Inaugural edition of Le Blog Hot by Jim Cullum Jr.

In May 2010, Catherine Russell visited San Antonio, Texas to record shows for the Public Radio series Riverwalk Jazz. Jim Cullum Jr., leader of the Jim Cullum Jazz Band and host of the show, inaugurated Le Blog Hot with musings about his first meeting with Catherine at rehearsal for the shows:


Le Blog Hot

THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2010

Rehearsing New Shows in San Antonio

Presently, I am running hard with the bit in my teeth, for a Riverwalk radio production show is closing in. I have now done hundreds of radio shows.

All the time, people ask, “Does it get old?" Well, I’ll say straight away: No, it absolutely does not get old. And let me add that I love the music so much it sometimes tends to make me pretty weird. It’s a real love/hate thing!

Generally, if it swings I love it like crazy, but if it doesn’t, I mostly want to get away from it, and fast. And you know this kind of personal preference thing is not all black and white.

Back to the bit and the teeth – we have been rehearsing for three new Riverwalk radio shows that will be performed live at the Pearl Stable in San Antonio – this in a couple of days.

I am excited like a young kid. The band is playing at a 50-year high.

Our guests for the shows are Dick Hyman and Catherine Russell. Both these artists seriously separate the wheat.

Let me elaborate: The jazz world knows Dick Hyman, who at 82 years old is in a class by himself – able to roll off creative perfectly-crafted stuff at a mile a minute. Hyman can play anything he can think, and more importantly, he can really think of limitless quantities of things quite wonderful which, as Eddie Condon said, “Don’t bother me."

But wait! I know that you know about Dick Hyman, but you might not know about Catherine Russell. She is the finest jazz singer I have ever heard.

No kidding, when she sings, there is no fooling around:
Every pitch is right there in the center.
She doesn’t copy anybody.
Everything swings.
The sound is pure.
There is a hint of the blues in all of this.
She knows the music.
She is not a bebopper or a traditionalist.
In addition, she is the daughter of jazz pioneer Luis Russell, so she comes with a heavy duty jazz pedigree.

We have been rehearsing at night at the Alamo Piano Company (now called Alamo Music Center). I am also charged up about playing there. This is the Flores family store and they have been in business, father and son, for 80 years.

I bought my first cornet at a pawn shop and then walked around the corner to Alamo Piano and bought a book, “How to Play the Cornet," price $1 – this is 1956.

Alamo Music hasn’t moved a peg in all these years. It is right in the center of downtown San Antonio. The Musician’s Union office is upstairs.

It has been a thrill for us to rehearse at this classic old musical oasis.

Last night, Dick Hyman and Catherine Russell rehearsed there with us. I had selected for them a rich piece by Alec Wilder.

I am standing there at Alamo Music Center in the middle of all these world-class grand pianos and here we go with Hyman and Catherine making honey come pouring out of a pitcher with “South to a Warmer Place."

Jim Turner slaps me on the arm and we say things like, “Doesn’t get any better than that" and “Nothing in the world is better than this." And I turn and walk around between the pianos. The tears are running down my cheeks.

I come from the tradition where you choke back tears. In a way, you’re embarrassed by them.

I don’t think I was embarrassed. Still, I walked away and dried my eyes on my shirt sleeves.

I wasn’t embarrassed at all, or I wouldn’t be writing everybody emails about it.