Thursday, July 22, 2010
"THE LOPE SONG"
Eddie Russ was an impressive jazz keyboardist-composer-arranger who worked with numerous legends through several decades, including Sonny Stitt, Sarah Vaughn, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Roland Kirk, Hank Mobley, Cal Tjader, and Clark Terry, among many others. Russ came into his own in the 1970s with trend-setting excursions into jazz-funk that mirrored James Brown’s forays into hip-hop and dance.
Since the 70s his commercial fame in England eclipsed that earned in the U.S., but his dedication and contribution to jazz in Michigan is a career highlight he cherished the most. Russ earned awards from the Michigan Council for Arts (1986), "Best Keyboardist" by Arts Midwest (1986), and his trio made a cameo appearance in the motion picture "American Beauty, Ltd.", winner of the 1990 Berlin Film Festival.
Russ, born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, started piano lessons at age 11 and made his performing debut at 14. His teenage music activities included sitting in at all the jazz clubs with almost any artist who came through town. A popular hangout came to be the Musicians Club, where he credited learning jazz from major name figures.
His career took a major turn for three years in Traverse City at the Park Place Hotel, playing with bassist Mike Grace and drummer David Koether. There, Russ honed his creative hand and developed a bankable collection of original compositions. After the Park Place gig ended, Russ journeyed back to Albion to form the group Mixed Bag, with Koether, bassist Ron Brooks, saxophonist Larry Nozero, guitarist Jerry Glassell, and drummer Danny Spencer.
Russ’s Mixed Bag playtime fortuitously created opportunities to record five albums with legendary alto saxman Sonny Stitt (then, a Saginaw transplant from Boston), including "Portrait of a Legend" (Jazz Masters), and three solo albums for the Monument label ("Take A Look At Yourself," "See The Light"). His seminal 1974 album, Fresh Out (Soul Jazz Records) with the hit jazz-funk single, "The Lope Song," took Europe by storm.
Russ died in 1996 after an extended bout with chronic kidney failure. Below, an MP3 of "The Lope Song."
(Courtesy the Eddie Russ page preserved online at the Flint Jazz Festival)