BRATTLEBORO — The Vermont Jazz Center is pleased to present Grammy Award-winning vocalist Catherine Russell in concert at 8 p.m. Oct. 15.
Russell will be performing with her working quartet, a group of musicians dedicated to creating energetic interpretations of blues and swing music, including Matt Munisteri on guitar, Sean Mason on piano and Tal Ronen on acoustic bass.
Russell is a multi-award-winning artist. She has earned two Grammy nominations for Best Vocal Jazz Album and won a Grammy Award for her contribution to the soundtrack of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. At this phase in her career, Russell specializes in uncovering early jazz repertoire that dates back to the years when her musician parents were active. Evoking her familial heritage as jazz royalty, Russell sings blues and swing music, mostly from the early 20th century, with heartfelt sincerity and authenticity, paying homage to the stylistic integrity of that era.
Catherine Russell can be heard on over 200 recordings in a wide variety of styles including jazz, rock and folk. She has toured and/or recorded with Steely Dan, David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Madonna, Jackson Browne, Michael Feinstein, Levon Helm, Toshi Reagon, Lizz Wright, Diana Ross and Rosanne Cash, as well as numerous jazz legends like Jimmy Heath, Wynton Marsalis and John Pizarelli, In 2019, Russell acted and sang in the feature film Bolden, a biopic about jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden.
After years of performing as a backup singer in the rock/pop context, Russell made the leap to record as a lead artist in 2006. Although she loves the energy and vitality of the rock stage, she decided to focus her efforts on the repertoire that reflects the style of music that she grew up with. Russell considered trying to establish a career in the rock world but chose to immerse herself in the world of blues and early jazz instead.
In an interview with Monk Rowe she revealed that there wasn’t much work for headlining Black artists, especially Black women. Instead, she committed herself to the study of obscure repertoire sung by the blues queens of the 1920s and 1930s. Russell naturally transforms the magic of the jazz legends she encountered as a youth, incorporating their styles so thoroughly that the old swing and blues styles emerge as an intrinsic part of her personality. In Russell’s hands, this repertoire is current and fresh, presented as an authentic, living art form rather than cute iterations of an era gone by.
In her verbal introduction to her NPR Tiny Desk concert, Russell discussed her choice of material, saying: “I am inspired by the Black, blues-women of the 1920s, so I do a lot of that kind of material [including] Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters and so forth.” The influence of the original artists’ concepts shine through Russell’s interpretations. Russell has rediscovered the messages and multiple layers implicit in these choice tunes and sings them with familiarity, respect, love and truth.
Russell carefully chooses the musical settings of each of her songs. In her seven albums as a leader one observes a beautiful balance of instrumentation, sometimes paring the voice with only piano or guitar, sometimes packing a punch with a full ensemble. She also chooses the musicians with whom she performs with great care. This tour is no exception, each musician in the group is a devotee of the swing style. Matt Munisteri is the group’s music director; he will be heard at the Jazz Center’s performance on banjo and guitars.
The group’s pianist, Sean Mason was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, singing and playing piano in the Baptist church. His musical roots include gospel, hip-hop, and R&B music, but then he discovered jazz and decided to make a career of it
Bassist Tal Ronen is from Tel Aviv, Israel. While in his teens he was guided by Arnie Lawrence and later worked with John Pattituci. A recipient of two scholarships from the American-Israeli Cultural Foundation, he has performed in numerous festivals including the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, the Israel Festival in Jerusalem, the Tel-Aviv Jazz festival, the Haifa Jazz festival, the Sibiu Jazz Festival (Romania), the Gyor International Art Festival (Hungary), Jazz-en-Tete in Clairmont-Ferrand (France) and others.
The VJC is grateful for the generosity of Dave Snyder and Guilford Sound. Snyder continues to quietly observe where sonic improvements can be made in the venues of our region and then assists generously. Publicity is underwritten by The Commons and the Brattleboro Reformer. The VJC is also grateful to the Vermont Arts Council, the Vermont Humanities Council and New England Foundation of the Arts for their support and increased efforts to stabilize the existence of arts organizations during the pandemic.
Admission to this in-person event at the Jazz Center is offered on a sliding fee scale from $20 to $40 per person and all seats are general admission. Mask wearing will be required for entry. Be sure to purchase your tickets soon as this event will likely sell out quickly and there will be no online option to view this concert.