William Russo (musician)

William Russo (musician)

William Russo, better known as Bill Russo (June 25, 1928January 11, 2003) was an American jazz musician. He is considered one of the greatest jazz composers and arrangers. He wrote ground breaking orchestral scores for the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the 1950s. One of the more famous works he wrote for the Kenton Orchestra is "Halls Of Brass," specially composed for the brass section, without woodwinds or percussion. The section recording this piece, featured such jazz artists as Buddy Childers, Maynard Ferguson and Milt Bernhart, was much-respected by symphony brass musicians.

In the beginning of the 1960s Russo moved to England, where he founded the London Jazz Orchestra. He was a contributor to the Third Stream movement that tried to close the gap between jazz and classical music. He returned to his native city in 1965, where he founded Columbia College's music department and became the director of its Center for New Music, as well as the college's first full-time faculty member. He was also the Director of Orchestral Studies at Scuola Europea d’Orchestra Jazz in Palermo, Italy.

Not just writing for jazz ensembles, Russo also composed classical music, including operas, symphonies, and cantatas, as well as a rock cantata "(The Civil War)," often mixing elements of different genres.

His 1959 "Symphony No. 2 in C (TITANS)" received a Koussevitsky award, and marked his entrance into the classical-music world. It was performed by the New York Philharmonic that year with Leonard Bernstein conducting (Bernstein had commissioned the piece). The 1971 album that included Russo's "Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra" became one of Deutsche Grammophon's top-selling records of all time, with its performance by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, with Seiji Ozawa conducting and the Siegel-Schwall Band. (Ozawa had premiered "Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra" with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Siegel-Schwall Band in 1968.) The success prompted the label to release Russo's "Street Music, A Blues Concerto" in 1979, featuring Corky Siegel on harmonica.

As part of his work with Columbia College, he started the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, which was dedicated to preserving and expanding jazz. However a few years later this ensemble was disbanded, but was fully reborn in 1991 and continues to this day. (Russo appeared with the band in the week before his death.) After a bout with cancer, Russo retired as chair of the Columbia College Music Department in 2002.

Russo was also well known as a trombonist and composition teacher. Among his famous pupils (via correspondence course) was film composer John Barry.

In addition to composing, arranging, conducting, playing, and teaching, he also authored three respected books on music: "Composing for the Jazz Orchestra" (1973, University of Chicago Press, plus a workbook for the book in 1978); "Jazz Composition and Orchestration" (1968, 1974, pbk 1997, University of Chicago Press); and "Composing Music: A New Approach," written with Jeffrey Ainis and David Stevenson, Russo's former students (1983, Prentice Hall; 1988, University of Chicago Press).

Overall, Russo composed more than 200 pieces for jazz orchestra, and there were more than 30 recordings of his work. His five-decade career included work with Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, Cannonball Adderley, Yehudi Menuhin, Dizzy Gillespie, Seiji Ozawa, Billie Holiday, and others.

In 1990, he received a Lifetime Achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the organization that presents the Grammy Awards.

External links

* [http://www.jazzhouse.org/gone/lastpost2.php3?edit=1042564422 Obituary Bill Russo at the Jazz House]
* [http://www.chijazz.com/russo.asp Russo biography from the Chicgo Jazz Ensemble website]
* [http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/williamrussonewapproach Yahoo Group for those studying the Russo Composing Music A New Approach book]
* [http://www2.colum.edu/oralhistory/vol._1-3/Russo%20W.pdf William Russo interview Columbia College 1998]
* [http://sgs.lpi.org.uk/seagreensingers/theisland The Island is a jazz opera commisioned and broadcast in the 60's on radio themed on events in Garcia Diego written by William Russo, words Adrian Mitchell performed by the Russo Orchestra sung by Cleo Lane and Denis Quilley]

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