Luis Russell titled one of the tunes Lucille, for Armstrong’s wife. The 52-year-old demo — Satchmo never did record it — is included as a bonus track on Carline Ray’s new Vocal Sides, remarkably, her debut CD. Produced by her daughter, who sings on a couple of duets, the collection of jazz, pop and gospel standards showcases Ray’s expressive contralto.
Lucille has also become a staple of Russell’s repertoire, and she says it will be part of her show at Coral Gables Congregational. Also expect material from her previous albums — and maybe a spiritual or two, given the setting — as well as songs from her upcoming CD.
Her rich legacy notwithstanding, Russell is a product of her times. A Deadhead from her early teens, she was jolted her back into a life of jazz and blues by the 1995 death of Jerry Garcia. She tagged along with her mother to the West Village jazz club Sweet Basil, and found refuge in the music on which she had been raised.
While Russell didn’t wait as long as her mother to record a solo album, she was nearly 50 when Cat was released in 2006. For decades, the singer had been captivating New York audiences and musicians including Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, a band she has toured and recorded with for 20 years. Fagen introduced her to singer Amy Helm, which led to gigs with Helm’s father, Levon Helm of The Band, who died last year.
“Getting to work with Levon, getting to travel with Levon and record with him and be mentored by him, was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Russell says.
“And getting to be at his bedside while he was making his transition was amazing. We sang to him as he passed. I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life.”