Wednesday, July 29, 2009

R.I.P. George Russell


To say George Russell was a profound musician and thinker is a great understatement. At the age of twenty six years old he penned the classic “Cubana Be Cubana Bop” for Dizzy Gillespie feauturing Chano Pozo (RCA Victor). Then came Ezzthetic, which was recorded by Miles Davis circa 1953. Russell was a disciple of pianist Lennie Tristano, who’s otherworldly music influenced what would become The Lydian Chromatic Concepts Of Tonal Organization. I was fortunate to have studied this theory with David Wheat (aka Buckwheat) back in 1985. It was a bit too advanced for me at the time, but over the years I have been able to understand and apply more and more of it. The Lydian Concept actually helped open my ears, enabling me to hear and write music in a whole new way. Wheat once told me that he and George Russell were at the bedside of Lennie Tristano (as he lay dying in the hospital), taking dictation and transcribing musical information that had never written in books. Russell’s music had a wonderful magic all it’s own, and one of my favorite of all his work is a big band album entitled New York, New York (1959) featuring Jon Hendricks, Bill Evans, and John Coltrane (among other star solists).
This was released the same year as Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Miles’ Kind Of Blue (in fact, without the influence of Russell, there might’ve never been a Kind Of anything). NYNY should’ve ranked as an equally groundbreaking album, but unfortunately it got buried due to the fact it was released on Decca Records which was not known as a Jazz label. In recent years it has been re-released through the Impulse label.
I owe a huge debt to George Russell for having such a profound influence on my musical studies and some of my more sophisticated compositions. He deserves to be more of a household name like Dizzy, Bird, Monk, Miles, Trane, Russell etc etc etc.
George Russell Obituary

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