Russell, Luis (Carl)

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Russell, Luis (Carl)

Russell, Luis (Carl) , Panamanian-born jazz band leader, arranger, pianist; b. Careening Clay, Aug. 6, 1902; d. N.Y., Dec. 11, 1963. His father, Felix Alexander Russell, was a pianist, organist, and music teacher. Luis studied guitar, violin, organ, and piano. He first worked accompanying silent films in a Panama cinema (1917), then played in the Casino Club, Colon, Panama. In 1919 he won $3, 000 in a lottery and moved with his mother and sister to New Orleans. He gigged in various clubs and took lessons from Steve Lewis, and then joined Arnold Du Pas Orch. (late 1921–22). Beginning in 1923, he worked at Tom Anderson’s Cabaret in Albert Nicholas’s Band (1923); when Nicholas left, Luis Russell became the band’s leader until late 1924 when he accepted an offer to join Doc Cooke in Chicago; while waiting for union clearance he gigged with King Oliver. Russell worked with Doc Cooke for several months (on piano and organ), then joined King Oliver (1925) with whom he remained until summer 1927 when the band was resident in N.Y. Russell joined drummer George Howe’s Band at the Nest Club, N.Y; in October 1927: he was appointed leader of the band and they remained resident there for a year. In 1929 the band also accompanied Louis Armstrong for several months. By this time his ten-piece band (which included several former Oliver sidemen) boasted major soloists in Red Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Charlie Holmes, and Albert Nicholas; the rhythm section included New Orleanians Pops Foster and Paul Barbarin. During the early 1930s the band continued to play long residencies in N.Y, and also did extensive touring. They backed Louis Armstrong for two days at the Savoy in September 1935 after which Armstrong’s manager, Joe Glaser, hired them as the regular accompanying unit for Louis Armstrong; from then on, it was billed as Louis Armstrong’s Orch. During the late 1930s, Luis Russell occasionally doubled on trombone. Though most of the original Russell Band had left by 1940, Luis continued working for Louis Armstrong until 1943. He then formed his own big band which did widespread touring as well as residencies in N.Y. He left full-time music in 1948 and opened a small stationery store. He occasionally gigged with his own small bands and continued to teach piano and organ. In 1959 he made his first return visit to Panama (after an absence of almost 40 years); while in Bocas del Tore he gave a classical piano recital. During the early 1960s he worked as a chauffeur, but continued teaching until shortly before his death. He died of cancer.


“Savoy Shout” (1929); “Call of the Freaks” (1929).

—John Chilton, Who’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter

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Russell, Luis (Carl)

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