Nov. 12, 2002 – The Frederiksted Economic Development Association has been saying all along that the "Sunset Jazz in Frederiksted" concerts it presents each month in Veterans Park are family affairs.
This Friday, the description applies to the performing artists as well as their intended audience.
The Diane Russell Quintet showcases the talents of three members of one of St. Croix's most dynamic musical families — Diane on flute, Ronald Russell on guitar and Eddie Russell on trumpet. Joining them are two lifelong friends of Diane's, Lenny Larsen on bass and Bobby Richards on drums.
No matter what the stresses of her day job as a lawyer in private practice on St. Croix, Diane Russell says, "I know I can always go home, pick up the flute, play a sonata, and feel all is right with the world."
Growing up on St. Croix, she studied music with Felipe Garcia for many years and attended Northeast Music Camp in Massachusetts. She graduated cum laude from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and Spanish literature, then got her law degree from Georgetown University.
"I have always had a love affair with the flute," she says, citing memories that go back to the age of 4. "I remember how excited I was when I heard beautiful music coming out of what looked like a silver pipe. I was at my grandparents' home with all my relatives, during the Christmas season, when Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights came to serenade my grandmother, Edna Petersen. My grandfather, Pierpont Petersen, played guitar in the group.
"Stanley let me hold the flute, and I was hooked."
Guitarist Ronald Russell, Diane's uncle, began teaching himself to play music at the age of 11 and was performing professionally by the time he was a student at Central High School. He majored in chemistry with a music minor at the then-College of the Virgin Islands, then transferred to Rutgers University, where he earned a second B.A. degree in music.
He returned to St. Croix to teach in the school system. He has been and continues to be a major factor in the development of many young people's musical careers. He was a major player in the advent of the musical ensemble Onyx and was co-founder of the groups Basic Design and Gemini II. At one point, he was opening for most of the major off-island acts that came through St. Croix.
Jazz trumpeter Eddie Russell, Diane's dad and Ronnie's brother, began playing professionally at age 15 and formed his first group, Eddie & The Playboys, in 1964 on St. Croix. He went on to earn his B.A. degree in music from City College of New York and his master's from Queens College.
He has studied and played trumpet and flugelhorn with some of the top talent of Europe, North and South America and the Caribbean, including Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Garrison, James Moody, "The Mighty Sparrow" and Sam & Dave. He can be heard on Ron Carter's "Mr. Bow Tie" CD.
Lenny Larsen is a multi-talented instrumentalist and vocalist. In addition to bass guitar, which he has played since 1975, he is adept at guitar and piano, and he studied saxophone with the legendary Jimmy Hamilton. He has performed with numerous groups including the Brothers Four, Onyx and Gemini II. His styles encompass straight-ahead jazz, jazz fusion and contemporary rhythm and blues.
He is proud that his twin daughters, Lauren and Bianca, are following in his musical footsteps.
Rounding out the quintet is Bobby Richards, a St. Croix drummer who, like Larsen, grew up with Diane Russell. The three have been friends for most of their lives.
Sunset Jazz concerts are held the third Friday of each month from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in Veterans Park on the Frederiksted waterfront. Admission is free and attendees are encouraged to bring folding chairs or blankets to sit on, as only the earliest arrivals will get the few available bench seats. FEDA will operate a cash bar and Hispanos Unidos will be selling food.
With the concert ending at 7:30 p.m., attendees also are encouraged to stay on in town and enjoy dinner, drinks and/or nighttime entertainment at local business establishments.
And for those who plan their activities a month or more ahead, here's what's coming up: The Dec. 20 concert will feature Neil Simon, and the Jan. 17 one will showcase VI Art Ensemble. To learn more, call 719-3672 or send an e-mail to Sunset Jazz

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