Catherine Russell: Valentine Love Songs

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Catherine Russell

Valentine Love Songs

Birdland, NYC, February 14, 2022

Reviewed by Ron Forman

Catherine Russell

Catherine Russell is unquestionably one of today’s very best jazz vocalists; add her seven-piece all-star band and you have a jazz lovers delight. Russell has a big sound and a unique style of phrasing, and her excellent enunciation allows you to appreciate every word in the lyrics of the songs she performs. She is also a joy to watch as she is constantly in motion and her big smile lights up the room. She has the confidence to give each of her musicians appropriate solo turns. For her six-day, two-shows-a-day stay at Birdland, she does a different themed show each night. I attended on Valentine’s Day, so most of her numbers were love songs. Her patter is sparse, but she introduces each song with a comment about the songwriters and the vocalists who had performed it. Her occasional off-the-cuff remarks are usually very funny.

The show opened with the band playing “This Can’t Be Love” with each musician having an opportunity for a solo turn. Russell came out and instantly put us in a happy frame of mind with a jazzy“I Want to Be Happy.” She then did a rocking tribute to Nat Cole with “Send for Me.

” She nicely used “Sweet Cat’s Ball” to introduce each member of her band, giving each a turn to show off their skill after she called their name.

She performed a softly swinging “East of the Sun.” Her tribute to Billie Holiday was a truly wonderful “Did I Remember” performed as Lady Day had recorded it in the late 1930s. She showed her ability to do a soft emotional ballad with “Make It Last,” giving Benny Carter credit for its original recording of the song. After mentioning many of the great blues singers of the 1920s, she offered “It’s Right Here for You,” which included the lines “It’s right here. If you can’t get it, ain’t no fault of mine.” Russell spoke about her love for New Orleans before singing “Going Back to New Orleans.” After reminding us that it was Valentine’s Day, she sang a soft and romantic “All My Life.” She closed with a tribute to the greatest of all blues singers, Bessie Smith, with a raucous “You Been a Good Old Wagon.”

Ron Forman

Ron Forman has been a Mathematics Professor at Kingsborough Community College for 45 years. In that time, he has managed to branch out in many different areas. From 1977 to 1994 he was co-owner of Comics Unlimited, the third largest comic book distribution company in the USA. In 1999,after a lifetime of secretly wanting to do a radio program, he began his weekly Sweet Sounds program on WKRB 90.3 FM, dedicated to keeping the music of the Great American Songbook alive and accessible. This introduced him to the world of cabaret, which led to his position as a reviewer for Cabaret Scenes.