2019 was time to revitalise the Steve Russell Band for a new round of gigs, so I fell in with some incredible young players from Brisbane: drummer Aaron Jansz, trumpeter Lachlan McKenzie and bassist Luke McIntosh, all outstanding talents. We had so much fun we also did gigs as the Lachie McKenzie Quartet and the Aaron Jansz Quartet - same band, different repertoires.
It's always a joy to do some gigs with my sisters Sharny Russell-van Herp and Helen Russell - we have so much repertoire in common and such a unified understanding of music, it's as easy as breathing. I also had the opportunity to play some gigs with the great Wendy Matthews.
It was a great pleasure to once again be involved in a Queensland Music Festival community engagement project, this time in Mt Isa for the 2019 Mount Isa Blast. QMF's wonderful producers always assemble incredible creative teams. One of the best thrills is watching the local performers go slack-jawed when they finally see the performance venue coming together - we try to tell them it's going to be big, but they never seem to be sufficiently prepared. The biggest thrill, however, is seeing a stage full of local talent mesmerising audiences of thousands in a production they could not have dreamed of. This project featured local artists Megan Samardin and Bulldust, a symphony orchestra convened by the Mt Isa Community Ensembles (MICE), and icon William Barton gracing some of the most powerful moments in the show. Oh, and trail bikes and a herd of cattle, and dancing bobcats. I love writing for rock-band plus symphony orchestra. What a blast indeed!
Another major musical director gig in 2019 was the Queensland Performing Arts Centre production, Songs of Justice, a concert "inspired by the music and ideals of social justice". The show featured Dan Sultan, Ellen Reed, and an extraordinarily powerful set from Brisbane artist and long-time collaborateur of mine Leah Cotterell, as well as the spine-tingling power of the combined QPAC Choir, Lotus Place Voices, Absolutely Everybody Choir and With One Voice Brisbane, under the baton of Tim Sherlock.
To top the year off, my wife and I spent a week and a bit in New Orleans, not gigging, just soaking up the musical history. We were so lucky to catch the patriarch of a great musical dynasty, Ellis Marsalis and his quartet at Snug Harbor, and to walk with the band leading a second line march to commemorate the passing of one of NOLA's most famous sons, Dr John. Hats off to Hotel Peter and Paul, once an historic church, school, rectory and convent; the perfectly maintained and tuned grand piano in the beautiful acoustics of an empty church gave us a memorable afternoon of jamming and some stunning iPhone recordings.