Some of the hottest music of the late Twenties was created by Luis Russell and his Orchestra. That band could “romp,” to use Pops Foster’s perfectly accurate verb, in ways that blended New Orleans polyphony and the awareness of how musicians in a big band could play effectively as sections. Russell wrote wonderful arrangements and the band showed off a galaxy of soloists — Red Allen, Charlie Holmes, Albert Nicholas, J. C. Higginbotham, Teddy Hill, Greely Walton, Will Johnson, Pops Foster, Paul Barbarin (later editions of the band, captured on record, also included Dicky Wells, Rex Stewart, and a sweetly vocalizing Vic Dickenson). The band also backed Louis Armstrong on memorable records — and it became the nucleus of Louis’ Decca band as well.
If someone asked me to define “swing,” it would be easy to do by playing the Russell PANAMA or JERSEY LIGHTNING — perpetual motion machines that amaze and delight.
Trumpeter / arranger / scholar Bent Persson has long loved the Russell band, not only for its soloists but for its ensemble beauty — and last year at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party he offered a full plate of joy, taking us in time and space to the Saratoga Club in 1929-1930. He was aided in this journey by Jeff Barnhart, piano and vocal; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, drums; Jacob Ullberger, banjo and guitar; Andy Schumm, trumpet; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Jean-Francois Bonnel, Lars Frank, Stephane Gillot, reeds.
NEW CALL OF THE FREAKS (with its classic vocal: is it an invitation or a command?):
ON REVIVAL DAY (purification of the Spirit thanks to Reverends Jeff and Kris):
POOR LI’L ME, with an extraordinary vocal by Jeff:
HONEY, THAT REMINDS ME (which was Vic Dickenson’s first recorded vocal):
Oh, what a band! — both in the original and in the energetic evocation here.
All of this wonderfully uplifting jazz was performed (in 2013) at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party where many of these musicians will be performing in the 2014 version in a few days.
May your happiness increase!