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George Russell

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George Russell (born 1923 in Cincinnati, died in Boston in 2009, at age 86) was a composer, theorist, conductor, and drummer who was the primary force behind the creation of .

Russell was a drummer in Benny Carter’s band in the early 1940s; he was replaced by Max Roach and, after hearing Roach play, decided to give up drumming. He moved to New York, and was one of a group of musicians who met in the apartment of Gil Evans (these included Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan, Max Roach, Johnny Carisi and sometimes Charlie Parker. In 1947, Russell was commissioned to write a piece for Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra; he wrote Cubano Be/Cubano Bop which was the first fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz.

Russell’s big breakthrough came while he was hospitalized for tuberculosis for 16 months in the early 1950s. Russell had asked Miles Davis what his musical goals were, and Davis replied “to learn all of the changes”. Since Miles obviously already knew all the chord changes, Russell took this to mean that he wanted a new way to relate to chords. The result was The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, first published in 1953, which opened the way for such as Kind of Blue. Russell’s Lydian Chromatic theory is a major piece of music theory which has had a significant impact on music both within and outside of jazz.

Russell led several influential groups during 1950s, 60s, and 70s, which included Bill Evans, Bob Brookmeyer, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal, and many others.

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