You might say that Catherine Russell was born with music in her blood. Her father
Luis Russell was a star bandleader and arranger of the Swing Era; and music director for Louis Armstrong on his rise to stardom. Her mother, the multi-instrumentalist Carline Ray, played guitar with the iconic WWII-era group, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm and was Mercer Ellington’s bassist and vocalist.
Long before launching her own solo career in jazz, Catherine Russell was a ‘first call’ backup singer—working with artists in just about every genre of music from pop to rock, from blues to country. Ms. Russell has performed or recorded with an impressive array of trend-setting artists, including Rosanne Cash, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Feinstein, Madonna, Al Green and Isaac Hayes. At heart, she is a genuine jazz and blues singer who can sing virtually anything. Her voice is a soulful instrument that radiates power.
Since the release of her first album in 2006, rave reviews have poured in from the Wall Street Journal, Village Voice, and Down Beat. Her most recent album, Inside This Heart of Mine, has topped the jazz radio charts.
This week on Riverwalk Jazz, Catherine Russell joins The Jim Cullum Jazz Band with Dick Hyman on piano, on stage at the historic Pearl Stable in San Antonio. They present a selection of songs from Catherine’s recent chart-topping albums in new interpretations conceived in collaboration with bandleader Cullum and jazz legend Hyman. And Catherine talks about a range of subjects, from her beginnings as the daughter of a pioneering woman of jazz, to what she looks for in choosing songs and how she feels the spirit of her father in her music.
The work of the great American composer and songwriter Alec Wilder is not often heard on our show, but tonight Catherine presents one of his gems, “South to a Warmer Place”—in a stunning duet with Dick Hyman. The rich harmonic textures of this song give Catherine and Dick a chance to display their creative power and performing brilliance.
Another outstanding piece is “Troubled Waters,” from Ivie Anderson with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, which Catherine and the band give their own heart-stopping rendition. The old blues, “Spoonful” from Howlin’ Wolf gets an interesting treatment with Catherine’s vocal, Jim Cullum on cornet, Howard Elkins’ banjo, and Mike Waskievich’s antique ‘flower drum.’
Dick Hyman pays tribute to the Luis Russell Orchestra with “Mahogany Hall Stomp,” the first tune recorded by Louis Armstrong with The Luis Russell Orchestra led by Catherine’s father.
Catherine Russell with Dick Hyman on piano and the full Jim Cullum Jazz Band close the show with a crowd-pleasing Bessie Smith number, “Kitchen Man.”
Photo credit for Home Page and Recent Radio Broadcast Page:
Catherine Russell and pianist Dick Hyman, 2010 Photo by Jamie Karutz
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2012