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Catherine Russell, Virginia Mayhew On JazzSet

Catherine Russell performs at the Mary Lou Williams Festival.
Margot Schulman
Courtesy of the Kennedy Center
Catherine Russell performs at the Mary Lou Williams Festival.

Catherine Russell is a lady born to music. Her father, Luis Russell (1902-63), was Louis Armstrong's orchestra leader beginning in the mid-1930s. Her mother, Carline Ray, is a bassist, singer, great all-around musician and a member of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the 1940s all-woman band that swung as hard as the men. "This Daughter of Jazz Is One Cool Cat," reads the headline of Nat Hentoff's profile for The Wall Street Journal.

Catherine brought it all to the Kennedy Center's 2010 Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival: a classic voice, in-the-pocket delivery and old songs including two by Mary Lou Williams herself. (Catherine's mother worked in Williams' band.)

In "We the People," lyricist Andy Razaf (1895-1973) speaks for voters: "We don't give a rap about tax-a-tion, long as legislators give the na-tion syn-co-pa-tion." "My Man's an Undertaker" was recorded by the Queen, Dinah Washington (1924-63). "Quiet Whiskey," from Wynonie Harris (1915-69), is the story of a bottle on the shelf. From the preamble, the story is told: "Things were fine 'til they took you down, opened you up and passed you around."

Set List

  • "As Long As I Live"
  • "We the People"
  • "My Man's an Undertaker"
  • "Quiet Whiskey"
  • "Satchel Mouth Baby" (Mary Lou Williams)
  • "Walkin'" (Williams, Lindsay Steele)
  • "Kitchen Man"
  • Personnel

    Catherine Russell, voice; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Mark Shane, piano; Lee Hudson, bass.

    After Virginia Mayhew moved from San Francisco to New York in 1987, she won the Zoot Sims Scholarship at The New School, where, in her words, "I got to meet and study with the living legends of my record collection." She's been a busy saxophonist ever since. Among other gigs, she musically directs the Duke Ellington Legacy group led by Duke's grandson, Edward Kennedy Ellington II, whom she met in karate class. Mayhew has a black belt; she has stamina. The Kennedy Center and the U.S. Dept. of State twice sent her abroad as an official Jazz Ambassador, first to the former Soviet states and then to Southeast Asia.

    For this set, Mayhew transcribed recordings in the Mary Lou Williams collection at the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University in Newark, N.J. The research put Mayhew on the course for a new project, "Mary Lou Williams: The Next Hundred Years," from Virginia Mayhew.

    Set List

  • "Cancer" from The Zodiac Suite
  • "Medi I"
  • "Medi II"
  • "J.B.'s Waltz (excerpt)" (Milton Suggs, Mary Lou Williams)
  • All selections by Mary Lou Williams, published by Cecilia Music, ASCAP


    Virginia Mayhew, saxophone; Kenny Wessel, guitar; Harvie S, bass; Vince Ector, drums.


    Thanks to Father Peter O'Brien and the Mary Lou Williams Foundation. The artistic director of the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., is Dr. Billy Taylor. Remixed in Surround Sound by Duke Markos.

    Copyright 2012 WBGO

    Becca Pulliam