By David Royko Psy.D, DAVID@DAVIDROYKO.COM
I tend to saturate myself with music I am exploring and love and then move along, usually returning now and then, often after a long time, like to an old friend I’ve lost touch with. Well, today’s old friends are clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, with Bud Freeman, Vic Dickenson and Buck Clayton, trad jazz heaven, in late-50s early stereo sessions. But as much as Russell is “trad,” he really is unclassifiable, one of the most distinctively creative players in jazz history. Unlike Jimmy Hamilton or Artie Shaw or Benny Goodman or Eddie Daniels or Buddy Defranco, he wasn’t, technically, a great clarinetist. But his tone was probably the most identifiable, and expressive as any player in jazz and his ideas were uniquely unpredictable, and those qualities are what make him one of the greats of jazz, and maybe my all-time favorite clarinetist.
Also, I’ve always liked his two 1960s recorded forays out of his Trad comfort zone into “modern” territory, with his albums “New Groove” and “The College Concert.” Now I wonder how I merely “liked” them before.