MacArthur Fellows Program

George Russell

Composer and Music Theorist | Class of 1989

Composer and Music Theorist
Boston, Massachusetts
66 at time of award
July 27, 2009
Published August 1, 1989

About George's Work

George Russell was a composer, a music theorist, an educator, and a conductor.

Russell pioneered the investigation of contemporary modal harmony. His book, The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization: The Art and Science of Tonal Gravity (1953; 4th ed., 2001), provided the theoretical foundations for the Lydian Concept, a theory of music that has influenced the work of many twentieth-century composers and improvisers. Using the Lydian Scale as the primary scale of Western music, the concept introduced the idea of chord/scale unity. It was the first theory to explore the vertical relationship between chords and scales, and was one of the only original theories to come from jazz. Russell’s first recorded composition was “Cubana Be/Cubana Bop,” written in 1947 for the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra.


Russell released over twenty-five recordings of his compositions and performances, and toured Europe and Japan frequently with his Living Time Orchestra. A Distinguished Artist-in-Residence Emeritus at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, he was a guest conductor, a teacher, and a commissioned composer throughout Europe and the United States.

Russell attended Wilberforce University High School and studied composition with Stefan Wolpe. 

Last updated January 1, 2005.

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