Register for updates!
Back to Pee Wee Russell UK Tour - 1964

Pee Wee Russell UK Tour 1964 003

Pee Wee Russell UK Tour 1964 003

Pages 2 and 3 of a programme for Pee Wee Russell's tour of Great Britain, October & November 1964. Page 2 explores Pee Wee Russell's musical style and unique sound.

Image Details

Catalogue Reference Number NJA/PRO/24
Creator G. E. Lambert
Date Made 1964
Item Format Programme
Title or Caption
Event Date October - November 1964

This text has been generated by computer from the image and may contain typographical and/or grammatical errors.

On a high wisp of sound the clarinet dances in triplet notes, rasps out a low-register cry of anguish and with a brief sardonic aside brings in the band. All this has happened in a two-bar break, yet despite the changes of mood there is no incongruity. Nor for a person who knows jazz is there any doubt in recognising the player, for only Pee Wee Russell can play like this and a person who doesn’t know Pee Wee simply doesn’t know jazz. One is tempted to call him a jazz institution, but the term suggests a static survival of yesteryear and Pee Wee’s music is vital, alive and very much of today. You might hear him with his own quartet playing a number from the bop era, with Ruby Braff or with the Condonites jamming on a Dixieland standard or in a mainstream group holding his own with such giants as Coleman Hawkins. In any jazz context
Pee Wee is at home, in any part of this music which he has played with unswerving devotion ever four decades, for his work is as flexible in style as it is ranging in mood. This flexibility is not a matter of turning on different styles, however ;
it is rather that Pee Wee fits any jazz context because his music is based so
thoroughly on jazz essentials. No experienced listener could hear two bars from any of the thousands of clarinet choruses he has recorded without recognising him at once. A few years ago a clarinet blues was recorded called Pee Wee
Russell’s Unique Sound , I don’t know who thought up the title, but it is an
accurate description of Pee Wee’s inimitable music. It is far ranging in style
and mood, beautifully related to its context and uncompromisingly personal, true to self.
Johnny Hodges recently remarked that Pee Wee plays a ‘‘lot of blues” and then added “a lot”. Pee Wee himself has said that "the blues are a beautiful thing. They are not something to be thrown away like ‘what’ll we play ;
let’s play the blues’. After all, so much of what we all play is based on the
blues”, and like all blues players he will transform the essence of a ballad from
the maudlin sentiment of Tin Pan Alley into pure jazz, a process in Pee Wee’s
case often accompanied by an unusual, very personal lyricism. There is bittersweet quality about Russells’ jazz which is epitomised by the very sound of his clarinet. No musician has exploited variety of timbre and tonal nuance — distortion in academic terms — more than Pee Wee yet his is a genuine clarinet tone, husky, warm, and dry like a quality sherry, with a deep resonant sound in the low register. One of my favourite Pee Wee solos is that on George Brums’ Commodore recording of That Da-Da Strain, a solo which starts with a beautiful low register passage. Pee Wee’s phrasing is often called angular and indeed he is given to harsh, jagged phrases, but here the pattern of notes is smooth and flowing. It is a beautifully fluent passage in which the careful regard to accent and density of each note give additional delight. Quite suddenly Russell switches to a high register, a dramatic long-held note swelling in volume and leading to a sequence of driving phrases which hurl the solo to its
conclusion, with a few pithy Russell humorous asides on the way.
The two parts of this solo complement each other perfectly and show a real mastery of the form and balance essential to the jazz soloist. In addition to being a great soloist Pee Wee is also a superb ensemble player, whether playing blues duets wth Jimmy Guiffre or cutting through the thick texture of a Chicago style ensemble. On the records by Bud Freeman’s Famous Chicagoans and those by Eddie Condon from the Brunswick Chicago Jazz Album Pee Wee plays a part in the four-piece front line as classic in its way as that of Johnny Dodds with the Oliver Band. His understanding with Max Kaminsky often seems uncanny — listen to the last two choruses of Condon’s Friar’s Point Shuffle where the interplay between lead trumpet and clarinet is perfectly dovetailed.
Looking back over many years of listening to jazz one realises just how much pleasure one has derived from Pee Wee Russell’s music. He is a quiet man
concerned with music rather than publicity, a musician who has rarely been
fashionable with the critics — perhaps because his highly individual music fits into no sort of pigeon hole. Yet in going his own way unswayed by the whims of fashion he has given us a vast store of fine music of rare integrity. To welcome
Pee Wee Russell to this country is a privilege as well as a pleasure.