Cyndi Lauper, Jackson Browne and Rosanne Cash, but she’s also a celebrated
solo artist who’s about to begin recording her sixth solo album.
Russell was raised in the Bronx. She comes from musical family; her father was the
pianist and bandleader Luis Russell, and her mother was Carline Ray, who, among other
accomplishments, performed with the all-female International Sweethearts of Rhythm
Orchestra in the 1940s. Her jazz pedigree, not surprisingly, is impeccable, but she
also grew up digging ’60s rock music -- the Grateful Dead, early Jackson Browne --
and even lived for a time in a Bay Area hippie commune.
This Saturday, Dec. 27, Russell returns to Connecticut for a show at the Side Door
Jazz Club in Old Lyme, accompanied by Munisteri, pianist Mark Shane and bassist Tal
Early on, Russell’s mother took her to recording sessions, where she’d study the
performers. She gravitated toward backup singing; in record stores, she’d pore over
album covers, recognizing certain names -- Cissy Houston, say -- that would appear
on album after album.
“I grew up harmonizing, so I pictured myself in choirs,” Russell said. “I would be
surrounded by people and wouldn’t be the center of attention. I was pretty shy as
a kid.”
Backing others, Russell said, “is a different skill than lead singing. You have to
blend. You have to work with other people and support the leader... Having my name
on the ticket is a whole other dimension that I’ve gotten used to.”
Russell’s own music, as you can hear on “Bring It Back,” her latest album released
early in 2014, is unfailingly swinging, and also deeply connected to her roots; “Lucille,”
a slow, bluesy number composed by her father, was discovered in demo form in Louis
Armstrong’s archives.
“You’ve Got Me Under Your Thumb” lurches forward from guitarist Matt Munisteri’s
intro, bouncing along somewhere between Count Basie and Django Reinhardt. On Fats
Waller’s “Strange as It Seems,” Russell begins in a free rhythmic space, then locks
in with Mark Shane’s steady stride accompaniment, outlining minor scales and seventh
chords with a gently undulating vibrato.
Embedded in every track, there’s a deep understanding of history. Russell gives plenty
of space for her sidemen to stretch out, though when she sings, she’s the undeniable
center of gravity. On “Aged and Mellow,” a Little Esther song, Russell sings of how
she prefers the company of mature companions. But she might as well be singing about
her musical tastes: “Some girls just don’t seem to see / why these little young cats
just ain’t moving me / I gotta tell them I like my men like I like whiskey / aged
and mellow.”
On the bandstand, the swing element, Russell said, is “the most important thing.
We have to hit that no matter if it’s jazz, soul or blues.” She chooses to work with
open-minded musicians who appreciate all types of music, regardless of the gig. “It’s
important that everyone is well-rounded,” Russell said. “That contributes to how
they play this music. It informs the vocabulary of the group.”
In the coming year, Russell will continue to perform with her trio and has several
other projects in the works.
“In this line of work, you just don’t know where the opportunities will come from,”
Russell said. “You meet new people all the time, new musicians. I get the chance
to sing different kinds of things... It’s really a goal of mine to make an album
every two years.”

-Bob Ringwald
Bob Ringwald Solo Piano, duo, Trio, Quartet
Fulton Street Jazz Band
916/ 806-9551
Amateur (ham) Radio station K 6 Y B V

"Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand and wine in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO what a ride!"

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