Lydia in Oz
The reception of George Russell in 1960s Australia
Keywords:Australian Jazz, George Russell, Bryce Rohde, Jazz Analysis and History
With the recent publication of studies about Miles Davis’s recordings such as Kind of Blue (Williams, 2012) and of his quintet featuring Wayne Shorter (Waters 2011), George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept Of Tonal Organization (2001) has been re-instated as a core influence in the evolution of jazz in the 1960s and particularly on the use of modes as a basis for improvisation and composition. Unfortunately, Russell’s achievements are narrowed by the prism of the celebrity of Kind of Blue (1959) to a systematisation of the relationship between chords and scales. By shifting our attention away from this narrow con-sideration of modal jazz and towards what is probably the earliest example of music influ-enced by Russell’s Lydian Concept outside of the USA, that of Australian pianist Bryce Rohde, I propose a different reading of Russell’s influence, which is less concerned with modes than with providing a coherent field for the blooming of a chromatic approach to im-provisation and composition. This paper begins with an overview (based on journal/magazine sources) of the recep-tion of Russell’s musical and theoretical work in 1960s Australia. Rohde’s acknowledgement of Russell’s influence brought the LCCOTO to the attention of fellow Australian musicians. The overview is followed by a musical analysis of key works by Bryce Rohde, which shows the variety of approaches, the structural complexity and chromaticism allowed by the LCCO-TO. In a final part we will see that Rohde’s band members (contemporary and historic inter-views) continued to pursue Russell’s Concept: one explored foreign scales and Eastern influ-ences while another developed further approaches to structures and harmony. Studying Aus-tralian jazz in the 1960s has provided evidence of the extensive influence of Russell, affords a re-evaluation of usual conceptions of the evolution of jazz harmony. This paper also opens up general lines of enquiry as to how exactly Russell’s ideas fit into the broader history of jazz innovation.
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