Celebrating William Russo


Photograph by Victor Skrebneski

A notable teacher, author, conductor and musician is being celebrated at large this semester. The library is currently showcasing a William Russo exhibit on the first floor and on December 7th, there will be a panel discussion of Russo’s work and teachings as well as a benefit show at the Jazz Showcase. Proceeds will fund the William Russo Endowed Scholarship.

William Russo founded the Columbia College Center for New Music in 1965 and headed the department for 37 years. Russo grew up on the north side of Chicago and became a trombone player for the Stan Kenton Orchestra in 1950 fresh out of high school. He later became the orchestra’s composer.

He taught at Columbia from 1959 to 1960. During the 1961-1962 school year, Russo was a member of the school’s Board of Trustees. In 1962 he ventured to London, where he worked for the BBC and founded the London Jazz Orchestra. He produced various film scores and orchestras across America before returning to Columbia in 1965. At Columbia he arranged multimedia rock cantatas and formed the Chicago Free Theater. He worked with many famous musicians including Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. In 1991 he received the Lifetime Achievement award from the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Retiring in 2002, Russo continued to compose, conduct and work with the Chicago Ensemble up until his death in 2003. The mayor of Chicago named April 16th William Russo Day in Chicago to honor his strong involvement in the Chicago community.

Here are a couple Youtube video’s of Russo’s work, in which he blends classical music, blues and jazz.

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