George Russell Day

June 23, 1923 – July 27, 2009


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Pianist, composer, arranger, and theorist George Allen Russell was born on June 23, 1923 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

He grew up immersed in music hearing the music played on Ohio River riverboats and in the African Methodist Church where he sang in the choir from a young age.

Sickened with tuberculosis during WW II, he spent his time in the hospital learning music theory. After the war, in NYC, he was part of the group (Miles, Charlie Parker etc) who spent time at the home/studio of Gil Evans.

About Russell’s innovations in music theory:

It was a remark made by Miles Davis in 1945 when Russell asked him his musical aim that led Russell on a quest which was to become his life’s work. Davis answered that his musical aim was “to learn all the changes.” Knowing that Davis already knew how to arpeggiate each chord, Russell reasoned that he really meant that he wanted to find a new and broader way to relate to chords.

Russell codified the modal approach to harmony…inspired by a casual remark the eighteen-year-old Miles Davis made to him in 1944: Miles said he wanted to learn all the changes and I reasoned he might try to find the closest scale for every chord…Davis popularised those liberating ideas in recordings like Kind of Blue, undermining the entire harmonic foundation of bop that had inspired him and Russell in the first place.

Miles reportedly summarized the LCC succinctly by saying, “F should be where middle C is on the piano” [white notes: F-F = lydian, rather than major = C-C].

Russell’s theory proposes the concept of playing jazz based on scales or a series of scales (modes) rather than chords or harmonies. The Lydian Chromatic Concept explored the vertical relationship between chords and scales, and was the first codified original theory to come from jazz. Russell’s ideas influenced the development of modal jazz, notably in the album Jazz Workshop (1957, with Bill Evans and featuring the “Concerto for Billy the Kid”) as well as his writings; Evans later introduced the concepts to other members of Miles Davis’s working band, which employed them in recordings beginning with the album Kind of Blue.

His Lydian Concept has been described as making available resources rather than imposing constraints on musicians.[10] “The Lydian Chromatic Concept is one of the two most splendid books about music; the other is My Musical Language by Messiaen. Though I’m considered a contemporary music composer, if I dare categorize myself as an artist, I’ve been strongly influenced by the Lydian Concept, which is not simply a musical method—we might call it a philosophy of music, or we might call it poetry.”

The major scale probably emerged as the predominating scale of Western music, because within its seven tones lies the most fundamental harmonic progression of the classical era….thus, the major scale resolves to its tonic major chord. The Lydian scale is the sound of its tonic major chord.

– Wikipedia


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