Jazz Institute of Chicago

Bill Russo—1947

Bill Russo—1947
by Marty Clausen

Monday nights at the Vanity Show Lounge in the 3900 block of Broadway, across from the Vogue Theater were session nights, and the regular group was Ira Schulman, tenor; Burrell Gluskin, piano; Bob Fahsbender, bass; and myself, drums.

Being session night, a lot of players would join us on that little bandstand playing anything we wanted, and on many of these Mondays Bill Russo would show up with his lovely, talented, and future wife, vocalist Shelby Davis. Bill always arrived with an armload of small group charts for us to march through. We had a good time playing those various styles for our $10 a night. The be-bop pieces of the day, with Bill’s sometimes avant-garde charts and Shelby’s vocals, were surprisingly well received by the patrons in that noisy little neighborhood bar.

Speaking of the ubiquitous Bill Russo, in 1947 he organized a giant band that he called "An Experiment In Jazz." It was Stan Kenton-esque in style and approach, although if asked, I’m sure Bill would have some comment about that. Although I wasn’t the drummer with this huge band, I was a regular attendee at the rehearsals, where I learned a lot just listening. I knew all the players and felt I was actually a part of the band.

In the fall the band was set to record an album for Universal Recording, and Russo asked me if I would play tympani on the session. Would I? Of course! It was my first recording date and I was walking about three feet off the ground with anticipation. Now all I had to do was play the parts right. Then I started thinking how important this was going to be. Once recorded, your performance was right there, forever available to hear. . .warts and all.

Yikes! Some of the players on that session were Eddy Avis, Claude Alton, Johnny Roswick, Bill Brown, Ira Schulman, Dom Carone, Sy Rabens, Bill Lortie, Bill Lasky, Maurie Lathauers, Bill Schmidt, Steve Novacell, Mickey Simonetta, Al Schmidt, Bob Lesher, Burrell Gluskin, Eddy Baker, John Howell, Wally Noler, Tom Dolan, Ed Badgley, Dick Zelek, Jack Davis, and Al Forcucci.

We recorded at Universal Studios, which was on the 42nd floor in the Civic Opera building, and was the same studio in which that wonderful, and seminal, Billy Eckstine band recorded—the one with Art Blakey, John Malachi, Gayle Brockman, Gene Ammons, and Dexter Gordon.

Because a recording ban was about to start, recording was going on 24 hours a day. Our session was from 1 a.m.–4 a.m. The four sides we recorded were Leonard Bernstein’s "Lonely Town," sung by Shelby Russo, "Orion," featuring Burrell Gluskin, "For Roger," a tribute to Roger Rassmussen, and "Stairway to the Stars," featuring Johnny Howell.

Walking out into the cold gray Chicago dawn at five in the morning felt pretty good after that session: the first for many of us.

Copyright ©2003. All rights reserved.

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