Celebrating the Life and Legacy of William Russo


 Columbia College Chicago Honors Legendary Chicago Renaissance Man with Symposium and Concert

CHICAGO (June 25, 2013) – Columbia College Chicago presents Celebrating William Russo: Artist and Educator, a tribute to the life and legacy of one of the seminal figures in Chicago’s music, theater and educational communities on December 7.

The event includes panel discussions on Russo’s legacy in music at Columbia College’s Concert Hall, 1014 S. Michigan, from 2–5 p.m. The discussion will be followed by a special benefit concert of Russo’s music at the Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct., at 6 p.m.

Celebrating William Russo marks the 10th anniversary of Bill Russo’s passing by exploring the richness of his life as an artist and educator,” says Richard Dunscomb, chair of the Music Department at Columbia College Chicago. “Bill Russo founded the Columbia College music program in 1965. He believed in an educational program that developed professional skills and craft grounded in the context of broad cultural awareness of the arts and humanities.”

The concert features the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble conducted by Scott Hall, with special guest artists, including blues harmonica virtuoso Corky Siegel, a long-time Russo collaborator. Admission to the concert is $50. Proceeds benefit the William Russo Endowed Scholarship at Columbia College, which provides financial assistance for music students in professional studies. The admission includes a pre-concert reception at 6 p.m. at the Jazz Showcase. A second set with the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble at 10 p.m. costs $20. For concert tickets please call 312-369-8330. For additional information please visit http://www.colum.edu/Russo.

The free panel discussions features, musicians, actors, choreographers, filmmakers, critics and educators reflecting on Russo’s career as a composer in the areas of jazz, symphonic music, opera, dance, cinema, and music theatre, and on the crucial role in the development of Columbia College and the college’s Music Department. Audio and video excerpts from Russo’s music and live performances will also be presented.

Russo (1928-2003) worked with many distinguished collaborators in his career, including jazz bandleaders Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton; classical conductors Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, and Yehudi Menuhin; instrumentalists Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderly, Larry Adler, Benny Carter, Lennie Tristano, Maynard Ferguson, Corky Siegel, and Orbert Davis; and vocalists Billie Holiday, Annie Ross, and Cleo Laine. Russo wrote ground-breaking orchestral scores for the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the 1950s, including “23 Degrees N 82 Degrees W,” “Frank Speaking,” and “Portrait of a Count.”

Russo was instrumental in the development of Chicago’s internationally acclaimed Off-Loop Theatre movement in the late 1960s. He founded and directed Chicago Free Theater, which spawned sister companies in Baltimore and San Francisco and also performed Off-Broadway and in London. In 1969, Russo teamed up with Second City co-founder Paul Sills and community activist Rev. Jim Shiflett to establish the Body Politic Theatre, one of the first professional Off-Loop theatres in Chicago.

His 1968 “rock cantata” The Civil War, a politically charged multimedia piece for soloists, chorus, dancers, and rock band, paralleled the American Civil War and the martyrdom of President Lincoln with the turbulent civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

He was hired as Columbia College’s first full-time faculty member in 1965, and served as the first chair of the Music Department and until his retirement in 2002. At Columbia College he founded the Center for New Music. His distinguished roster of students included Oscar-winning film composers John Barry (Goldfinger, Out of Africa) and Fred Karlin (The Sterile Cuckoo) and theatre composers Richard Peaslee (Marat/Sade) and Mark Hollmann (Urinetown).

In the 1960s, Russo founded the London Jazz Orchestra and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble. He restarted the Chicago Jazz Ensemble in 1991, and it quickly became one of the most important repertory jazz ensembles in the nation. In 1990, Russo received a Lifetime Achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Columbia College Chicago is an urban institution that offers innovative degree programs in the visual, performing, media and communication arts for nearly 11,000 students in 120 undergraduate and graduate programs. An arts and media college committed to a rigorous liberal arts curriculum, Columbia is dedicated to opportunity and excellence in higher education. For further information, visit www.colum.edu.


Media Contacts:

Steve Kauffman, 312.369.7383, skauffman@colum.edu

Erin Purdy, 312.369.8695, epurdy@colum.edu