Johnny Russell

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There are cases where an instrumentalist's most haunting playing is to be found in the world of cinema rather than through spinning sides. This classic jazz master of several instruments serves as a good…
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There are cases where an instrumentalist's most haunting playing is to be found in the world of cinema rather than through spinning sides. This classic jazz master of several instruments serves as a good example. He devoted an equal portion of his time to dance band and military music, not to mention making members of the military dance -- all the more explaining why his eloquent moments on the soundtrack to Alibi, directed by the great Erich Von Stroheim, have attracted much more attention than any of Russell's prolific sideman credits.

Much of this attention could be easily lumped together under the question of "Gee, I wonder who that was playing on the soundtrack?" That's still more attention than most journeyman players get in their professional lifetimes. Russell's began as a teenager gigging with a combo in Asbury Park and continued at infamous Roaring Twenties venues such as Danceland in New York City, the jazz hound picking up the scent in the early '30s when Russell replaced Chu Berry in the tenor saxophone section of Benny Carter's band.

From the middle of that decade Russell became a presence on the European jazz scene, beginning with a tour featuring the Bobby Martin band and almost inevitably involving the great prophet of expatriate jazzmen, Willie Lewis. Russell worked with the latter bandleader from 1939 through 1941 and had only been back in the States briefly before getting called up for military service. His musical activity simply continued in this new frame of reference, and before long Russell was an assistant to the brilliant Russell Wooding in one of the best bands in the armed forces.

This artist's accomplishments following the end of the war taper off considerably. He worked with Cecil Scott in various ballrooms as well as under the baton of Eddie Cornelius, then he became a strictly part-time player, taking calls in the for-hire "general business" branch of music. Despite the fact that his main job during this part of his life was as a salesman, he should still not be confused with the Johnny Russell who wrote redneck country anthems.