George Russell: Adventures In Tonality

George Russell has passed. Make sure you have Ezz-Thetics, The Stratus Seekers, and The Outer View handy for the next week or so.

Above is a clip of  “Concerto for Billy the Kid” (Billy being Mr. Evans) and a rather formal chat about the composer-conceptualist’s ideas. He never wanted his charts to lose the “earthiness” of jazz. Start the action at 5:45.

Allan Chase, the Berklee College of Music’s Ear Training Chair, and a  terrific reed player, is an associate and friend of Russell’s. He’s chosen and annotated three key pieces from the composer-arranger’s canon.

“Jack’s Blues” – George Russell Jazz Workshop
Every track on this legendary (but often out-of-print) collection is a
masterpiece. This one gives me more chills than the others, though.
Incredible control of shifting moods, counterpoint, dissonant blues
feeling…and this nocturnal aspect of George’s writing seems to have been
a huge influence on film and television composers of the late ’50s and
early ’60s, as well as jazz musicians.

“Cubana Be, Cubana Bop” – Dizzy Gillespie with Chano Pozo
A shockingly innovative piece at the very beginning of his
writing career, and a powerful sociopolitical statement. Before this,
aside from the Ellington band, few artists were acknowledging the African diaspora
and cultural unity, or treating Afro-Cuban music with real respect.
Gillespie, Pozo, and Russell not only introduced Afro-Cuban
jazz, but the whole idea of fusing jazz, world-traditional musics, and
20th-century harmony. People are still working on that triangular
relationship 60+ years later.

“Chromatic Universe, Part 2,” from Jazz in the Space Age
He united Bill Evans and Paul Bley, and set up a structured
improvisation that still sounds incredibly fresh today. Like a great film director, he was often able to get inspired performances out of people.The writing here is another step beyond. (Bley’s account of this interaction with Evans, told in his two biographies, is fascinating. See: Time Will Tell, Norman Meehan, p. 63; Stopping Time, Paul Bley with David Lee, p. 72

Five More Key Tracks (Chosen by Chase):


“All About Rosie” (check Darcy James Argue’s celebration of this piece)


“You Are My Sunshine”

“New York, New York”

“The African Game”


Joe Berkovitz on George Russell

Josh Roseman on George Russell (FaceBook page)

Make the jump for a Russell chat with Ornette, where he posits that “the heart is the highest kind of intelligence.”

One response to “George Russell: Adventures In Tonality

  1. I never knew the part about the tuberculosis ward. amazing. thanks for pulling this together Jim.

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