Luis Russell • At The Swing Cats Ball

Luis Russell (1902-63), who was born in Panama and came to New Orleans with his family after winning $3,000 in a lottery, moved to Chicago in the mid-1920s. The pianist led his first two record dates in 1926, worked with King Oliver (with whom he moved to New York) during 1926-29, and led one of the great jazz orchestras of the 1929-34 period. At its peak, the Luis Russell Orchestra featured trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen, trombonist J.C. Higginbotham, clarinetist Albert Nicholas, and altoist Charlie Holmes, four distinctive and superior soloists. The rhythm section was also top-notch due to the inclusion of bassist Pops Foster and drummer Paul Barbarin. As for its leader, while he played fine ensemble piano, he rarely ever soloed and was most notable for his colorful arrangements. The Luis Russell Orchestra, which accompanied Louis Armstrong as early as 1929, became his backup band in 1935. Its key soloists, who had mostly departed a couple years earlier, were back by 1937. Higginbotham, Holmes, and Nicholas were featured now and then while Red Allen, a potential competitor of Armstrong’s, was restricted to ensembles on the recordings although during the live shows he had his spots during the first set before Armstrong appeared. In 1940, the Louis Armstrong Orchestra underwent major changes with tenor-saxophonist Joe Garland replacing Russell as its musical director as the band
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Since 1975 Scott Yanow has been a regular reviewer of albums in many jazz styles. He has written for many jazz and arts magazines, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, Down Beat, Cadence, CODA, and the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, and was the jazz editor for Record Review. He has written an in-depth biography on Dizzy Gillespie for He has authored 11 books on jazz, over 900 liner notes for CDs and over 20,000 reviews of jazz recordings.

Yanow was a contributor to and co-editor of the third edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz. He continues to write for Downbeat, Jazziz, the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, the Jazz Rag, the New York City Jazz Record and other publications.

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