“I came into music as a drummer, at 15, in 1938,” [George Russell] said. “The swing period was at its height…. I played many gigs around my home time [sic], Cincinnati, but mostly at the Cotton club. Two years later, at Wilberforce college on scholarship, I joined the college band….”
Three years at Wilberforce were followed by a stay with the Benny Carter Band, one of the more formidable units of the period.
[Trombonist J.J.] Johnson recalls Russell as a “fine big-band drummer, with excellent time and imagination.” The trombonist said he thought Russell would continue playing drums because he seemed so deeply interested in the instrument. But that was before Russell heard Max Roach.
“Max was nothing short of fantastic,” Russell said. “He seemed to have it all on drums. I felt it would be ridiculous to continue playing, feeling as I did. I decided to pursue another course – to arrange and compose – and returned to Cincinnati to start all over.”
Source: Who Is George Russell?, by Burt Korall, Down Beat, February 16, 1961