Personalities | Pee Wee Russell | Thirties | Jazz & Blues
Great musicians are often judged by the reach of their influence on others, but Charles Ellsworth Russell’s clarinet was one of a kind, so personal and eccentric that it offered little to any would-be disciples. He arrived in New York in 1927 from the Midwest, where he had played with Bix Beiderbecke and other Chicago-area musicians. There he built a solid reputation playing a relatively standard hot clarinet with Red Nichols.
By the time he joined Louis Prima on 52nd Street in 1935, however, his tone had taken on a tart growl and his phrasing swung with a lumpy, off-centre quirkiness that seemed to thumb its nose at notions of virtuosity. It gave his playing an ‘authentic’ quality that appealed to renegade jazz fans in rebellion against the professionalism of swing. From the late 1930s on, he was part of Eddie Condon’s stock company of traditionalists. He made his most characteristic records for Commodore from 1938–45.
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