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The Luis Russell Story (1929-1934)

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Album Review

Bandleader Luis Russell's most successful recordings were during 1929-1930 when his brilliant orchestra featured such soloists as trumpeter Red Allen, trombonist J.C. Higginbotham, clarinetist Albert Nicholas, and altoist Charlie Holmes, along with what was arguably (thanks to bassist Pops Foster and drummer Paul Barbarin) the top rhythm section of the period. This CD from Collector's Classics (which was made available through Storyville) only has one session from the prime period (two songs plus a previously unissued version of "The Way He Loves Is Just Too Bad") but has all of Russell's earlier and slightly later recordings. Best are the initial two sessions, six titles plus an alternate take that feature hot jazz in 1926 from such fine players as George Mitchell or Bob Shoffner on cornet, Kid Ory or Preston Jackson on trombone, Nicholas or Darnell Howard on clarinet, and pianist Russell and Johnny St. Cyr on banjo. However the most impressive soloist is clarinetist Barney Bigard, who sticks exclusively to tenor and stakes out his claim as the number two tenor player (behind Coleman Hawkins) of the period. In addition, three rare sessions from 1930-1931 hint at the band's former greatness (trumpeter Red Allen stars, but there are also some indifferent vocals) and this CD closes with the six titles from Russell's 1934 date (highlighted by Rex Stewart's dynamic cornet on "Ol' Man River"). Collectors will want this one.


Born: 06 August 1902 in Careening Clay, Panama

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s

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...
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