George Russell to Release New 2-CD Set of Live Music

Legendary composer/bandleader and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master George Russell announced the October 18th release of his new live concert recording, The 80th Birthday Concert (Concept Publishing). This 2-CD set, recorded in June 2003, documents the highlights of his 80th birthday performances in Europe with his international Living Time Orchestra, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2005.

Russell's 27th recording as a leader focuses on his innovative large ensemble music, including “It's About Time, ” an excerpt from “Listen to the Silence, ” and his orchestra's longtime closer, “So What, ” an arrangement of Miles Davis' classic trumpet solo from 1959's seminal Kind of Blue. The heart of these concerts, however, is complete live performances of two of Russell's most respected epic works, “Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature” and multiple Grammy® nominee “The African Game.” The former has been called “one of jazz's finest, most adventurous pieces” (Ron Wynn, All Music Guide), and the latter is considered “his grandest achievement” (Jeff Levenson, DownBeat) and “a masterpiece, comparable to such latter works of Duke Ellington as Les Trois Rois Noirs and The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse in its emotional amplitude and its intellectual reach” (Francis Davis, Philadelphia Inquirer).

”Many of the advances and trends that have shaped jazz since the mid-1940's were first heard in music composed and arranged by George Russell, ” wrote New York Times reviewer Robert Palmer. The Village Voice's Jason Gross adds, “When Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor were honing their skills as sidemen in the 1950's, the composer-arranger George Russell was already changing the course of jazz with his music and the theory that grounds it.” Russell's seven-decade career and multi-faceted role in the evolution of modern jazz includes the composing of classic music (”Cubana Be/Cubana Bop, ” “All About Rosie, ” “Stratusphunk, ” and “Ezz-Thetic” to name a few), introducing what Gary Giddins calls an “all-embracing, self-sustaining system of modality” into jazz (his 1953 book Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization opened the door for modal jazz experiments by Miles Davis, John Coltrane and countless others), revolutionizing the language of the large jazz ensemble (with several ambitious, inclusive works for his various all-star orchestras), and influencing generations of young musicians as a groundbreaking educator at New England Conservatory for more than 30 years.

About George Russell:

He began his career in jazz as a drummer with saxophonist Benny Carter, who bought Russell's first tune “New World, ” in 1941, but quit the drums and moved to New York after Carter replaced him with Max Roach. Both Russell and Roach would soon become part of the legendary circle of musicians, which also included Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan among others, who gathered in the basement apartment of composer/arranger Gil Evans.

His long list of prominent sidemen is a who's who of modern jazz, including John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Max Roach, Eric Dolphy, Paul Bley, Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Guiffre, Sam Rivers, Joe Henderson, Paul Motian, Tony Williams, Don Cherry, Ron Carter, Steve Swallow, Art Farmer, Milt Hinton, Jon Hendricks, Don Ellis, Cameron Brown, Jan Garbarek, Eddie Gomez, Charlie Persip, Chuck Israels, and many others.

The list of musicians who have recorded his compositions/arrangements on their own records is equally impressive, and includes Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Bill Evans, Lee Konitz, Gil Evans, J.J. Johnson, Gerry Mulligan, Ran Blake, Grant Green, Buddy DeFranco, and Charlie Ventura among others. He also wrote for Earl Hines and arranged for Artie Shaw and Claude Thornhill.

His innovative musical approach to freeing improvisers from the limitations of traditional chord changes, first published as 1953's Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, was the culmination of a chance comment from Miles Davis (who told Russell he wanted to “learn all the chords”) and a 16-month hospital stay that followed, due to tuberculosis. During that long span of physical inactivity, he painstakingly explored centuries of music theory for answers to his musical questions. The result was a way of thinking about music that allows any musician to find his/her own identity and a drastic leap forward for the melodic diversity of modern jazz from the mid-1950's on.

His career as a composer first gained widespread notice with his landmark 1947 piece “Cubana Be/Cubana Bop” for Dizzy Gillespie, which introduced Afro-Cuban rhythms to jazz for the first time. Nine years later, he would make his first recording as a leader, 1956's seminal The Jazz Workshop (Bluebird). Other acclaimed early recordings include 1959's New York, New York (MCA), 1961's Ezz-Thetic and 1962's The Stratus Seekers, both on Original Jazz Classics. No longer content to write for a sextet by the late 1960's, he began writing larger and more ambitious works exclusively for his own jazz orchestras, with which he recorded such noted titles as 1978's New York Big Band (Soul Note), 1980's Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature (reissued on Soul Note) and 1983's African Game, one of the first titles issued on the then-newly-revived Blue Note label.

In 1969, he became a founding member of the groundbreaking New England Conservatory (NEC) Jazz Department faculty—the first of its kind at an American conservatory—where he taught composition as well as his own theories. He recently retired from active teaching at NEC as Distinguished Artist-in-Residence Emeritus and was awarded an honorary doctorate in May 2005. His legacy as an educator has also been recognized by his 1993 induction into DownBeat's Jazz Education Hall of Fame, among other honors.

His work and career have also been celebrated with a wide variety of other awards, including NEA Jazz Master (1990), MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1989), Guggenheim Fellowship (1969, 72), Foreign Member of The Royal Swedish Academy of Music (1997), The British Jazz Awards' Guardian Milestone Award (1989), and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' “George Russell Day” (1983).

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