Friday and Saturday, April 15 - 16, 2016
shows at 7:00pm & 9:30pm nightly
The Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center
New York, NY
Catherine Russell - vocals
Carolyn Leonhart - vocals
La Tanya Hall - vocals
Mark Shane - piano
Matt Munisteri - guitar
Tal Ronen - bass
Mark McLean - drums
Jon-Erik Kellso - trumpet
John Allred - trombone
Evan Arntzen - reeds
Grammy Award winning vocalist, Catherine Russell, brings a unique program to Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room on Friday and Saturday April 15 & 16, 2016, paying tribute to Sy Oliver by performing his arrangements of some of the greatest vocal hits of the Swing Era, including “Opus One”, “My Blue Heaven”, “Cheatin' On Me”, and more.
Sy Oliver, orchestra leader, arranger, trumpet player, vocalist, and songwriter, is a towering figure in the history of jazz. When Melvin James (Sy) Oliver died in May of 1988, we lost “one of America’s great jazz composers and arrangers and a man who had significant impact on American popular music”, noted Peter Watrous in a New York Times obituary. Sy Oliver’s musical contributions (he was a part of over 400 recording sessions spanning 5 decades) live on and continue to resonate.
Sy Oliver was born in 1910 in Battle Creek Michigan, the son of a piano teacher mother and a multi-instrumentalist father. Sy left home at age 17 to join the territory band, Zach Whyte’s Chocolate Beau Brummels, on trumpet, first recording with them in 1929, and continuing for several years. Oliver made a consequential move in 1933, joining Jimmie Lunceford’s orchestra as arranger, trumpet player, and vocalist, transforming the band into one of the leading and most artistically and commercially successful big bands of the Swing era, whose hits included “Ain’t She Sweet” and “My Blue Heaven”. Watrous notes, “the use of the vocal trio, brilliantly arranged by Mr. Oliver, became one of the band’s trademarks.”
After catapulting the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra to stardom, Sy Oliver was hired by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1939 as arranger and vocalist, becoming one of the first African-American musicians to assume a prominent role in a white Orchestra. Fletcher Henderson joined the Benny Goodman Orchestra as arranger that same year. With Tommy Dorsey, Sy Oliver continued to refine vocal harmony arranging, contributing big hits with “On The Sunny Side of The Street”, and with his own composition “Opus One.” Sy Oliver later led his own orchestra, and was admired as arranger for Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra with The Pied Pipers, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby, The Mills Brothers, and countless others.
Big band vocalist, Lillian Clark, was a part of the vocal harmony group, The Clark Sisters, which in 1944 were known as The Sentimentalists, who were coached by Sy Oliver, delivering the vocal on the Tommy Dorsey hit record, “On The Sunny Side of The Street.” Years later, Lillian befriended Carline Ray (Catherine Russell’s mother), as both were singers in the vibrant New York City session scene. Lillian Clark and Sy Oliver married, and as a gift to his wife, Sy rearranged many of his famous vocal harmony numbers, for a female trio. Carline recommended her daughter to sing the third part, and a new vocal trio was born. Lillian, Carline, and Catherine, rehearsed the arrangements, and performed one concert of the material in 1987. The arrangements, in Sy Oliver’s original handwriting, have remained in Catherine’s collection since then.
Sy Oliver, Lillian Clark, and Carline Ray are now singing with the angels. Looking to recreate this amazing legacy, Catherine Russell sought out singers who could blend, swing, and capture the original “solitudy” vibe. Fortunately, the ideal group already existed, road tested, and raring to go. Catherine Russell, long time Steely Dan backing singer Carolyn Leonhart, and fellow cohort from Michael Feinstein’s Holiday shows, La Tanya Hall, formed the harmony vocal trio on Steely Dan’s “Mood Swings” tour in 2013. That very same harmony trio now recreates the Sy Oliver hits. Vocalist Carolyn Leonhart, from a royal jazz family herself (her father is noted bassist, and songwriter Jay Leonhart) , and the wonderful La Tanya Hall, are sympatico sisters in song. Each are accomplished solo artists, with impressive recording and performing resumés, as both lead and harmony singers. Catherine Russell, Carolyn Leonhart, and La Tanya Hall, together honor a legacy and add a new chapter to the Sy Oliver story.
Vocalist Catherine 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. Catherine’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. Joining members of David Bowie’s last touring band, Catherine performed a Tribute to David Bowie at the 2016 Brit Awards.
Her 2006 debut album Cat, (World Village/Harmonia Mundi), garnered rave reviews, paving the way for her 2008 sophomore release, Sentimental Streak. Catherine 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”. She has won a prestigious German Record Critics' Award and a Living Blues magazine's critics' poll. Catherine 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 I-Tunes jazz charts. A fourth album, Strictly Romancin’ was released in February 2012, and 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. Also in 2012, Catherine Russell won a Grammy Award as a featured artist on the soundtrack album for the HBO-TV series, Boardwalk Empire. Her 5th solo album, Bring It Back, was released worldwide in February of 2014 on the Jazz Village label, receiving a *****5 Star Review in Downbeat Magazine. Catherine’s 6th solo album, Harlem On My Mind, has been recorded and is scheduled for worldwide release on the Jazz Village label in September of 2016.
Select Upcoming Catherine Russell Appearances 2016
March 27-29: Savannah, Georgia, Savannah Music Festival
April 9 : Northridge, California, Valley Performing Arts Center
April 15-16 : New York, NY, Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center
May 8: Bern, Switzerland, Bern International Jazz Festival
June 16: Bartlesville, Oklahoma, OK Mozart Festival
July 23: Katonah, NY - Caramoor Jazz Festival
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