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When it comes to honoring the Great American Songbook, few artists have as deep a connection to the source material as vocalist Catherine Russell. A New York native, Russell was the child of jazz royalty.
Her father, Luis Russell, was the longtime musical director to Louis Armstrong. Her mother, Carline Ray, was a well known bassist and vocalist who performed with The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first integrated all-women’s band in the United States.
Russell’s experience in the entertainment world includes stints as a backup singer and instrumentalist for the likes of David Bowie, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Cyndi Lauper, Wynton Marsalis and many others, but her solo career of the last decade and a half has established her as one of the foremost purveyors of vintage jazz and blues.
The influence of an upbringing steeped in the tradition of early jazz is no more apparent than in her latest album. "Send For Me," via Dot Time Records, has been out for a little over a month and is a rousing throwback to Tin Pan Alley and sultry New Orleans swing.
The arrangements are sharp, the lyrics are engaging and the grooves sit impeccably well. Russell characterizes it herself with a simple statement, “I love romance that swings”.
Concerning the material for this newest release, Russell says that the album is full of “songs that inspire or touch me in some way” and that “when I find a song I like, it haunts me until I learn it.”
The selections in question are ones that standard jazz audiences might not be entirely familiar with, but are carefully curated by Russell to ensure an experience much like one you might have had at a swinging jazz club back in the day.
"Send For Me," the title track, is written by R&B vocalist Ollie Jones and was recorded famously by Nat King Cole in 1957. Russell says that “Nobody thinks of Nat King Cole as a blues singer, but he sang some really great blues”.
Another tune, Going Back To New Orleans, was written and originally recorded by Joe Liggins, a pianist and vocalist who shared bills in the 1940s with both of Russell’s parents on separate occasions. That family connection permeates through the entire album and informs her interpretations.
The sound of this album is particularly compelling due in part to its co-producers, Katherine Miller and Paul Kahn. The duo has experience with Russell, having worked on two of her previous Grammy award-nominated albums, 2016’s Harlem On My Mind and 2019’s Alone Together. The result this time around is a rich and well-rounded sound that makes you feel like you’re right in front of the bandstand and a unique setlist that makes it worthy of any collection.
With her new album still enjoying a fresh debut, Catherine Russell has no plans to slow down. Her band, which includes guitarist Matt Munisteri, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Tal Ronen and drummer Mark McLean, has nearly finished a tour across the United States and will undoubtedly bring the swinging sounds of a golden era somewhere near you. In the meantime, be sure to treat yourself to a satisfying and well-executed throwback.
Tune in to Excellence in Jazz this week for your chance to win Catherine Russell’s new compact Disc "Send For Me".
Check out Russell’s new album on Spotify as well as this NPR Tiny Desk Concert from earlier in the year.