William Russo — prolific jazz composer-arranger and founder of the London Jazz Orchestra, Chicago Jazz Ensemble and the Columbia College music department in Chicago — died Saturday Jan. 11 of pneumonia in Chitown. He was 74.
Chi native performed, conducted and composed with diverse talents including Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, Cannonball Adderly, Yehudi Menuhin, Dizzy Gillespie, Seigi Ozawa and Billie Holiday. He composed and arranged more than 200 works for jazz orchestra, with more than 25 recordings made.
He came to Columbia College in 1965 after founding and directing the London Jazz Orchestra. He is credited with building Columbia’s program from 175 students and 25 part-time faculty members into the nation’s largest visual, performing and media arts college.
He retired as chair of the college’s music department last June to devote more time to the Chicago Jazz Ensemble and composing. In November he premiered his last and possibly greatest jazz work, “Jubilatum.”
He is survived by four children and a sister.