Personalities | George Russell | Forties | Jazz & Blues

(Composer, arranger, b. 1923)

Cincinnati-born George Russell is one of a small number of jazz musicians whose primary reputation was earned as a composer and theoretician rather than as an instrumentalist. Initially a student of drums and later a pianist, Russell ultimately limited his onstage contribution to conducting, albeit in the style of a consummate showman. He framed the basic structure of his lifelong work on The Lydian Chromatic Concept Of Tonal Organization while hospitalized in 1945–46, and published the first version of that modally based theory in 1953, with several subsequent revisions. Its influence has been vast.

Russell composed and arranged for Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy DeFranco and Lee Konitz in the late 1940s, and began to record as a leader in 1956. His small-ensemble recordings of 1960–62 were followed by equally impressive big-band projects. He spent 1963–69 in Europe, mentoring Scandinavian musicians, and then accepted a professorship at the New England Conservatory. He won a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1989.

Styles & Forms | Forties | Jazz & Blues
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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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