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Late Pee Wee: Pee Wee Russell in the 1960s

Dixieland, avant-garde, or simply beyond category? Pee Wee Russell's playing retained both a uniquely modernistic spark and an early-jazz exuberance.

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Pee Wee Russell 1960s

Photo: Album cover art

Pee Wee's big adventure: Russell's mid-1960s quartet.

Clarinetist Pee Wee Russell’s career on record stretched all the way from the 1920s, when he played with musicians such as Jack Teagarden and Bix Beiderbecke, to the 1960s, when he appeared with Thelonious Monk at Newport and made albums that included compositions by modernists such as Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane.

Although he was pegged as being Dixieland by some and trumpeted as an elder hero of the 60s avant-garde by others, Russell remained a school unto himself. Jazz writer Whitney Balliett said that Russell played with an incomparable

daring and nakedness and intuition..he had discovered some of the secrets of life and his improvisations were generally successful attempts to tell those secrets in a new, funny, gentle way.

“Late Pee Wee” focuses on Russell’s 1960s late recordings, including his quartet with trombonist Marshall Brown, a big-band date with Oliver Nelson, and concert performances with Gerry Mulligan and Thelonious Monk. After Russell died, his friend and musical cohort Ruby Braff (seen below performing with Russell at Newport in 1962), told Nat Hentoff, “Like Louis Armstrong, Pee Wee will always be contemporary.”

Music Heard On This Episode

Red Planet
Pee Wee Russell — New Groove (Columbia, 1962)
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Red Planet
Pee Wee Russell — New Groove (Columbia, 1962)

Notes: John Coltrane composition.

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28th and 8th
Pee Wee Russell/Coleman Hawkins — Jazz Reunion (Candid, 1961)

Notes: Composed by Russell and pianist Nat Pierce.

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Turnaround
Pee Wee Russell — Ask Me Now (Impulse, 1963)

Notes: Ornette Coleman composition.

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Ask Me Now
Pee Wee Russell — Ask Me Now (Impulse, 1963)

Notes: Thelonious Monk composition.

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Pee Wee's Blues
Pee Wee Russell — New Groove (Columbia, 1962)
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Some Other Blues
Pee Wee Russell — Ask Me Now (Impulse, 1963)

Notes: Midpoint music bed. John Coltrane composition.

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Blue Monk (excerpt)
Thelonious Monk — Happy Birthday Newport! 50 Swinging Years (Columbia/Legacy, 1963)

Notes: With Pee Wee Russell on clarinet.

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Pee Wee's and Gerry's Blues
Gerry Mulligan/Pee Wee Russell — Jack Teagarden: A Hundred Years From Today (Grudge/BMG, 1963)

Notes: Live performance from the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival.

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2 Degrees East 3 Degrees West
Henry Red Allen/Pee Wee Russell — College Concert of Henry Red Allen and Pee Wee Russell (Impulse, 1966)

Notes: With Steve Kuhn on piano and Charlie Haden on bass.

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Shadow of Your Smile
Pee Wee Russell/Oliver Nelson — Oliver Nelson: The Argo, Verve, and Impulse Big Band Studio Sessions (Mosaic, 1967)

Notes: Johnny Mandel composition. Originally appeared on the Impulse album SPIRIT OF '67.

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I'm Coming Virginia
Pee Wee Russell/Oliver Nelson — Oliver Nelson: The Argo, Verve, and Impulse Big Band Studio Sessions (Mosaic, 1967)

Notes: Originally appeared on the Impulse LP SPIRIT OF '67.

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • Charles Taylor

    I heard Pee Wee Russell play in DC in the early sixties at a club where the old meat packing plants were, under the flyover below M Street.Can’t remember the name of the club, but I’m sure its been yuppified out of existence.I didn’t much like what I heard, thought he was a has-been-wasser, but maybe I just didn’t understand what he was doing. I must have been all of nineteen.Did he ever play in DC in the thirties? Where?

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