Jazz Musician, Composer, Theorist. An influential figure for generations of jazz masters, he secured his place in music history with his theoretical book "The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization" (1953). Raised in Cincinnati, he was drawn to music early, singing "Moon Over Miami" with the legendary Fats Waller at age seven. Later he attended Wilberforce University. Russell was attempting to join the Marine Corps in 1941 when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis on his entrance physical; a six month hospitalization followed, during which he was taught the fundamentals of harmony by a fellow patient. After his release, he sold "New World", his first composition, to Benny Carter, then played drums in Carter's ensemble. A relapse of his tuberculosis lead to a 16-month hospital stay in 1945 and 1946. It was during this time that Russell developed the Lydian concept, a theory of harmony based on jazz (rather than European forms), which recognizes the affinity of the fifth note of a scale with the base note of a chord. He wrote "Cubana Be/Cubana Bop" for Dizzy Gillespie, and, thru the late 1950s, played piano with several groups, including those of Art Farmer and Bill Evans, while arranging and composing for Artie Shaw, Gillespie, and others. Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, and John Coltrane were to adopt his theories for the groundbreaking albums "Milestones" (1958) and "Kind of Blue" (1959). From 1960 to 1963 he toured with his Russell Sextet, then lived in Scandanavia for five years, working with a generation of European jazz musicians. Returning to America, he was a professor at the New England Conservatory of Music from 1969 until 2004. During the 1970s, he was to produce his most noted compositions, including "Listen to the Silence" (1970), "Living Time" (1972), and "The African Game". His honors were several: a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" in 1989, designation as a "Jazz Master" by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1990, and, in 2007, recognition by the Kennedy Center as one of 33 "living jazz legends". In 2001, he published a second volume of theory, "The Art and Science of Tonal Gravity". Russell died of Alzheimer's Disease. In addition to the countless recordings he influenced, he leaves several as a performer, including "Jazz Workshop" (1956) and "Ezz-Thetrics" (1961). Of his art, he said: "If America has a future, jazz has a future. The two are inseparable".
Bio by: Bob Hufford