Jazz composer George Russell, a MacArthur fellow whose theories influenced the modal music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, has died.
His publicist says Russell, who taught at the New England Conservatory, died Monday in Boston at age 86 of complications from Alzheimer’s.
Russell was born in Cincinnati in 1923 and attended Wilberforce University. He played drums in Benny Carter’s band and later wrote “Cubano Be/Cubano Bop” for Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra. It premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1947 and was the first fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz.
Russell developed the Lydian concept in 1953. It’s credited as the first theoretical contribution to come from jazz, and was responsible for introducing modal improvisation which resulted in the seminal recording of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.”