With her sixth album, Harlem On My Mind, Grammy® Award-winning vocalist Catherine Russell journeys to the blue heart of the great African American songbook. Swinging forth with soulful interpretations, Russell taps the golden age of Harlem, as befits this vibrant daughter of jazz. Vocalists Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, Etta James, and Dinah Washington provide inspiration where tunesmiths like Benny Carter, Irving Berlin, Andy Razaf and Fats Waller once ruled the roost of a renaissance which continues to reverberate. Of the title track, Russell says, “It’s about not forgetting your roots,” which also serves as her modus operandi for the entire 12 song collection. “The album is comprised of songs from artists who played at The Apollo in Harlem, where all African American artists of note appeared.”
Russell is a native New Yorker, born into musical royalty. Her father, the late Luis Russell, was a legendary pianist/composer/bandleader and Louis Armstrong’s long-time musical director. Her mother, Carline Ray, was a pioneering vocalist/guitarist/bassist who performed with International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Mary Lou Williams, and Sy Oliver. Russell notes, “My mother was born and raised in Harlem and my father led one of the leading orchestras in Harlem, which was part of the inspiration for this album.”
Harlem On My Mind showcases Russell’s honey rich voice in a variety of settings. “I love working with saxophonist/arranger Andy Farber,” says Russell, and here Farber contributes five arrangements for tentet, featuring six horns, including Jon-Erik Kellso and Alphonso Horne on trumpets, John Allred on trombone, and Mark Lopeman and Dan Block on reeds. Her smaller groups swing equally hard, sometimes with fewer horns and sometimes stripped down to her road tested rhythm section, including musical director/guitarist/banjoist Matt Munisteri, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Tal Ronen, and drummer Mark McLean. Don’t Take Your Love From Me features a special guest appearance by tenor saxophonist Fred Staton, of the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, who was 100-years-old at the time of the recording session, playing beautifully. Throughout, Russell and her band shine, whether serving up dollops of aural comfort food, or go for the rafters explosion of fun.
Russell’s professional life began early. After graduating with honors from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she embarked upon musical adventures with Carrie Smith, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Michael Feinstein, Levon Helm, and Rosanne Cash, among others, appearing on over 200 albums. Her 2006 debut album Cat (World Village/Harmonia Mundi), garnered rave reviews, paving the way for her 2008 sophomore release, Sentimental Streak. She was a guest on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, PBS-TV’s Tavis Smiley Show, and NPR’s “Fresh Air”, “Piano Jazz”, “Mountain Stage”, “World Café”, and “JazzSet”. Russell’s third album, Inside This Heart of Mine, reached #1 on JazzWeek and Roots Music Report’s radio charts, while also charting on Billboard and reaching #1 on iTunes jazz charts. A fourth album, Strictly Romancin’, was awarded Prix du Jazz Vocal (Vocal Album of The Year) by the French Jazz Academy, Grand Prix du Hot Club de France, and a Bistro Award for Outstanding Recording. That same year Russell won a Grammy® Award as a featured artist on the soundtrack album for the HBO-TV series, Boardwalk Empire. Her fifth solo album, Bring It Back (Jazz Village) received a five-star review in DownBeat.
2016 has been an eventful year for Catherine Russell. In January, Russell was featured in an hour-long concert performance on Public Television’s American Songbook as part of the NJPAC series. In February, Russell joined the fellow members of David Bowie’s last touring band, as well as pop-singer Lorde, for a moving Tribute to David Bowie at the 2016 Brit Awards. In April, Russell appeared at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to sing the grand finale at the 2016 NEA Jazz Masters Award Ceremony, and then traveled to Los Angeles for a live taping of Radio Deluxe with John Pizzarelli. Her concerts, “Catherine Russell: Sunny Side of The Street”, at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room in April, which saluted her personal connection to Sy Oliver, were featured on NPR’s “Jazz Night In America.” To support the new album, extensive worldwide touring is slated for the 2016-17 season, including a tour in December 2016 as guest vocalist with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis on their annual Big Band Holidays tour.