While jazz and blues vocalist Catherine Russell may not be a household name, you've probably heard her singing backup with everyone from Paul Simon to Steely Dan. As VOA's Doug Levine tells us, Russell's solo career is also in high gear with her latest effort, Sentimental Streak.
Catherine Russell got an early start in jazz. She was encouraged to sing by her mother who performed in a popular big band, and by her father, Luis Russell, a pianist, arranger and musical director for Louis Armstrong.
Catherine recalls an impressionable first meeting with the great jazz trumpeter.
"One night, in particular, he was having a party," Russell recalls. "I was four years old, and I do remember this very vividly. He was a very big kind of personality and jolly, and loved to party and have people over. He was a very nice man, and very nice to me. I certainly remember his laughter and he really just thought I was a cute kid, I guess."
Catherine's varied musical journey has taken her from professional dancing at age six to recording children's educational albums, singing in gospel and string bands, and acting on Broadway. She had just wrapped a four-year stint singing between acts at a comedy club in New York, when she was asked to join Steely Dan's reunion tour.
While performing with some of pop, rock and Country's biggest names is a dream come true for most, Catherine is happiest singing jazz and blues. She says classic soul, by such icons as Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye, has had an impact on her repertoire.
"When I hear these voices I say, 'That's the real thing.' Whatever mood you're in, you feel better after you've listened to them," she says.
All of Catherine's musical influences come together on Sentimental Streak. She says getting approval to record whatever she wanted made all the difference in the creative process.
"It's freeing. I don't have anyone telling me I should be doing something different than I'm doing," she says. "So, I'm able to add the instrumentation I want; I'm able to do the tunes that I want; I'm able to do swing music which I love, and then add some rhythm-and-blues and just blues to that. So, it's really great to have control over the music that I choose."
One of the highlights of Catherine Russell's new album, Sentimental Streak is a tribute to the people and culture of New Orleans, Louisiana on Hoagy Carmichael's "New Orleans."