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Published on May 13, 2008
Luis RUSSELL (1902 -1963) - jazz pianist and a bandleader, was born on Careening Cay, near Bocas del Toro, Panama, in a family of Afro-Caribbean ancestry. His father was a music teacher and young Luis learned to play violin, guitar, trombone, and piano. He began accompanying silent films by 1917, then played at a casino in Colón, Panama. In 1919 he won 3000 US dollars in a lottery and used it to move to the United States with his mother and sister, settling in New Orleans, Louisiana. He began performing with New Orleans bands, and took lessons on New Orleans style jazz piano from Steve Lewis. He played with Albert Nicholas's band, then moved to Chicago in 1924, where he played with King Oliver. With Oliver's band Russell moved to New York City in May of 1927 and in October of that year he started his own band. Soon, his band became one of the top jazz groups in New York. It was borrowed for gigs and recording dates by such jazz notables as Red Allen, Jelly Roll Morton, and Louis Armstrong; Armstrong wound up taking over the band as front man in 1929 although Russell remained the music director. They are generally considered to be one of the first Swing bands. The outfit featured some of the best hot musicians from New Orleans, such as Barney Bigard, Omer Simeon and Pops Foster.
The band returned to Russell's name while Armstrong played in California and Europe in the early 1930s; Russell and Armstrong were reunited in 1935. They again split paths in 1943 when Russell formed a new band under his own name, which played at the Savoy and Apollo in Manhattan as well as in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In 1948 Russell retired from full time music and opened a notions shop, with irregular band gigs and teaching music on the side. He died of cancer in New York City.
------------------------------------- Recording: Luis Russell & His Orch., v. Chris Bullock - Goin' To Town, Victor 1931