Saturday, August 01, 2009

George Russell: R.I.P.


It's a hard week for the arts, people. Ned Sublette passed on the information that jazz composer and music theory innovator George Russell (1923 - 2009) passed away from Alzheimers on July 27, 2009.

Ned was kind enough to pass on this listing from The International Review of Music.

Russell was a long-time professor at the New England Conservatory in Boston. IRoM writer and former student and writer Fernando Gonzalez writes of his teacher:

"Composer and theoretician George Russell died on July 27th at a hospice nursing facility near his home in Jamaica Plain, MA from complications to Alzheimer’s. He was 86. He was probably the most influential figure in jazz over the past 60 years whom the general audience never heard of. But musicians knew.

"I thought I knew him because I knew some jazz history and had recordings of his compositions. Then I became one of his students and I discovered a remarkable teacher, one who pushed and made me listen with fresh ears."

Read the rest here.

I've written previously about Russell in relation to Ornette Coleman in an extended post on Harriet Tubman the band. Check that here. Cincinnati, Ohio-born Russell grew up singing in the choir at his childhood AME church, attended Wilberforce University, and was a drummer by training. Along with authoring compositions for Dizzy Gillespie, leading his own groups with musicians such as John Coltrane, Art Farmer, Bill Evans and Eric Dolphy, Russell also developed an approach to composition and performance based on modal forms that maintained the centrality of equal temperament while opening up various harmonic and tonal possibilities. Russell's work influenced both Miles Davis and Coltrane: Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization (1953), Lydian Concept – The Art and Science of Tonal Gravity (2001). I can't do Russell's biography justice here, I hope folks will read about his work on his website, and take time to listen to his recordings some of which are still in print. (pictured right: Coltrane and Russell)

Endnote
Boston Globe
listing of Russell's passing here.
• New York Times obituary listing.
• Guardian UK obituary listing.

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