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Pee Wee Russell

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Charles Ellsworth Russell, much better known by his nickname Pee Wee Russell, (27 March 1906 - 15 February 1969) was a jazz musician. Early in his career he played clarinet and saxophones, but eventually focused solely on clarinet.

Russell was born in Maplewood, Missouri and grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma. In Muskogee about 1919 his father took young Ellsworth to a dance given by the then famous touring band The Louisiana Five featuring New Orleans jazz clarinetist Alcide Nunez. Russell was amazed by Nunez’s improvisations. While he had ambitions to play music before, the event made Pee Wee decide that his primary instrument would be the clarinet and the type of music he would play would be jazz.

His family moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1920, then Pee Wee was enrolled in the Western Military Academy in Alton, Illinois. On the side he played clarinet with various dance and jazz bands. He began touring professionally in 1922 and travelled widely with tent shows and on river boats. Russel’s recording debut was in 1924 with Herb Berger’s Band in St. Louis, then moved to Chicago where he began playing with such notables as Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke.

From his earliest career, Russell’s style was distinctive. The notes he played were somewhat unorthodox when compared to his contemporaries, and he was sometimes accused to playing out-of-tune. Though often labelled a dixieland musician by virtue of the company he kept, he tended to reject any label.

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