Thursday, July 30, 2009

RIP George Russell

Darcy and Allen Chase have good posts on George, so I'll just add a little.

Like Darcy, I heard "All About Rosie" in high school, on a Mulligan CD I happened into, and it blew me away. Just typing the title I snap into the theme of the third movement. It's at once so busy and so clear, every note exactly where it's supposed to be. And though George could be pretty heady and erudite when he was teaching, and I know a lot of theoretical thought went into his music, it always grooves, which is a testament to just how good he was.

I got to take a class with George at NEC in 2001. I will freely admit that I hated the class- George was struggling with health issues and his hearing was very poor, and he was surrounded by assistants who had all of his certainty and even hubris about the Lydian Chromatic Concept (which I don't pretend to understand at all to this day) with only a fraction of his talent. It was awkward, and I think of it as the most frustrating academic experience I've ever had- it was clear that there was sooo much information and wisdom George had to share, but at that point the roadblocks were just too many. And the only "concept" in jazz that confuses me more than Harmelodics is the Lydian Chromatic Concept. That said, I want the music it produced.

George had a unique capacity as a teacher to turn a big band on- I saw him conduct his music twice with NEC bands. Both times I heard beforehand how difficult the music was and how chaotic everything seemed. And both times I saw George seemingly will the band into a spectacular performance. In and era where too many college bands are perfect and antiseptic, the grit and greatness he brought to the bandstand is sorely missed.

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