Apr 25, 2012 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Vocalist Catherine Russell possesses one of the most impressive pedigrees in jazz.
Her papa played piano for Louis Armstrong. Her mama played guitar for the International Sweethearts of Rhythm and later developed into one of Manhattan’s top lady bassists.
Hot jazz flows freely in Cat Russell’s veins.
While she willingly embraces her rich jazz legacy, however, Cat Russell calls herself a singer, not a jazz singer.
“Jazz is such a big word,” she told me in a telephone interview. “You can call something whatever you want to call it, but what counts is that it’s people-friendly. In my shows, I’m inviting you as a guest. You’ve come to listen to me sing, and I want to share myself with you.”
Similarly, Cat strives to choose material to which audiences can relate.
“I ask myself, ‘Do I like it? Is it fun? Does it make me smile? Do I want to hear it again?…I like songs that have universal appeal.”
Regardless of how she may feel about the J-word, she echoes the sounds of New Orleans in tunes such as “Everybody Loves My Baby” on her new disc, “Strictly Romancin.’” You hear the blues loud and clear on “Romance in the Dark,” and you hear a hint of classic jazz singers Billie Holiday and Lena Horne on the disc-opener “Under the Spell of the Blues.”
In early-March “Strictly Romancin’” was listed as the No. 1 disc by JazzWeek, considered the definitive national radio chart for – that’s right – jazz.
When she last performed here in 2009, Russell pleased her audience with renditions of Billie Holiday’s “Them There Eyes,” Pearl Bailey’s “I’m Lazy, That’s All” and Bessie Smith’s comical “Kitchen Man.”
This weekend you can hear barrelhouse piano care of Mark Shane and banjo magic from guitarist Mike Munisteri, who will accompany her here along with bassist Lee Hudson when Cat takes the stage at 7 p.m. Saturday April 28, at the Palace Theater, 2384 James St., in Eastwood. Tickets cost $20; 443-4834.
Coincidentally, WAER-FM 88.3, the radio station which is hosting Russell’s appearance here has also danced away from the J-word in recent years. Known for decades as Jazz 88, now it simply promises “diverse music” and bills itself as a radio station “where music matters.”
In any case, WAER re-embraces its roots by booking Cat here to celebrate April, National J-word Appreciation Month.
Cat’s parents played jazz when it was still fashionable to use the word.
Her father, Luis Russell, was a pianist and bandleader who worked for many years with jazz icon Louis Armstrong. Her mother, Carline Ray, has worked with such jazz luminaries as Erskine Hawkins, Mary Lou Williams and Wynton Marsalis.
So call it what you will, but make sure to check it out. Cat’s warm, full-bodied alto voice is both soulful and swinging. It’s a voice that ably expresses another often-overlooked J-word: pure joy!
BTW, Cat Russell recorded a track called “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free” with the late Levon Helm on his Grammy-winning disc, “Electric Dirt.” Helm, who rose to fame as the drummer for The Band, died April 19 at NYC’s Sloan-Kettering cancer Center. He was 71.
Dick Clark, the rock’n’roll broadcasting pioneer who got his start in radio here in Syracuse in the late-1940s, died April 18 in Santa Monica, Calif., at age 82.
In 1947, Clark enrolled at Syracuse University where he majored in business and joined Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity. His favorite haunt was “Radio House,” a student-run campus radio station. Before long, Clark was managing the school’s official radio outlet, WAER-FM.
During his senior year at SU, Clark secured his first professional radio gig at WOLF-AM.
According to Ron Wray’s History of Syracuse Music website at ronwray.blogspot.com, Clark called WOLF owner T. Sherman Marshall who arranged an audition for the young man from Mount Vernon. WOLF program director Ham Woodle liked whet he heard and Clark took over behind the microphone first working weekends and later hosting “The WOLF Buckaroos,” a show which featured music by Eddy Arnold, Marty Robbins, Gene Autry and other popular county-western stars.
Dick Clark earned a dollar an hour at WOLF working morning, midday and evening shows until July 1951. After that he headed east to Utica’s WRUN radio, a station owned by his father. Clark took his first television gig with WKTV in Utica. He changed his name to Dick Clay and hosted a country music show as “Cactus Dick and the Santa Fe Riders.” In six short months he joined Philadelphia’s WFIL-TV where he soon became the host of “Bandstand.”
And the rest, as they say, is history…