Kess’ Cozy Music Corner #12: Catherine Russell

Struggling to find that new artist to fall in love with? Fear not, our contributor Kess Leung is here with the latest and greatest musical recommendations each week. This edition features doozy jazz starlight Catherine Russell, who’s silky timbre is the perfect accompaniment to a restful winter’s evening. 

Born in 1956 to musical royalty, Catherine Russell is a native New Yorker. Daughter of the late Luis Russell, a Panamanian pianist and leader of one of the most impressive big bands on the early New York jazz scene, and Carline Ray, a member of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, she was immersed in music from her earliest years. Her father was famed for having worked with King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and many other Jazz greats, while her mother performed with Doc Cheatham and Wynton Marsalis, among others. Growing up, her interest in music ranged from jazz and R&B to country music, but Catherine found herself especially enamoured with “anything that swings”. Following in her parents’ footsteps, she established a career in music as an “in-demand, first-call backup singer to rock and pop stars” for over 20 years, before transitioning to becoming “the foremost vocal interpreter of vintage jazz and R&B songs”, whereby she has released seven albums to date since 2006.

Mellow and sophisticated, Russell’s cover of this renowned song radiates a cosy ambience

With so many impressive records under her name, it has been difficult choosing a select few to recommend, but one song that I knew I just had to write about was Don’t Take Your Love from Me. Released as part of her 2016 Grammy-nominated jazz album – ‘Harlem On My Mind’ – this piece is nothing short of remarkable. Mellow and sophisticated, Russell’s cover of the renowned song radiates a cosy ambience that feels at once luxurious and comfortable. “Tear a star from out the sky, and the sky feels blue/ Tear a petal from a rose, and the rose weeps too/ Take your heart away from mine and mine will surely break/ My life is yours to make, so please keep the spark awake.” This piece is a winter essential, and it has become a personal tradition to brew a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate and read as the artist’s smooth and velvety voice plays in the background. The emotion at that moment is like no other, and demonstrates the aura of complete relaxation and contentment that Russell is able to create with her silky tones.

Her ability to drift effortlessly between softer and more expressive tones allows her to create a song of many shades

“Your eyes are blue, your kisses too/ I never knew what they could do/ I can’t believe that you’re in love with me”, she trills. Composed in 1926, the latter line titles perhaps Russell’s most esteemed track. A classic in the jazz community, it has been recorded countless times by amongst the most prominent of jazz royalty – Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington and Frank Sinatra, to name only a few. Oozing a similar bluesy charm is I Can’t Believe You’re in Love With Me; also released on the 2016 album – ‘Harlem On My Mind’. Russell’s performance on the song has to be one of my favourites of the collection. With perfect clarity, and what Christopher Loudon of The Jazz Times describes as an “espresso strength power”, she gloriously brings the song to life. Her ability to drift effortlessly between softer and more expressive tones allows her to create a song of many shades, and a piece that is at once light and breezy, yet deeply tantalising. Moulding every crevice to her voice with flawless timing, it is near impossible to explain just how wonderfully Russell is able to deliver the song, and I urge you to give this particular piece a listen. A playlist essential for every jazz enthusiast out there.

With such remarkable talent, it is a wonder as to why Russell delayed her solo debut so late into her career. With a voice like honey, her natural flair for the genre produces only the finest musical quality and I eagerly anticipate her upcoming releases.

Kess Leung



Featured image courtesy of Paul Hudson via Flickr. Image use licence here. 

Article image courtesy of @Catherine_Russell_Vocalist via Instagram. 

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