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Luis Russell

Luis Russell led one of the great early big bands, an orchestra that during 1929-1931 could hold its own with nearly all of its competitors. Unfortunately, his period in the spotlight was fairly brief and, ironically, Russell fell into obscurity just as the big band era really took hold. Russell studied guitar, violin, and piano in his native Panama. After winning 3,000 dollars in a lottery, he moved with his mother and sister to the United States where he began to make a living as a pianist in New Orleans. In 1925 Russell moved to Chicago to join Doc Cook's Orchestra and then became the pianist in King Oliver's band. He was with Oliver when the cornetist relocated to New York before leading his own band at the Nest Club in 1927. Russell had recorded seven songs at two sessions as a leader in 1926 with his Hot Six and Heebie Jeebie Stompers. By 1929 his ten-piece band (which included several former Oliver sidemen) boasted four major soloists in trumpeter Red Allen, trombonist J.C. Higginbotham, altoist Charlie Holmes, and clarinetist Albert Nicholas; the other trumpeter, Bill Coleman, ended up leaving because of the lack of solo space. In addition, Russell, a decent but not particularly distinctive pianist, was part of one of the top rhythm sections of the era along with guitarist Will Johnson, the powerful bassist Pops Foster, and drummer Paul Barbarin. During the next couple of years Luis Russell's band recorded a couple dozen sides that (thanks to the leader's arrangements) combined the solos and drive of New Orleans jazz with the riffs and ensembles of swing; some of these performances are now considered classics. The band also backed Louis Armstrong on a few of his early orchestra recordings. But after a few commercial sides in 1931, Luis Russell only had one more opportunity to record his band (a so-so session in 1934) before Louis Armstrong took it over altogether in 1935. For eight years, the nucleus of Russell's orchestra primarily functioned as background for the great trumpeter/vocalist, a role that robbed it of its personality and significance. From 1943-1948, Russell led a new band that played the Savoy and made a few obscure recordings for Apollo before quietly breaking up. He spent his last 15 years, before dying of cancer in 1963, largely outside of music, running at first a candy shop and then a toy store. Fortunately most of Russell's early recordings have been made available on CD by European labels. ~ Scott Yanow
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: An Anthology Of Big Band Swing (1930-1955)

Disc 1

1. Rockin' In Rhythm

2. House Of David Blues

3. Saratoga Drag

4. Savage Rhythm

5. Chant Of The Weed

6. St. Louis Blues

8. Down South Camp Meeting

9. Avalon

11. The Darktown Strutter's Ball

12. Polka Dot Rag

13. Stompin' At The Savoy

14. Peg O' My Heart

15. One O'Clock Jump

16. Casa Loma Stomp

17. South Rampart Street Parade

18. Liza

19. Dunkin' A Doughnut

20. You Rascal, You

Disc 2

1. Panassie Stomp

3. Jamaica Jam

4. Okay For Baby

5. Blues In The Groove

6. Murderistic

7. Swingmatism

8. Savoy

9. Blue River

10. Chicago

11. Fish Market

12. Gambler's Blues

13. I've Got You Under My Skin

14. Skyliner

15. Million Dollar Smile

16. Midriff

17. Bear Mash Blues

18. The Continental

19. The Blue Room

20. One O'Clock Jump

x

Track List: The History Of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues Vol. 1 1921-1949

Disc 1

1. When The Saints Go Marching In

2. Maple Leaf Rag

3. Tiger Rag

4. A Handful Of Riffs

5. Perdido Street Blues

8. Sweet Mumtaz

10. Root Hog Or Die

12. Big Noise From Winnetka

13. Dear Old Southland

14. Sous Les Palmiers

16. King Porter Stomp

17. Besame Mucho

18. Mo Pas Lemme Ca

20. Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing

21. Eh La Bas

22. Blanche Touquatoux

25. The Saints

Disc 2

1. St James Infirmary

2. Didn't He Ramble

3. James Alley Blues

4. Crazy Cryin' Blues

5. New Orleans Joys

6. Old New Orleans Blues

7. Mama Cookie

8. Black Snake Blues

9. I'm Not Rough

10. Funny Feathers

11. Louisiana Bound

12. Bread And Water Blues

13. Allons A Lafayette

14. Keep A Knockin'

16. Cabbage Greens No. 1

19. New Low Down Dog

20. I'm Cuttin' Out

21. Sidney's Blues

22. Just As Soon As I Go Home

23. Hackberry Hop

24. Trouble In Mind

25. Junker Blues

26. Box Car Shorty And Peter Blue

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