Pee Wee: even his feet looked sad

February 14, 2009 at 10:54 pm (jazz, Jim D, music)

Pee Wee Russell (jazz clarinettist). b 27 Mar 1906; d.15 Feb 1969

“He is no virtuoso, and his tone is breathy and squeaky, but you forget those shortcomings when you hear the bliss and the sadness and the compassion and the humility that are there in the notes he plays” – George Frazier

His timing is perfect, his phrasing oratorical without being melodramatic, his tonal distortions involunatary, and all is conceived in that vein of unique, hard-hitting lyricism…” – Phillip Larkin

“For 10 years (during the 40’s) he couldn’t eat anything. He drank constantly and in 1948 he left his wife. In 1950 doctors at the Franklin Hospital in San Francisco found that he had pancreatitis and multiple cysts, on his liver. Diffidence and economic need persuaded Russell to play with Chicago, or Eddie Condon-style musicians for most of that career. Since 1929 his best recordings have attested that he is not a Dixieland clarinettist but a kind of swing musician with modern overtones” – Whitney Balliett

“Russell was quiet and sad and intent as a circus clown. Eddie Condon soon recognised him as a drawing card and stamped him in the role of buffoon…But he needed a way out of the confines of a music that had become predictable to the point of suffocation…His playing had the effect of a hermetic vision probing nervously within the conventional polyphony of the Condon bluster. ‘I’m not a dixieland clarinetist,’ Russell protested” -Gary Giddons.

Here he is: my favourite jazz musician of all time, Charles Ellsworth ‘Pee Wee’ Russell. The tune is called “I May Be Wrong (But I Think You’re Wonderful)”…


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