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Big Bands At The Savoy, Vol. 1

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Album Review

In 1999 Storyville dredged up an album's worth of vintage radio broadcasts from the Savoy Ballroom, "the home of happy feet, 'way up in Harlem" as the announcer says. The first nine tracks, recorded on February 12,1945, feature either the 15-piece Cootie Williams Orchestra or a scaled down version of the band in the form of a sextet including up-and-coming saxophonists Charlie Parker and Sam "The Man" Taylor. By this time Bud Powell had left the Williams Orchestra and had been replaced by pianist Arnold Jarvis. A supportive ally of innovative young musicians with exciting new ideas, Cootie Williams was himself a pioneering jazz musician who had replaced Bubber Miley in the Duke Ellington Orchestra some 15 years earlier. So too was Panamanian pianist, arranger and bandleader Luis Russell, whose amazing career had included collaborations with King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Henry Red Allen. Russell's Orchestra as heard on a radio broadcast from November 7, 1945 sounds almost as modern as Cootie's, and considerably better than it would a few years later when crooners hogged the microphone to the point where instrumental solos became uncommon. The Luis Russell Orchestra heard on this night was a feisty swinging big band that went over big with the jitterbugs out on the dancefloor of the world-famous Savoy Ballroom.


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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