George W. Russell Jr.

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Prior to becoming chair of the Harmony and Jazz Composition Department, George W. Russell Jr. served as a professor of harmony and piano. He has been awarded the Ted Pease Award for Excellence in Teaching, along with the Curriculum Development Award for the Writing Division. He has also been recognized with the highest award that Berklee gives to faculty, the Most Distinguished Faculty Award. Russell’s motto is, “I would rather inspire than require.” He is known as a source of encouragement and inspiration to anyone who crosses paths with him.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Russell is a performer, composer, and educator. He began taking piano lessons when he was 7 years old. Along with studying formally, he had the fortune of growing up playing at his local church. There was no written music at church, so he was given the opportunity to develop his ear.

As he continued studying music in college, Russell discovered jazz and the harmonies that are used in jazz. It was then that he began to understand, from a theoretical viewpoint, what exactly he was playing, both in church and in his classical repertoire. In that period of time, his unique fusion of gospel and jazz began to form. His performances range from solo piano to a groove-oriented jazz trio to a soulful, fresh-sounding larger ensemble that arouses the listener's intellect and, most importantly, touches their soul. His playing is filled with passion, fire, soul, and spirit.

Career Highlights
  • Leader, George W. Russell Jr. Trio
  • Performances with Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Ernie Isley, Cecil McBee, Semenya McCord, Bob Moses, Tiger Okoshi, Billy Pierce, Richard Smallwood, Stan Strickland, and Lenny White
  • Recordings include Schlickness, Worship in the Style of G, Jesus Is the Cure, Communion Volume I, and Communion Volume II; and work with Sandra Dowe and the George W. Russell Jr. Trio, and the Pianist and the Poet, and his self-titled album
  • Served as minister of music/chief musician for Jubilee (formerly New Covenant) Christian Church in Boston for 15 years
  • Performs his original program Clap Your Hands, a narrative concert about gospel music in America, in several school systems in Massachusetts under the auspices of Young Audiences of Massachusetts
  • Former chairman of the Jazz Department at the Pennsylvania Govenor's School for the Arts, 1986–2008
  • Recipient, 2001 New England Conservatory of Music Gospel Music Award
  • Berklee College of Music Distinguished Faculty Award
  • Curriculum Development Award
  • Ted Pease Excellence in Teaching Award
  • Finalist, Martial Solar International Jazz Piano Competition
In Their Own Words

"My current role as a department chair does not give me the opportunity to meet with a set of students as consistently as when I was a faculty member. Therefore, it is important that I make every interaction meaningful. I am intentional about students (or anyone on campus) leaving every encounter with me inspired, uplifted, informed, and encouraged. When that happens, I feel they are able to be a more productive and happier being."

"My professional background as a faculty member and a performer allows me to be empathetic with what a student experiences on a daily basis. This helps to bring authenticity to what I say to students."

"One of the primary things that sets Berklee apart from many other great music schools in the world is our core harmony curriculum. There is no other school that takes four semesters to systematically describe how music functions in American music. In addition to the four semesters of Berklee harmony, students also take two semesters of Traditional Harmony."