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Russell was born in Panama, where his father taught him to play different instruments: in addition to the piano also violin, guitar and trombone. In his country he accompanied silent films and he played in a casino. In 1919 he won 3000 dollars in a Lottery and used that money to with his mother and sister to move to Los Angeles.There, he played in various bands, including those of Albert Nicholas. In 1924 he moved to Chicago, where he worked with men as Doc Cooke and King Oliver. With Oliver he went to New York, where he started his own band in 1927. That group consisted of ten man In 1929, including Red Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, Albert Nicholas and Pops Foster. It was one of the top orchestras of the city and much sought-after for performances and recordings, including Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. The trumpeter took his Orchestra about asfrontman, but Russell remained the musical director. When Armstrong early thirties in California and Europe was going to play, the group came under Russell's name. Herenigden Russell and Armstrong again In 1935. Russell began a new Orchestra In 1943 under his own name and he went to play in Savoy in New York and in Atlantic City. In 1948, he retired from the music as a full-time musician. He had a few issues, such as a toy store, but sometimes performed on and also gave music lessons.
Russell doesn't have as many recordings made. Between 1926 and 1934 he took 38 numbers on, inter alia, with its Hot Six and Jeebie Jeebies Stompers. In addition, recordings made with Red Allen and Louis Armstrong. Different recordings in which he combines with New Orleans jazz swing are seen as classics.
His daughter , Catherine Russell, is an American jazz and blues singer.