Thursday, August 18, 2005

George Russell

I ran across this article about George Russell today. I've long been a big fan of his music and his harmonic conceptions. His Lydian Chromatic Theory of Tonal Organization has shaped many of my own ideas and was particularly valuable when I decided to return to the scale as a conceptual framework after a long spell of atonal/tone-row based approaches to harmony.

I once met George Russell briefly in Philadelphia after a concert. I remember that concert well, four works by four composers that have had a strong pull on me: George Russell, James Tenney, Stephen Montague and Alvin Curran. I shook Russell's hand and took some satisfaction in crossing paths with this mind who had set fire to my imagination with The Stratus Seekers and inspired my practice of polytonally imposing one scale over another in jazz piano improvisation. Leaning on that augmented fourth in a major tonality context was a quick way to avoid the problematic, and "square," sound of that perfect fourth that jars against the major third even as a passing tone. Building outward toward Augmented Lydian scales or referencing a tonic a tritone away from the implied root of a given context also proved to be a great way to sound "out" yet consistent relative to the prevailing harmonic terrain. This appealed to my modal sensibilities while still striking a degree of chromatic sophistication.

I look forward to hearing his new 2-CD of live music from his 80th birthday celebration a couple years back. Now retired from teaching at the New England Conservatory (where he established their jazz department) where he helped advance the study of jazz composition and theory I suspect he's just beginning to receive the accolades his lifetime of creative work deserves.

The unusual combination of Russell's theories with the just intonation of Harry Partch is exactly the harmonic territory I wish to explore. My own "Scale of the Day" activities is an outgrowth of my studies of Russell's theories. Harmony is expansive and Russell is a great innovator in building outward along this parameter.

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