Russell brings jazz and blues to the Mill


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The musical preferences of Catherine Russell might surprise those who are only familiar with her smoky alto voice caressing the notes of classic jazz and blues songs. She loves such artists as Dolly Parton and the Grateful Dead as well as bluegrass, Irish string band, opera, and classical. Her explanation for the array is simple.

"My tastes in music are varied," she said. "I like anything that I like the sound of."

Her distinctive sound will be on display at 7:30 p.m. today, when she will sing to a sold-out crowd in the intimate Club Hancher setting of the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St.

Hancher Programming Director Jacob Yarrow said Russell appeals to audiences. People are able to relate to her and the music she performs.

"She has a remarkable ability to connect with the audience," he said. "She's very conversational when she performs and sings songs that are easy for people to connect to."

That connection comes from Russell's conviction in the music she sings. She chooses songs that she understands and ones that have meaning for her life. This enables her to make them fresh and interesting — injected with her personality.

"If I believe a lyric and it's true for me in my life, then I can live through it as I sing it," Russell said.

Jazz and blues bring people of all ages and cultures together to enjoy themselves, she said.

"I just want everybody to have a good time together and help lift each others' spirits," she said. "I want both me and my band and everybody in the audience to feel happier after the show."

One of the things Russell said she enjoys about her profession is the travel, getting to experience new venues, new people, and new ways of living. Through her music, she is able to connect with many of the people she meets on a personal level.

"It makes me feel as though the world is not as separate as we might think it is," she said. "People basically like the same things — love, family, good food, to take care of one another, to have a good time."

She is even able to connect with an audience that can't physically see her. Hancher marketing assistant and intern coordinator, Melea Dau said just hearing Russell's voice through a set of speakers could give her an idea of her amazing performance ability.

"When I listen to her album, I can hear the performance oozing out of the vocals," Dau said.

Russell's outward appearance reflects her fresh reimagining of classic songs, Dau said.

"She looks really cool," Dau said. "She has a lot of tattoos and dreadlocks, and she has a really cool modern vibe, which is really interesting juxtaposed against the classic jazz-standard sound."

Russell said she enjoys what she does and that's what inspires her. Music enriches every aspect of her life.

"Music is healing, it's soothing, it's therapeutic," she said. "I always feel better when I make music — physically, mentally, and spiritually."

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