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Hear Catherine Russell's fine new single, "I Want to Talk About You"

Courtesy of the Artist

Catherine Russell has long had a gift for breathing new life into old songs, with no special trick beyond the clarity of her singing and the purity of her intention. Her latest single perfectly illustrates why those two elements are more than enough: it’s a beautifully faithful new version of a song written and first recorded by Billy Eckstine more than 75 years ago.

“‘I Want to Talk About You’ is one of my favorite love songs by one of my favorite artists, a singer and instrumentalist who deserves to be remembered,” Russell says. “I choose songs by the lyrics, melody and harmonic structure and all of these appealed to me.”

Russell — whose 2022 album on Dot Time Records, Send For Me, was rapturously received — is releasing her single in conjunction with Black History Month and Valentine’s Day, with all proceeds supporting the Jazz Foundation of America. WRTI is proud to premiere the track before its official release this Friday.

A native son of Pittsburgh, Eckstine formed his own big band in 1944, and it immediately became an incubator for modern jazz, with beboppers like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis in the ranks. He composed “I Want to Talk About You” that same year, and on Dec 5, 1944 he recorded the song, with an arrangement by Tadd Dameron. It was released the following year on the DeLuxe label (as Side A of a 78-rpm shellac disc); the band includes Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons on tenor saxophones, Gillespie and Shorty McConnell on trumpet, and Art Blakey on drums.

The tune has endured in the jazz literature in no small part because of instrumental interpreters — none more iconic than tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. He recorded his first version of the song on this day 65 years ago, for the Prestige album Soultrane. (His accompaniment: pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Art Taylor.)

There’s a good chance you know one of Coltrane’s later recordings of the song — perhaps from Live at Birdland, or from various European tours. As Ben Ratliff notes in his book Coltrane: The Story of a Sound: “He loved the song so much that he kept it in his repertory for his own quartet; other than ‘Soul Eyes,’ it is the only piece from the Prestige years that Coltrane ever reused for his quartet.”

It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that Coltrane’s legacy lurks somewhere within Russell’s take on the song, but it’s also clear that she went straight to the source for inspiration. “I love Billy Eckstine!” she tells WRTI, by email. “Mr. B led a pioneering orchestra and introduced some of the greatest names in bebop. He prevailed through many obstacles faced by Black artists.”

Russell is currently on tour with John Pizzarelli, and will settle in with her band next week at Birdland, for a five-night run that begins on Valentine’s Day. For more information about her itinerary and her new single, visit her website.