One of the most revered and influential composer-bandleaders in America, William Russo was the founder of Columbia College Chicago’s Music Department and was Director of Orchestral Studies at Scuola Europea d’Orchestra Jazz in Palermo, Italy.
Russo’s career spanned five decades, and included performance, conducting, and composition work with talents as diverse as Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Leonard Bernstein, Cannonball Adderley, Yehudi Menuhin, Dizzy Gillespie, Seiji Ozawa, and Billie Holiday. Critics acknowledged Russo for his pioneering contributions to the big-band jazz canon. He authored groundbreaking jazz scores, rock operas, classical works, film scores, and texts on instrumental arrangement. During his career, he composed more than 200 pieces for jazz orchestra with more than 25 recordings of his work. In 1990 Russo received a Lifetime Achievement award from NARAS (National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences).
William Russo retired from Columbia College Chicago’s Music Department in June 2002, following a bout with cancer. He passed away in January 2003. As Columbia’s first full-time faculty member and music department chair, William Russo embodied the high standards and adventurous, contemporary character that continues to thrive in Columbia College’s Music Department.