Born: August 6, 1902 Primary Instrument: Composer/conductor
Luis Russell - piano, bandleader (1902 - 1963)
In his native homeland of Panama, Luis was a multi-instrumentalist. He immigrated to New Orleans, LA, in 1919, where, as a pianist, he often found work in the local saloons and brothels. In the early 1920s, he led some small groups of his own, as well as playing with Albert Nicholas and others. In 1925, he went up to Chicago and played in the King Oliver band. In 1927, he started his own band which was resident in New York City, while often touring.
It was an interesting big band. At one time or another, it had Louis Armstrong on trumpet; 'Big' Sid Catlett on drums; Henry 'Red' Allen on trumpet and J.C. Higginbotham on trombone. At times, the quality of their performances was quite high indeed. His 1929-34 records for showcased some of the best big band music of the period, thanks in part to the support of Pops Foster on bass and Paul Barbarin on drums on a lot of these sessions. There is also featured Coleman Hawkins, Barney Brigard, and Johnny St. Cyr all players who went on to become stars in other bands and on their own.
The band also backed Louis Armstrong on a few of his early orchestra recordings. In 1935, Armstrong took over the band. For eight years, the nucleus of Russell's orchestra primarily functioned as background for the great trumpeter. Luis did stay with the band but left in the early 1940's, and formed a new band of his own. After a few tours, he disbanded, but did continue to lead small groups for specific dates, even while he ran a business outside of music.
Luis was a good musician who did sincerely try to integrate the older New Orleans Dixieland style with the new Swing sound of the day, but did not make any great impact on the wider public. Never-the-less, it was one of the better bands of its day.