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Bill Russell and the New Orleans Jazz Revival

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in The Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence 2019

Born in 1905, Bill Russell demonstrated diverse musical interests from an early age. A contemporary of John Cage, Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison, his significance as a percussion composer is well known among aficionados and his work as a musicologist of New Orleans jazz music is equally acclaimed. He was a major figure in the revival of interest in the music of that city, notably from his recordings of trumpet player Bunk Johnson in the 1940s. He became the first curator of the Tulane Jazz Archives when they were established in 1958.

This is the first full-length book about Bill Russell´s life that is largely ´in his own words´. It is based on personal interviews conducted with Russell about the diversity of his life´s work, interspersed with views and anecdotes from his friends and associates written especially for the book, together with archive material and a wealth of photos. These sources are woven together to give a portrait of an extremely talented, modest man who forsook an academic career to become a champion of the music and musicians of New Orleans.

Published: Mar 28, 2018


Section Chapter Authors
Acknowledgements Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
Foreword George Avakian
Introductions Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
Prelude: Bill Russell’s family background and childhood, by his brother William F. Wagner William Wagner
Fugue Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
Chicago Sketches Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
Jelly Roll Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
Trumpet Concerto Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
American Music Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
Bunk`s Blues Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
Last Testament Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
Chicago Breakdown Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
New Orleans Joys Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
New Orleans Style Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
Made In America Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
End Matter
Bill Russell's Legacy Alfred Lemmon, Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
Notes Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
Who's Who Ray Smith, Mike Pointon
Index Ray Smith


[The authors] are gifted interviewers.
Jazz Journal

Straight off – let me say that I think this book is wonderful, simply wonderful... Too often, major superlatives are applied to relatively minor achievements in the documentation of all strains of American Roots Music – but with a book such as this, a reviewer’s hackneyed final words of ‘essential’ ‘recommended’ or even ‘highly recommended’ seem somehow totally inadequate. So I’ll boldly go further and conclude that absolutely anyone with the faintest interest in Jazz, New Orleans born or otherwise, or any keeper of the printed word interested in the brilliant and fascinating spoken words and wisdom of an equally brilliant and fascinating man should get a copy of this book – it will probably be the best of it’s kind you’ll ever own. OTT? I don't think so.
Vintage Jazz Mart

Well worth the wait. ...Fascinating photos, quite a few previously unpublished... Filled with new information and fascinating recollections by Russell of his conversations and experiences with early jazz players. This is a very important addition to the jazz literature and is worthy of the highest recommendation.
Just Jazz

How can anyone review this masterpiece? These interviews of Russell are transcribed directly from the recordings, inevitably resulting in occasional repetition in his anecdotes, but the overall effect allows the reader to almost hear the man himself talking.... A homage to Bill Russell, the book builds a picture of this complex man by interspersing other interviews, recollections, articles, program notes, and photographs, and adding reminiscences by many of us who knew him or benefitted directly from his selfless efforts on our behalf, including George Avakian, his brother William Wagner, Frederic Ramsey, Jr., Mahalia Jackson, Doc Souchon, Lars Edegran and Dick Allen. Sadly, the authors were too late to obtain contributions from John Cage and Alan Lomax.
Clive Wilson, OffBeat Magazine

For anyone who is interested in the resurgence of interest in New Orleans jazz from the late 1930s on this book is a must read. In reading it I found a great similarity to talking with Bill Russell in person where he would answer questions with multiple diversions, all of considerable interest, making you wish that you had a tape recorder turned on at the time. It is a book that is packed with information and one that I can recommend to any interested party.
Charlie Crump, Hot News