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Luis Russell

Luis Russell (6 August, 1902 - 11 December, 1963) was a jazz pianist and bandleader .

Luis Carl Russell was born on Careening Cay, near Bocas del Torro, Panama, in a family of Afro-Caribbean ancestry. His father was a music teacher, and young Luis learned to play violin, guitar, trombone, and piano. He began playing professionally accompanying silent film by 1917, then played at a casino in the city of Colón, Panama.

In 1919 he won 3000 United States dollars in a lottery, and used it to move to the United States with his mother and sister, settling in New Orleans, Louisiana.

He began performing with New Orleans bands, and took lessons on New Orleans style jazz piano from Steve Lewis. He played with Albert Nicholas's band, then moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1924.

In Chicago he played with Doc Cooke and King Oliver, in addition to occasional jobs under his own name and pick up bands in recording studios. With Oliver's band Russell moved to New York City in May of 1927. In October of that year he left Oliver to start his own band.

Russell's band became one of the top jazz groups in New York. It was borrowed for gigs and recording dates by such jazz notables as Red Allen, Jelly Roll Morton, and Louis Armstrong; Armstrong wound up taking over the band as front man in 1929 although Russell remained the music director.

The band returned to Russell's name while Armstrong played in California and Europe in the early 1930s; Russell and Armstrong were reunited in 1935. They again split paths in 1943 when Russell formed a new band under his own name, which played at the Savoy and Apollo in Manhattan as well as in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

In 1948 Russell retired from full time music and opened a notions shop, with irregular band gigs and teaching music on the side.

In 1959 he visited Panama where he gave a piano recital of classical music.

Luis Russell died of cancer in New York City.