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George Russell: The Quiet Force Behind Modern Jazz

George Russell, the composer, theorist and pianist who passed away Monday night at the age of 86, helped shape the sound of jazz as we know it today.

George Russell

Photo: album art

George Russell, "Complete Bluebird Recordings"

George Russell, the composer, theorist and pianist whose Lydian Chromatic concept helped give birth to the modal-jazz movement of the late 1950s, passed away this Monday evening at the age of 86.

The composer had been ill for some time with Alzheimer’s. Jazz.com‘s bio of Russell (see below) provides good insight into why he had such a profound effect on modern jazz; not much noted beyond the world of artists and aficionados, he was an unsung hero of the music. To call him “the father of Kind of Blue” may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not too far from the truth.

George Russell On Night Lights

To hear some of Russell’s mid-1950s music, check out the Night Lights show The Jazz Workshops. Several years ago, I also devoted a Night Lights program to the progressive-bop group that Russell led with David Baker at the beginning of the 1960s: When Russell Met Baker.

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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