Harlem On My Mind
Matt Munisteri, Music Director and Guitar
Mark Shane, Piano
Tal Ronen, Bass
Mark McLean, Drums
Event DurationThe concert will last approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
This concert and the Joyce and George T. Wein Shape of Jazz series are made possible by the Joyce and George Wein Foundation in memory of Joyce Wein.
Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with Absolutely Live Entertainment LLC.
When Catherine Russell began
gathering songs for her latest release, the Grammy-nominated Harlem on My Mind, she didn’t need to
look much further than her own heritage. Her father, pianist and bandleader
Luis Russell, performed uptown at the famed Savoy Ballroom—a gig that led to
him serving for years as Louis Armstrong’s musical director. And Catherine’s
mother, Carline Ray, was a Harlem-born singer and instrumentalist.
“She told me about all the places that she visited, and just the feeling of Harlem in those days,” says Russell, whose love for the jazz and blues music of the early 20th century thoroughly informs her own musical direction. Harlem on My Mind, like Russell’s earlier recordings, is largely populated by tunes written long before she was born.
“It’s the stories,” says Russell about her attraction to the music of the 1920s and ’30s. “That was the strongest period of songwriting for me. You get songcraft. People were thinking about what they were writing and painting beautiful pictures. There was a lot of romantic music. You could write a love song without saying ‘love’ in it—that’s good writing. These are timeless songs because they’re funny and they’re about the human condition.
“And, you can frame that story any way you want,” she adds. “You don’t have to try to make it sound old. That’s the same whether the song is by Paul Simon or Elvis Costello, James Taylor or Joni Mitchell. They stand the test of time because they’re well written.”
Although Russell concentrates on a specific period and feel in her own work, her resume includes numerous gigs singing background for the likes of Steely Dan, Madonna, and David Bowie—an experience she values highly. “It was a dream come true,” Russell says about touring for several years with the late, multifaceted artist. “I was a fan of David Bowie’s music since the early ’70s. David was a very classy and generous person—generous musically. He wanted everybody in his band to shine. It was never about him; it was always about us. He was fantastic to work with. I learned so much from him.”
For Harlem on My Mind though, Russell’s focus is squarely on those favored, often mythical singers who made their mark in what now sometimes seems like another world altogether, artists like Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Ethel Waters, and Dinah Washington. “I read a lot about these folks and the way that people had to live in those days, the way they survived,” Russell says. “We have it very easy these days in comparison. They made it in spite of all the things they had to go through; it’s amazing that they accomplished as much as they did.”
Thinking about the arc her own career has taken, she’s thrilled to be making her debut as a headliner at Carnegie Hall. “I never thought I’d get this opportunity,” she says, “and I just want people to know how grateful and happy I am about it.”
Vocalist Catherine Russell is a native New Yorker, born into musical royalty. Her father--the late Luis Russell--was a legendary pianist, composer, and bandleader who served as Louis Armstrong's long-time musical director. Her mother--Carline Ray--was a pioneering vocalist, guitarist, and bassist who performed with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Mary Lou Williams, and Sy Oliver. Catherine's professional life began early. After graduating with honors from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she embarked upon musical adventures with Carrie Smith, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Michael Feinstein, Levon Helm, and Rosanne Cash, among others, touring the world and appearing on more than 200 albums.
Russell's repertoire features a selection of gems from the 1920s through the present--vital interpretations that burst with soul and humor. With an off-the-beaten-path song selection, sparkling acoustic swing, and a stunning vocal approach, she has joined the ranks of the greatest interpreters and performers of American popular song.
Her debut album in 2006, Cat, garnered rave reviews, paving the way for her 2008 sophomore release, Sentimental Streak. She has won a prestigious German Record Critics' Award and a Living Blues magazine's Critics' Poll. Russell's third album, Inside This Heart of Mine, reached the top of both the JazzWeek and Roots Music Report radio charts, while also charting on Billboard and reaching the top of the iTunes jazz chart. A fourth album, Strictly Romancin', was released in 2012, earning Russell the Prix du Jazz Vocal (Vocal Album of the Year) from the French Jazz Academy, Grand Prix du Hot Club de France, and a Bistro Award for Outstanding Recording. Also in 2012, she won a Grammy Award as a featured artist on the soundtrack to the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.
In 2013, Russell contributed three songs to the soundtrack for the film Kill Your Darlings. Her fifth solo album, Bring It Back, was released worldwide in 2014 on the Jazz Village label, receiving a five-star review in DownBeat magazine. In September 2016, she released her sixth solo album, Harlem on My Mind, featuring songs from the Great African American Songbook, which received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
Matt Munisteri's various career paths might at first seem difficult to reconcile: the sparkling guitarist on several chart-topping jazz albums, a critically lauded songwriter and nimble lyricist, an urban banjo-warrior and a sometime session musician, a selfless and devoted sideman, a wry-yet-honest singer, an engaging and winning front-man, and an arranger whose ear-pulling re-inventions of well-traveled songs have contributed to Grammy-winning albums for artists such as Loudon Wainwright and Catherine Russell.
