Pee Wee Russell was an early pioneer, a Dixieland veteran, and an inspired clarinetist with an unusual voice. No less than Gene Krupa once said that he had "the most fabulous musical mind... I've never run into anybody who had that much musical talent.
During the fifties, long after his style of music had fallen out of favor, he stayed at the top of his game by absorbing the new styles that had come along, recording Coleman tunes with a piano-less quartet for Impulse! and gigging with Thelonious Monk. However, Portrait of Pee Wee, a compilation of recordings from that decade, finds the clarinetist in the company of some of his peers playing the early swing music that they know so well, still with the same fire and verve that made them special in the first place. Fans will be delighted to find Ruby Braff, Bud Freeman, Vic Dickenson and Nat Pierce still at the top of their game, playing solos that are both hot and gentlemanly at the same time.
This isn't music that will quicken the pulse, but it mixes the New Orleans aesthetic with the grace of the ballroom floor on well known tunes like "Out Of Nowhere and "That Old Feeling. It's great to see these terrific musicians at the top of their game, but it's even better that someone was around to record them when this style of music was no longer fashionable.
Personnel: Pee Wee Russell: clarinet; Ruby Braff: trumpet; Bud Freeman: tenor saxophone; Vic Dickenson: Trombone; Karl Kiffe: drums; Charles Potter: bass; Nat Pierce: piano.