Babe Russin as one of the first prominent sax players in jazz is one of the most recorded tenor saxophone players of all time. With a rich warm sound and his ability at improvisational solos he was an in demand performer and session player. Babe recorded and performed with the biggest names of the Big Band era including Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Red Nichols, and Count Basie. He soloed on the all time big band classics "String of Pearls" and "Sing Sing Sing". He appeared in the movies "The Benny Goodman Story" and "The Glenn Miller Story". Working as a session musician he recorded and performed with Mel Torme, Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Billy Holliday, Lionel Hampton, Sammy Davis Jr.,Dean Martin, Frankie Laine, Eartha Kitt, Dinah Washington, Frank Sinatri, Sarah Vaugh, Louis Armstrong, Billy Eckstein, Russ Colombo, Bunny Berigan, Jack Teagarden, and more. The Allmusic Guide lists five pages of recording credits for Russin. His recordings are still being released today.
Started with the California Ramblers
Irving Russin was born into a musical family in Pittsburgh on June 18,1911. Mostly self taught and influenced by Coleman Hawkins he began playing professionally at age 15 with the California Ramblers in 1926. The California Ramblers, formed in Ohio, were one of the very first big bands along with Paul Whiting to record dance music with jazz overtones. They recorded many records for Columbia Records. Babe's older Jack appears on many of the Ramblers Columbia recordings including the 1926 release "Lazy Weather" Other members of the Ramblers included future band leaders Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and Red Nichols. They appeared frequently around Pittsburgh playing Kennywood Park, West View Park, the Grand Theater and other venues. The Allmusic Guide calls the Ramblers "the quintessential white dance band of the 1920s."
One Red Nichols Five Pennies
In 1928 Russin joined the seminal band Red Nichols and The Five Pennies. His older brother Jack Russin had been Nichol's pianist. Nichols’ band launched the careers of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, and many other stars. Russin toured with Nichols until 1933 including a European tour in 1928. Babe also played with the Ben Pollock Combo during this period.
Good and Bad Times with Goodman
After his stint with Nichols Russin was a staff musician for the CBC network in the '30s. Benny Goodman recruited him and he went back on the road. He performed with Goodman at the legendary Carnegie Hall concert in 1938 that is classic jazz recording. Babe soloed on Goodman's all time big band recording of "Sing Sing Sing" made in 1938. Goodman who enjoyed firing musicians played a gag on Babe at a performance. Goodman unscrewed the light bulb on Babe's music stand so that he could not read the sheet music. When Babe missed a note Goodman fired him only three months after hiring him.
Playing with Glenn Miller & the Dorsey Brothers
After his time with Goodman Babe Russin worked with Count Basie and then Tommy Dorsey. Russin led his own band in New York City and Florida the early 1940s. Joining the Glenn Miller's Orchestra, he soloed on in their smash hit "A String of Pearls" in 1941. It's an all time big band classic with Babe playing throughout the song. Russin was a member the Jimmy Dorsey band from 1942 to 1944. In 1944, joined the US Army and performed in armed forces bands.
L.A. Studio Years
After the war Babe Russin moved to Los Angeles to become a studio musician and to work in the movies. He made up with Goodman in the late 1940s and made appearances with him in the movies and played on several Goodman reunion tours. Babe became a session player working with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington.and many more. Babe toured Europe in the 1970s playing many jazz festivals.
Babe passed away in Los Angeles at age 73 on August 4, 1984
Talented Pittsburgh Family
Babe Russin came from a very musical Pittsburgh family. His brother Jack was a noted pianist who performed with Red Nichols, Glenn Miller, Coleman Hawkins,Jack Teagarden, and Benny Goodman, and others. Babe's sister Sunny Russo, also a pianist, began her career in the early '30s as Sunny Russin and recorded with Tommy Dorsey.