Bassist and violinist who served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War in Jacksonville, Florida, and after his tour of duty, acquainted himself with pianist Ross Tompkins. The two of them moved to New York and hooked up with drummer Ron Lundberg. The three of them were so good together, they were frequently hired as the rhythm section for recording sessions with fellow jazz musicians such as Joe Newman. They performed with some of the big names of the era, including Bobby Hackett, Al Hirt, and Zoot Sims. Their most unusual gig may have been christening Icelandic Airlines’ new hotel. They were also the last house band to play at the now-defunct Embers West.
The work started to dry up and they found themselves playing gigs in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, with Reverend John Gensel before landing a gig on The Tonight Show. Unfortunately, it was a bittersweet television date, as Johnny Carson and Doc Severinsen scooped up Ross Tompkins for full-time duty in the band.
Ron and Russell hooked up with Marshall Brown and Pee Wee Russell to form a jazz quartet. They rehearsed tirelessly before finally making their official debut in October of 1962, a year that saw them release their first album, New Groove. In 1963, Kai Winding drafted Russell into service on his Solo album, and the following year, on Rainy Day. Russell also had his own sextet, and they played At Beethoven Hall with Don Cherry in 1965. Somehow he found time to moonlight with The Roger Kellaway Trio in the same year, and appear on another album with Pee Wee Russell, Ask Me Now!. In 1966, he performed bass duties on Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis’s Lock, the Fox. Fast-forward to 17th September 1968: Russell appeared with Woody Herman & His Orchestra at the Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, California, and the performance was immortalized on the long-playing record, Concerto for Herd. In 1969, Russell appeared on David Frishberg’s Oklahoma Toad and the J.J. Johnson-Kai Winding collaboration, Betwixt & Between.
He opened the 1970s with Astrud Gilberto and Stanley Turrentine on the aptly titled Gilberto with Turrentine, and Turrentine also used his services on Salt Song. Likewise, Gary McFarland and Peter Smith hired him to lay down the bass lines on Butterscotch Rum, recorded in 1971. In 1972, he helped Bob Frank take the Pledge of Allegiance and popped up on Paul Simon’s eponymous debut. Judy Collins whisked him away for True Stories and Other Dreams in 1973, and his career as a session man was in full bore. In 1974, he accompanied Barry Manilow on Barry Manilow II and saw the fruits of his labors with Duke Ellington released on Ellingtonia: The Impulse Years, Vol. 2, a collection of recordings spanning 1962-1973. One of his early violin credits is on Janis Ian’s 1975 release, Between the Lines. He switched back to bass for Joe Newman’s Way Down Blues and appeared on Libby Titus’s self-titled album in 1977. In 1978, he found himself playing bass for the likes of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on the Sesame Street album, On the Street Where We Live – Block Party!. He rounded out the decade on Larry Applewhite’s self-titled album and Frank Sinatra’s 1979 boxed set, Trilogy.
As his career evolved, he gravitated more and more to the violin. On 5th July 1987, he appeared in concert with the Bill and George Simon Swing Group at Red Blazer Too in New York.
Albums he appeared on in the 1990s include Bending Towards the Light – A Jazz Nativity, Groovy, Vol. 2: A Collection of Rare Jazzy Club Tracks, This is Jazz, Vol. 29: Bossa Nova, Terry Blaine’s Too Hot for Words and Bill Watrous’s Live at the Blue Note.
The new millennium saw the re-release of much of Russell’s work on CD re-packagings, such as The Very Best of July Collins, Cast of Characters: The Rupert Holmes Songbook, and the Peter, Paul & Mary boxed set, Carry it On. In Christmas 2005, he reprised his “role” as violinist in a live production of Bending Towards the Light – A Jazz Nativity. In 2006, he recorded the tribute album, Remembering Mabel Mercer, Vol. 3, with Joyce Breach, and appeared on the retrospective, The House that Trane Built – The Story of Impulse Records.
On 29th October 2007, he played violin with the Peck Allmond Quintet and Ed Reed at the Jazz Standard in New York, New York. He was also the featured artist at New York’s National Art Club on 23rd May 2008 for Les Lieber’s “Jazz at Noon” program. Two months later, he re-joined Peck Allmond at the Jazz Standard, in support of Ed Reed’s 2008 release, The Song is You. Russell George continues to perform live, and has been known to play free concerts with Bill Wurtzel at Roth’s Westside Steakhouse in New York.
Frank Sinatra recordings
That’s What God Looks Like To Me (Stan Irvin/Lan O’Kun)
Reprise RPS 49233 (XNY2101S) (US 45)
Theme from “New York, New York” (Fred Ebb/John Kander)
Reprise RPS49233 (XNY 2103 S) (US 45)
Here he is playing violin with Gary Starling and others..