Singer Catherine Russell has a certain feeling for classic jazz and blues tunes: Sassy and suave, she knows the territory. Russell is the daughter of pianist Luis Russell, who was Louis Armstrong's music director, and bassist/singer Carline Ray, who played with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm during World War II.
A walking history book -- she also has spent years singing backup for Steely Dan, David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Rosanne Cash and many others -- Russell headlines Sunday at Yoshi's in San Francisco and Wednesday in downtown Los Gatos at Jazz on the Plazz.
Q What's the core reason for making music?
A I make music because I need to for my health; I can only speak for myself. I feel that music is one of the great healers. It brings people together.
Q What's your favorite Steely Dan tune?
A I have many, of course; I've been a fan since the early '70s. One of my favorites is "Glamour Profession."
Q Why did you wait so long to make your first album under your own name? (It came out in 2006.) You were 50-ish.
A I was busy working! I'm glad it happened this way because I have many years experience in the business, and I can apply it as a bandleader.
Q Why do you relate so deeply to vintage jazz and blues tunes?
A Some of the first recordings I ever heard were of my father's orchestra. The music sounded like people were having fun playing it! I also like the freedom and personal expression of the blues. My parents were influenced by all types of music, so I grew up hearing everything from classical to opera to Great American Songbook -- as I danced to calypso.
Q Have you discovered any great old tunes lately? Name one, and if it has fun or sassy lyrics, could you tell me a line or two?
A I love Alberta Hunter. There's a tune called, "You Can't Tell the Difference After Dark." It pertains to skin color. The song can be found on YouTube, and I think it speaks for itself.
Q What do you remember about Louis Armstrong?
A I went to Mr. Armstrong's house when I was about 4 years old with my parents. He was having a party, and I remember him being very jolly that night -- lots of laughing and eating. He was very nice to me.
Q Tell me one of your mom's best stories.
A She told me about the time she sat in singing at a club and was accompanied by the great Art Tatum. After the tune, he asked her if he "played all right" for her! And John Hammond Sr. offered her a contract to record for Columbia Records as a "blues singer," but she turned him down because she didn't feel it was right for her at the time. She's just released her debut album, "Carline Ray -- Vocal Sides," at age 88, and I got to produce it!
Q I hear you're a George Jones fan.
A To me, the best male singer in country music! What a beautiful voice! And the skill that went into what he did is unmatched by anyone. He was so soulful. I never get tired of listening to George Jones.
Q Your musical experiences are so incredibly varied. What's the root connection between, say, a great old blues musician and David Bowie? Is there one?
A I think the connection is honesty. David Bowie sings from such an honest place; I believe every note he sings. I've also been a Bowie fan since the early '70s. His voice came right through the vinyl recording and made it disappear. One of my favorite rock albums is "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust."
Q Is there a question you're never asked, which you wish people would ask you?
A Here's the question: "What is a favorite pastime for you now and in the past?"
Q And your answer?
A I love vintage cinema, and I loved jumping double dutch as a kid. How's that? (Laughs.)
When: 8:30 p.m. June 23
Where: Yoshi's-San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore St.
Tickets: $22, $18 in advance, 415-655-5600, www.yoshis.com
Also: 6:30 p.m., June 26, Jazz on the Plazz, Los Gatos Town Plaza, free