The Troy Street Observer

June 18, 1983: Premiere of George Russell’s “African Game”

Photo of George Russell
Russell’s publicity photo from The African Game

“The African Game,” performed by George Russell and the Living Time Orchestra, was a major event, perhaps the most important event in Boston jazz in 1983.

Russell, who died in 2009, was a giant in music. He was a pianist, composer, arranger, teacher (over 30 years at the New England Conservatory of Music), and theorist. Russell received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and two Guggenheim Fellowships, was named a National Endowment for the Arts American Jazz Master, and garnered numerous other honors and awards. And although this musical pioneer was lionized abroad, he was strangely ignored at home.

Jazz fans might recognize Russell as composer of “Cubano Be/Cubano Bop,” and the artist behind 1950s recordings like The Jazz Workshop and New York, N.Y. Jazz musicians know him for defining the principles of the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, a theory that I will not attempt to define. He was a formative voice in the Third Stream movement, and Gunther Schuller brought him to the New England Conservatory in 1969, where he remained for the rest of his career.

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