Luis Russell: At The Swing Cats Ball – Newly-Discovered Recordings From The Closet Volume 1, 1938-1940

Luis Russell: At The Swing Cats Ball – Newly-Discovered Recordings From The Closet Volume 1, 1938-1940

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A Compendium Of Newly-Discovered Recordings Of The Great Jazz Architect 

Featuring Performances of Luis Russell From 1938 – 1940 Alongside Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra, the Luis Russell Orchestra, Henry Red Allen, J.C Higgenbotham and more!

Dot Time Records is proud to announce the March 3, 2023 release of At The Swing Cats Ball

Newly Discovered Recordings From The Closet – Vol. 1 – 1938-1940, a compendium of recordings of legendary early jazz pioneer Luis Russell. The latest entry in the Dot Time Records Legends series, this 20-track treasure trove of jazz history provides multiple lenses through which to view Russell’s creative output – including solo stride piano performances and newfound recordings of Russell’s stellar performances with Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra and the Luis Russell Orchestra.

At The Swing Cats Ball is a window to the past, but it is so much more than an artifact of a bygone era. Akin to the discovery of sketches from a master painter, the collection of recordings provides a living document chronicling the birth of America’s only art-form, recorded by and for one of its architects. True to the album’s title, Luis Russell’s personal collections of recordings of his orchestra were indeed found in his closet within the home of a former working musician. 

What makes this discovery revelatory is the source, Luis Russell (born Panama Aug 5, 1902, died New York City Dec 11, 1963). A pioneer of early jazz, Russell was an orchestra leader, arranger, composer and pianist of the first order of magnitude. The recordings, which span a two year period from 1938 through 1940, are primarily radio airchecks, captured by a single wire and cut directly onto an aluminum or shellac disc. During this period, Luis and his orchestra were doing double duty, serving as Louis Armstrong’s orchestra on stage and on recordings for the Decca label, while also touring and performing as Luis Russell Orchestra without Armstrong. 

Russell wanted to hear how his orchestra sounded. The selections he chose to capture from live gigs were, with a few exceptions, songs that he never recorded or released in studio versions. We are able, many decades later, to be a “fly on the wall” at his gigs. We hear material the orchestra leader wanted as a tool for fine tuning his approach. The recordings were transferred by sound engineer, Doug Pomeroy, the preeminent expert at historical audio restoration. Doug coaxed as much music as possible, using specialized styluses of varied sizes, caressing each side of every groove. A single source capturing a 16-piece orchestra on one channel, without the ability to balance or mix, followed by years of wear, was the grist for Doug Pomeroy’s mill. The heavy wear on the source material is an indication that Russell listened to the recordings repeatedly, endlessly revising his arrangements to attain the sound that he strived for, setting the stage for the following decade of his fruitful creative output.

The first portion of the collection, tracks 1 – 9, transports listeners to February 1938 at Grand Terrace Ballroom in Chicago. At the height of their abilities and renown, Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra swing through a selection of standards and unusual covers. Included are compositions by Chappie Willet (“Blue Rhythm Fantasy”) and Mary Lou Williams (“Riffs –  Dunkin’ A Donut”), which they never recorded in studio versions, giving us added insight into the depth and breadth of one of the greatest orchestras of the Swing Era, directed by Luis Russell. The performances are brimming with the soulfulness, sophistication and jubilance that only Armstrong and Russell can deliver. Tracks 10 – 14 feature five particularly electrifying performances by the Luis Russell Orchestra without Armstrong, including Russell’s own “At The Swing Cats Ball”. Tracks 15 – 16 are two WABC radio recordings from December 17, 1939 and February 25, 1940 respectively, featuring vocalist Sonny Woods.  Tracks 17 – 20 feature solo stride piano performances of Russell, demonstrating the pianist’s stunning facility on his instrument and finely-tuned melodicism, a hitherto unknown side of his artistry.  

Over seventy years after its initial recording, the music shines through as a fascinating document; rarities curated by the leader of one of the greatest orchestras in the history of jazz, including a lineup of legendary, stellar musicians, performing at the peak of their powers.

Track Listing
Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra “Live”
From the Grand Terrace Ballroom in Chicago – February 1938
1 Jammin’ – 4:19
2 After You’ve Gone – 2:08
3 Them There Eyes – 3:34
4 Blue Rhythm Fantasy – 4:11
5 I’ve Got A Heart Full of Rhythm – 3:54
6 Riffs (Dunkin’ A Donut) Part 1 – 2:51
7 Riffs (Dunkin’ A Donut) Part 2 – 1:37
8 Mister Ghost Goes To Town Part 1 – 1:08
9 Mister Ghost Goes To Town Part 2 – 0:44

Luis Russell Orchestra “Live”
Locations and dates unknown
10 Ol’ Man River – 3:11
11 Heebie Jeebies – 1:46
12 At The Swing Cats Ball – 4:00
13 Algiers Stomp – 2:28
14 Hot Bricks – 2:15

Louis Armstrong & Orchestra “Live” featuring Sonny Woods vocals
WABC, recorded by Chappie Willet – Dec 17, 1939 & Feb 25, 1940
15 Melancholy Lullaby & Lilacs In The Rain – 3:21
16 Leanin’ On The Ole Top Rail & Gotta Get Home – 3:45

Luis Russell solo stride piano Masters recorded by Chappie Willet – Feb 28, 1940
17 Rippling Waters – 1:26
18 Fussin’ – 1:57
19 Echo of Spring – 1:43
20 Moonlight Cocktail – 0:57