Monday, August 10, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bill Russell, New Orleans Jazz Historian


NEW ORLEANS - Bill Russell, a jazz historian also known for recording early live jazz performances, died yesterday. He was 87.

Mr. Russell was hospitalized on Saturday after slipping and breaking his hip, said Barry Martin, a friend. The hospital did not report the cause of death.

Mr. Russell just completed a book on jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton several weeks ago, ending 30 years of work. It included interviews with Louis Armstrong and other jazz greats.

Mr. Russell also recently completed work on a re-issue on compact disc of 20 hours of music he recorded on his American Music label between 1942 and 1953, Martin said.

"If you were looking for an epitaph, I think that would be one he would really like to see," Martin said.

He was a composer, working in numerous styles, and a violinist at one time with the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra, said Dick Allen, another New Orleans jazz historian.

But he was best known for his early recordings of live jazz on his American Music label, his encouragement of jazz musicians such as Bunk Johnson - a trumpet player who influenced Armstrong - and his collection of jazz history.

Born in Canton, Mo., in 1905, Mr. Russell first came to New Orleans about 1940 to record live performances of what was then "an underground music," Martin said.

Mr. Russell moved to the city in the late 1950s. He was a co-founder and archivist for the jazz archives at Tulane University in 1958.

He lived in a French Quarter apartment and was a fixture at Preservation Hall, considered a last stronghold of unadulterated, traditional New Orleans jazz.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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