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Chicago Jazz Magazine July 2018 - Interview with Frank Russell

Chicago native Frank Russell has been playing bass since age 14 when he shifted from guitar and found his true voice. Frank grew up in a home with a loving family who appreciated music. He recall's looking up and seeing photos of Miles Davis and John Coltrane on the wall. His Dad, who played acoustic bass as a teenager, was a big influence as well as his Mom, who sang around the house.

After seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show Frank received a guitar for Christmas and started guitar lessons soon thereafter. He also received a drum set, which he played until high school. His Mom brought home a copy of Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Going On, which featured Larry Graham and his slap style of bass playing. He was hooked. He began listening and studying all of the bass players of the day from Verdine White, Larry Graham and Stanley Clarke. He immersed himself in their various styles and techniques constantly trying to re-create the sound he was hearing on the recordings.

Russell began playing professionally while still in high school and as he networked and performed throughout the Chicago area he soon began to meet and perform with musicians who would turn out to be life long friends and mentors. Such musicians as Randy Hall, Robert Irving III (Music Director and keyboardist with Miles Davis), Vince Wilburn, Ken Chaney, Henry Johnson, Freddie Hubbard, Ramsey Lewis, Willie Pickens and many others have become life long musical influences and friends.

Russell also began doing for musicals and played the show Beehive for two years which eventually lead him to work at the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre. While performing for shows at the theatre he played on a show that featured the South African singing group “Ladysmith Black Mambazo”. Although it was supposed to be a short run it turned into a six year run that took Russell all over the country performing at numerous venues, including a three-month stint at the Kennedy Center.

During the interview Russell talks about his longtime friendship and collaboration with guitarist Henry Johnson, his CD release entitled Influences and his upcoming performance August 2, 2018 for the WDCB Summer Music Series at the McAnnich Arts Center at College of DuPage.


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