After serving as the guitarist and principal songwriter for The Flying Neutrinos in the late 1990s, Munisteri self-released his debut album, Love Story, in 2003. He has been featured on France's ARTE television, profiled in DownBeat magazine, honored with Acoustic Guitar magazine's Editor's Choice award, and been the subject of several broadcasts on NPR.
Though an instrumentalist of prodigious technique and a relentless improviser, Munisteri has always felt a connection to the forms and emotional landscapes expressed by the human voice through song. His skills and originality as an accompanist have led to calls to record with some of today's most soulful and individual singers. These include Holly Cole, Madeleine Peyroux, Lizz Wright, "Little" Jimmy Scott, Geoff Muldaur, Sasha Dobson, and Kat Edmonson.
Outside of the jazz world, Munisteri was a key player on Loudon Wainwright's 2010 Grammy-winning album High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project, to which he contributed arrangements, and performed on guitar and five-string banjo. He is credited on more than 70 albums, including new releases by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and guitarist Howard Alden. In mainstream jazz contexts, he has concertized with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Kenny Davern, Andy Stein, Matt Glaser, Tim Kliphuis, Vince Giordano's Nighthawks, Frank Vignola, Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Christopher, Duke Heitger, Bob Wilber, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Dick Hyman.
Munisteri's Still Runnin' Round in the Wilderness (2012) is the first of a two-album exploration of the "lost" compositions of the under-recognized but truly prototypical American singer-songwriter Willard Robison. Munisteri is also a featured performer on Hell Among the Hedgehogs, a twin-guitar album with The Hot Club of Cowtown's Whit Smith, and an album by Musette Explosion, a decade-old band with accordionist Will Holshouser and tuba player Marcus Rojas.
Mark Shane plays classic jazz piano. His spirited "striding and tickling" combines ragtime and blues with infectious humor, virtuosic technique, and a time-honored repertoire drawn from the golden age of jazz and swing. Listeners delight to hits made famous by Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Teddy Wilson, and other jazz greats. Shane served as house pianist at Eddie Condon's jazz club in New York City, and has played with Benny Goodman and many all-star alumni from the bands of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller.
Shane has toured and recorded with Catherine Russell since 2007, appearing on her last five albums. He also accompanied her on the Grammy-winning soundtrack to HBO's Boardwalk Empire, with a rendition of the Mamie Smith classic, "Crazy Blues."
Tal Ronen is an accomplished bass player who lives and works in New York City. As a highly sought-after sideman, he has been a frequent band member with many notable musicians, including Frank Wess, Jimmy Cobb, Harry Whitaker, and Sheila Jordan. He also leads his own group, featuring his own original compositions, as well as being a main collaborator and songwriter for up-and-coming artist Dida Pelled.
Ronen has played at many prominent venues in New York City, most notably Jazz at Lincoln Center, Village Vanguard, Iridium, The Kitano, Smalls Live, and Mezzrow. He is also a frequent presence on the world stage, participating in various international festivals, including the Sibiu Jazz Festival (Romania) and Jazz en tête (France), as well many other acclaimed venues. In Israel, he has been a frequent participant at local festivals, such as the Red Sea Jazz Festival, Israel Festival, Tel Aviv Jazz Festival, among others.
Ronen graduated from the prestigious art high school Thelma Yellin in Israel, and served as a bassist in the Israeli Army's jazz ensemble. A two-time scholarship recipient from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, he has also won competitions for ensemble playing at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music. He has studied with a variety of world-renowned musicians, including Arnie Lawrence, John Patitucci, Michael Klinghoffer, and Teddy Kling. Ronen earned his bachelor's degree from The City College of New York, magna cum laude, in 2009.
"I don't want to be seen as a drummer. I want to be known as a musician whose instrument just happens to be the drums."
Mark McLean started his career in Toronto as a jazz drummer. He moved to New York City in 2000 and has since been celebrated as both a versatile, sensitive player, and a visionary bandleader and recording artist.
As an in-demand side musician, he has contributed to a remarkably diverse assortment of recording projects and live tours, working with an array of artists from the worlds of jazz, pop, and rock. Such artists include Billy Joel, Quincy Jones, Oscar Peterson, Andrea Bocelli, Wynton Marsalis, Joe Sample, Glen Campbell, Patti Austin, Dionne Warwick, Catherine Russell, and George Michael.
McLean has released two albums of original compositions: his instrumental debut Playground (2010) and Feel Alright (2014), which features his talents as a songwriter.