Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Lydian Chromatic GEORGE RUSSELL Dies

When most people think of modern jazz, they think of monotonous riffs, irritating flip-flops of flats and sharps, and an audience of clueless white accountants in horn-rimmed glasses nodding their heads up and down while admiring the hostile blacks on stage that they'd avoid on the street.

Most people also think of jazz as an illiterate music form, all of it easily improvised. That's because they really don't know jazz, or legends such as George Russell, recently 86'd at the age of 86 (June 23, 1923 - July 27, 2009). The Illfolks image collages George young and old, enduring over so many decades.

George Russell, a drummer and pianist better known as a composer, arranger and band leader, wrote the book "The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization" in 1953. That's pretty heavy stuff for an orphan who grew up singing at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Cincinnati. He became fascinated with music theory and received a University scholarship. When tuberculosis prevented his service in World War II, as well as his drumming in Benny Carter's band, he devoted his time to composing jazz and putting the lid on his theory (Lydian, that is.)

While most "illiterate" jazz musicians could spin your brain dizzy in tossing off references to diminished fifths and major vs minor tonalities, Russell awed them with the book, and the new bebop music he was creating (much of it while toiling as a salesman in Macy's).

By the mid 50's he was leading top stars for recording sessions, and use royalties to quit his day job and make music his life. He spent the 60's fronting his George Russell Sextet, mostly in jazz-loving Europe. He returned to America in the 70's to teach his jazz theories at the New England Conservatory of Music, while continuing to compose. "The African Game" (1985) was a major Grammy-nominated work, but he was active well into the 1990's.

Should you have an inquiring set of ears and dangling lobes, below is your introduction to Mr. Russell's world. Which isn't to say it'll change your opinion if you find modern jazz irritating after 3 minutes. Still, it's a tasty assortment of Jazz Workshop tracks credited to the George Russell Smalltet, a catch-all name for various players who sat in on sessions in 1956, including Bill Evans on piano, with, among other top names, Art Farmer, Teddy Kotick, Milt Hinton and Joe Harris. You can hear, on so many tracks, how intricate the arrangements are, and the musicianship involved in following those charts.

Tracks include: Ye Hypocrite, Ye Beelzebub, Jack's Blues, Livingstone I Presume, Ezz-Thetic, Night Sound, Round Johnny Rondo, Fellow Delegates, Witch Hunt, The Sad Sergeant, Knights of the Steamtable, Concerto for Billy the Kid, and Ballad of Hix Blewitt.
GEORGE RUSSELL compilation

1 comment:

Napi said...

Oh what a pity it does not work!
Would ask you out very boldly re-raise?
I am very interested in this player.
Thanks anyway.
Greetings from El Cielo Y El Dedo