Catherine Russell: Swing, jazz and the blues

Catherine Russell: Swing, jazz and the blues

John W. Barry, Poughkeepsie Journal March 26, 2015

Catherine Russell’s father, pianist Luis Russell, was Louis Armstrong’s longtime collaborator and musical director.

When Catherine Russell sings, heads turn. She approaches singing the way someone behind the wheel of a very fast car might approach driving — by accelerating from zero to 100 mph in just a few seconds.

But Russell does not rush her craft. She nurtures it and coaxes it, polishing it like a pearl. She zeroes in on nuances in tone and texture and timing, then unleashes it all on her audience. Some musicians fire up a fury with a loud electric guitar. Russell torches her audience with her voice.

“You walk into the room one way, you leave another way," Russell said of performing. “Through the music and collective consciousness and everybody’s energy, I always feel better. I feel different. This is how I like my shows to go. I feel grounded. I feel healed."

Russell is hoping to achieve all of this when she performs an evening of what she described as traditional, swing-based jazz and blues at The Falcon in Marlboro Saturday night. She will be backed by Matt Munisteri on guitar, Mark Shane on piano and Tal Ronen on bass.

“She’s an extraordinary singer and she’s got an interesting repertoire," said Mark Dziuba, director of Jazz Studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz. “She’s very passionate."

A New York City native and resident, Russell will make her debut at the Falcon. But she has a long history of performing in Ulster County.

“People’s ears are open," she said of audiences in our region. “When you get up to the Hudson Valley, there’s an acceptance before you start. When you hit the stage, there is already an acceptance from the audience. The given is, we like you; now let’s have a good time."

Russell’s musical reach is wide. She has performed with numerous notable musicians, including David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper and Paul Simon.

Her musical lineage runs deep. Her father, pianist Luis Russell, was Louis Armstrong’s longtime collaborator and musical director. Russell’s mother, bassist, vocalist and guitarist Carline Ray, earned advanced degrees from the Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music.

Russell’s family history and that which she has acquired while touring and recording with some of the music industry’s biggest names will shape the evening of music she delivers Saturday in a big way. But at the heart of her performance will be the passion she maintains for swing, jazz and the blues.

“In this case, when it’s all combined, it’s fun," Russell said. “You can dance to it. It’s upbeat."

Regarding the uptempo blues she plans to perform, Russell said, “It might be a sad song. But you can feel good listening to it."

Asked to define jazz, Russell said, “Jazz is a huge word. It’s huge, because it’s been around for a hundred years. It’s hard to describe."

She continued, “It’s really about personal expression in the moment — within a structure of whatever chord changes. To play jazz, you really have to have a very wide vocabulary of music and improvisation.

“It seems pretty infinite to me, how jazz artists put music together. It can be so many different things. It can be rhythm-based. It can be melody-based. It can be experimental, where people are just playing off of each other, without any rhythm underneath, however they are feeling at the moment."

John W. Barry: jobarry@poughkeepsiejournal.com, 845-437-4822, Twitter: @JohnBarryPoJo