Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Babe Russin: Hello, Goodbye, Forget It

A new interest, a historical obsession and a sense of discovery, regarding the unsung heroes of jazz has been awakened in me since hearing this Mr. Babe Russin, a prolific tenor sax player with a warm swinging sound, close to what you hear from cats like Flip Phillips.

Irving "Babe" Russin (June 18, 1911 - August 4, 1984) was born in a musical family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His pianist brother was already playing in Red Nicholas band that Babe began playing professionally with the California Ramblers in 1926, Smith Ballew Orchestra, 1926-27, when he was only 15 years old. Working on and off with Red Nichols, from 1927 to 1933. He toured in Europe in 1928. His relationship with Nichols was interrupted by a run with the Ben Pollock combo. Russin became a staff musician for the CBC network in the '30s, but grew restless for music with some solo space and took an offer to work in the Benny Goodman band. A member of Goodman orchestra in legendary Carnegie Hall concert. Even there is a note of a brief join up with Count Basie Orchestra (any information regarding this Basie affair will be welcomed) Later, he joined the Tommy Dorsey band, then led his own outfit in the early part of the '40s, working out of Florida as well as New York City. His next stop was Glenn Miller's orchestra, where he soloed in the recording the Glenn Miller band made of Jerry Gray's composition, A String of Pearls for Bluebird Records in 1941 - a hit song. With Tommy Dorsey, 1942-43, and with Jimmy Dorsey's band from 1942 to 1944, then played in an armed forces band through the second World War. In the late '40s he patched things up with Goodman.

Babe Russin (middle), Trummy Young (left), Barney Bigard (right)

He appears briefly in the 1953 movie, The Glenn Miller Story. Plays on the soundtrack to the 1954 A Star is Born. He also appears in the The Benny Goodman Story, a 1956 bio-pic jazz film about his old pal.
As he got older, he preferred the life of a studio musician in California, although reunions of the Goodman band would often include him in the saxophone section. He has one album, under his name, for DOT records label, To Soothe the Savage (1956), which I have no trace of . He was still in business till 70s, when he was touring in the new nostalgic big bands, playing in European jazz festivals. He was highly influenced by Coleman Hawkins but playing in the most famous swing bands of the 20th century redirect his blowing to a more soft, swinging way.

A quick inquiry at my catalog of jazz recordings, revealed that his name is repeated over a period of 30 years, in numerous records, including with these artists:

Miff Mole, 1929.
Red Nichols, late 1920s, early 1930s.
Jack Teagarden, late 1920s, early 1930s.
Bunny Berigan, 1930s.
Lester Young, late 1930s.
Roy Eldridge, 1935-40.
Lionel Hampton, 1930s to 1940s.
Billie Holiday, late 1930s, early 1940s.
Benny Carter, mostly 1940s.
Louis Armstrong, late 1940s, early 1950s.
Jess Stacy, 1954.

His fruitful singers period in the late 1940s and all of the 1950s with:
Frank Sinatra
Sarah Vaughan
Dinah Washington
Ella Fitzgerlad
Mel Tormé

And now, let's hear him from a V-Disc recording (though it's after war) by Jimmy Mundy, waxed in late March 1946 in Los Angeles, called Hello, Goodbye, Forget It. First sax solo belongs to Babe. Other musicians are:
Trumpet section - Clyde Hurley, Ray Linn, Walter Williams, McClure Morris.
A superb trombone section - Juan Tizol, Britt Woodman, Henry Cocker, Vemon Brown.
Alto sax - Willie Smith, Les Robinson.
Baritone Sax - Dick Clark.
Piano - Milt Raskin
Guitar - Irving Ashby
Bass - Art Shapiro
Drums - Ray Hagen


  1. Nice piece on Babe Russin.

    In the photo, Barney Bigard has been misidentified as Bunny Berigan.

    I'll keep reading!


  2. My error, John. Now, thanks to you, it's corrected.

  3. HI Ehsan --

    Thanks for writing about Babe Russin. That's a fantastic track. Has it ever been issued on LP? You may know, I'm a vinylist, hehehe!

    Happy Halloween, in case you know what it is ;)

    All swingin' best,


  4. Hi Swingin' Vinylist Brew!

    I'm not sure Brew if it's been released on LP, because you know how these V-Discs are, how hard to trace I mean.

    Thanks for Halloween. I know what it is, but it's not my day, you know.

    Regards, Ehsan

  5. It isn't my day either, and so I'm just making fun of it. The picture with my dark self I've posted was actually a Carnivals-costume.

    This was in 2006. You should have seen the aggressive feedback of some guys when I went to a party as "Grim Reaper". Hey, I just stood there in the tube, doing nothing but just being there, and it was Carnival (which is one of the most beloved seasons in Cologne), but the folks had no humor.

    Louis Armstrong had a lot of humor, hadn't he? This video at Doug's blog - HERE - (the one I've "stolen" from him), "The Skeleton In The Closet", gosh, what a show! Just brilliant, how he scares that "bones man" away!

    The band was named after arranger Jimmy Mundy, "The Jimmy Mundy All Stars"; that's what I found out after I asked some swing fans. By the way, is it Clyde Hurley on trumpet?

  6. So you're from Cologne! I've a got a uncle there. And you're exactly right, that's Hurley on trumpet.

  7. Ha! Clyde Hurley on trumpet! Good news for my speculating old friends at "Big Band Talk". But they also thought it would be Mr. Hurley.


    I will let you know when I have the next concert date in Cologne. You may invite your uncle then if he would be interested in jazz.

  8. Here's a rare recording of Babe on a song written by my dad.