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Jazz Feature for Nov.5:THE GEORGE RUSSELL SEXTET:"EZZ-THETICS".
BEFORE WE GET INTO A DESCRIPTION OF THE JAZZ FEATURE, I REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT THE PODCAST OF LAST WEEK'S JAZZ SHOW(OCT.29) IS NOT AVAILABLE DESPITE BEING UP ON THE CITR WEBSITE, THIS SITE, ITUNES ETC. UNBEKNOWNST TO ANYONE THE PODCAST SERVER WHICH PROVIDES THE AUDIO HAD CRASHED AND ALL PODCASTED SHOWS ON CITR BETWEEN 6AM MONDAY (OCT 29) AND 10AM TUESDAY (OCT 30) CAN BE DOWNLOADED BUT BECAUSE OF THE CRASH....THE AUDIO IS ABSENT AND CANNOT BE RETRIEVED. IT HAS SINCE BEEN FIXED AND WILL BE UP AND RUNNING FOR THIS WEEK'S JAZZ SHOW.
George Alan Russell was one of the pioneers of Modern Jazz but is probably the hardest to assess because of his position as a theorist/arranger/composer rather than like Monk,Gillespie and Parker et al., a performer.
George Russell was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on June 6, 1923 and is still alive. George was raised by his foster parents in a musical family and was soon playing the piano and especially the drums. He was a fine music student and was fascinated by Jazz very early in his life. He began playing professionally while in High School and received a scholarship to Wilberforce University and joined a fine semi-pro band called the 'Collegians' that contained many future Jazz stars like Frank Foster and Ernie Wilkins. Russell, unfortunately contracted T.B. and was confined to a sanitorium where he was able to study arranging. He was only 19. Once out of confinement he joined alto saxophonist, Benny Carter's fine band and began writing and arranging and playing drums with that group. By this time he had developed into a fine, innovative drummer and formed a lasting friendship with Max Roach. He had arrived in New York with Carter and was stimulated by the new sounds of Bird, Dizzy, etc. His health began to break once again and he relinquished his drumming job to Max Roach in Carter's band. Just then, Charlie Parker asked Russell to join his band but Russell was not well enough and had to spent 16 months in a New York hospital. It was during this confinement that Russell wrote and conceived his momentous theory book called 'The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization' which saw publication in 1953 and his been studied by most major players from Miles Davis to Coltrane and Rollins to Eric Dolphy and so on. It is used in many academies and has been constantly updated and revised by Russell. After his 16 month hospital stay Russell concentrated on playing the piano and composing and arranging. He wrote 'Cubano Be/ Cubano Bop' for Dizzy's innovative band in 1947. He then wrote a piece that he considered his most important to date in 1949 when he wrote 'A Bird in Igor's Yard' for Buddy DeFranco's band. Russell continued to write for Miles Davis, Lee Konitz but it wasn't until 1956 when he recorded a whole slew of compositions featuring great players for RCA Victor on an album called 'George Russell: The Jazz Workshop'. Trumpeter, Art Farmer, alto saxophonist Hal McKusick, a young Bill Evans, bassist Milt Hinton and drummers, Joe Harris, Osie Johnson and Paul Motian and others were part of Russell's hand-picked crew. This album is essential and should be included in anyone's list of 100 definitive Jazz recordings. These recordings brought Russell's concepts and style to full fruition and still sound so modern today. Another defining moment for Russell was his commission to write a work for the 1957 Brandeis Festival of the Arts. The others were Charles Mingus, Jimmy Giuffre, Gunther Schuller and two 'classical' composers, Harold Shapero and Milton Babbitt. Russell's 'All About Rosie' was again a momentous work which featured one of Bill Evans' most innovative solos. It can be found on a Columbia Legacy CD called "The Birth of The Third Stream"......again it still sounds so fresh to today's ears.
After all this activity Russell formed a working band where he played piano and wrote new works for his sextet. Some rare albums for Decca were made in the early 60's('The George Russell Sextet in K.C.' and 'The George Russell Sextet at the Five Spot')....neither of these were 'live' recordings but were done in the studio while or after the band's live engagements. They are timeless and so are his large group recordings (again for Decca), 'New York, New York' and 'Jazz in the Space Age'. It wasn't until Orrin Keepnews signed Russell to a contract at Riverside Records that George began to receive wider recognition as a composer/bandleader/pianist. All of his albums for Riverside are important and can be found on the OJC label run by The Concord Music Group (formally Fantasy Inc.). This leads us to tonight's Jazz Feature.
Recently re-released on the 'Keepnews Collection' "Ezz-thetics" is my favourite of all Russell's Riverside output. The new reissue has the usual updated and perceptive and historically significant notes by the redoubtable Mr. Keepnews and has two previously unissued bonus tracks as well. Russell's bands fluctuated with different players but always sounded so modern and creative but this edition of the sextet was special because it had Eric Dolphy playing alto and bass clarinet. Dolphy joined for a few months and made this album with Don Ellis on trumpet, who was later to make his mark as a bandleader, David Baker on trombone,the wonderful and forgotten drummer Joe Hunt and the recording debut of Steve Swallow, playing accoustic bass make this a once in a lifetime session. Dolphy's energy and creativity make this recording significant but Ellis is on fire as well and this was to be the last recording by David Baker on trombone who as Keepnews says sounds both avant-guard and funky at the same time. Baker was playing with a dislocated jaw and right after this recording had an operation and switched from trombone to cello. Baker to this day is one of the leading educators in Jazz and classical music. Russell's piano is spare like Monk's and is so effective in solo and the fills for the horn players. The title track is an exciting and updated composition that Russell wrote for Miles and Lee Konitz in the early 50's and dedicated to the great Jazz loving prize fighter Ezzard Charles, hence the title,'Ezz-thetic'. The other highlight of this recording is one of the most unique versions of Monk's ''Round Midnight'. There are so many highlights to this album that one should hear it all and marvel at the very contemporary concept and sound of this March 1961 date.
Russell is still with us and has had many honours over the years including the so-called McArthur 'Genius' award and still teaches and occasionally leads an ensemble. But George Russell will be mostly remembered for his innovative music from 1956 to 1964 with his groups and especially tonight's Feature......'Ezz-thetics' by his Sextet. Join me for the whole show starting at 9pm and stay for the Feature at 11pm....see you then.
Gavin Walker's The Jazz Show is heard Mondays 9PM to midnight on CITR 101.9 FM and online.
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