Catherine Russell singing on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, at the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival. Photos by Barbara Conner.
Catherine Russell's father worked with Louis Armstrong, and when we saw her last year at A Place for Jazz in Schenectady, I thought the first half of her perfomance was a little tired, though she livened up after the break. Today she was full powered all the way, swinging from Tin Pan Alley to rhythm 'n' blues. She said she'd been "brushing sugar off a beignet" this morning in New Orleans, and sang "The Darktown Strutters' Ball," which was written almost 100 years ago by an African-American, Shelton Brooks.
We caught three acts at this free festival over four hours, missing the opener and closing headliner. The rain site was under the 787 highway, which sounds much worse than it was. We were hanging out with friends, the road high above us, the Hudson on our left, and on our right a view of the Albany skyline (and that old empty warehouse eyesore that even fire can't destroy). The pretty large, multiracial crowd was relaxed and appreciative. Behind the stage, Amtrak trains occasionally went over a 112-year-old bridge, near which we had parked in a state worker lot.
The best of those three good acts was Professor Cunningham and His Old School, seven youngish white guys playing the New Orleans music of long-dead black men such as Sidney Bechet. They finished with Gospel, "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho," which like the rest of their set was a blast. The west wind blew away the clouds and humidity.
I cite the above as evidence, in its small way, in this season of war and the rumor of war, atrocity and the massacre of innocents, ebola, corruption, racial and ethnic strife, that the decline of civilization is neither universal nor irreversible.
Professor Cunningham and His Old School, on Sept. 6, 2014, at Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival.
Meanwhile, we have memories of his greatest hits, the top one of which, I note, is connected to the now collapsed federal case against him. I recall a little derring-do in the reporting of that story -- I met my prominent anonymous source in a diner, and returned documents to said source's residence pre-publication.
Then there's this old chestnut (or Walnut) about Joe's hardscrabble childhood, and days when I used to drink in bars, and Jim Tedisco's disastrous congressional campaign.