Pee Wee Russell

Pee Wee Russell : The Life of a Jazzman

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A distinctive clarinetist and legendary story-teller, Pee Wee Russell was ostensibly a living parody of the jazz musician's lifestyle. A key figure in Jazz Age Chicago, he moved to New York in the 1930s and co-founded Nick's, the famous jazz spot in Greenwich Village. In addition to recounting tales of Pee Wee's drinking sessions with Bix Beiderbecke, Robert Hilbert goes behind the dishevelled Bohemian facade to reveal a sensitive and original musician, who won not only the respect of such giants as Red Nichols and Jack Teagarden, but also several music awards in the 1940s over such competitors as Benny more

Product details

  • Hardback | 316 pages
  • 144.78 x 213.36 x 33.02mm | 566.99g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 16 pp halftones
  • 0195074033
  • 9780195074031

Review quote

"Hilbert's biography ably tells Russell's life story and conveys the special qualities of his playing."--Los Angeles Daily News"Hilbert movingly chronicles Russell's struggles with his career, club dates, marriage, recordings and image....Hilbert gives the late clarinetist fitting tribute."--Publishers Weekly"Tremendously entertaining."--Kirkus Reviews"Recommended not only because it fills a gap--this is the first book-length study of the musician--but because it's well researched and well written."--Library Journalshow more

Review Text

From the president of the International Society of Jazz Record Collectors: a life of great jazz clarinetist Pee Wee Russell (1909-69), who cut the figure of a legendary drinker and inspired player but who during his life was at once reviled for incompetence and respected for genius. The recorded works say genius. Born in St. Louis, Charles Ellsworth Russell (who grew into quite a big, lanky man) was cosseted by his parents and given every musical instrument he longed for - violin, piano, drums, sax, and, finally, a top-of-the-line clarinet. At age 12, he began both drinking and playing in bands. Beset by his lack of discipline, his family sent him away to military school, but the school dropped him after one year. Russell's final musical training was a brief course from a clarinetist in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; at age 16, he began a nearly 50-year solo. He was befriended and loved by greats, including bosom buddy Bix Beiderbecke, whose cornet style Russell adapted for a staccato clarinet attack but then gave up for a seemingly groping, hawking, rasping, often dirty personal style. Beiderbecke and Russell dug Stravinsky, Ravel, and the moderns and sought a new style of improvising along chordal rather than melodic lines. Russell kept up-to-date, not wanting to be locked into the past, and even wound up in one Newport concert with Thelonious Monk, where he acquitted himself knowledgeably. Meanwhile, he lived in an alcoholic hell. His long body moved fluidly as he played, but his long-nosed, big-eared basset-hound face bore agony through eyes staring querulously from a mass of hound-deep wrinkles and prison bars of alcohol. He died from brain edema and cirrhosis of the liver. Once underway, tremendously entertaining. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Robert Hilbert

About the Author: Robert Hilbert is a jazz writer, a record producer, President of Pumpkin Productions, and President of the International Association of Jazz Record more

Rating details

8 ratings
4.5 out of 5 stars
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4 25% (2)
3 12% (1)
2 0% (0)
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