Russell Malone is one of the signature guitar players of his generation. The leader often albums since 1992, Malone is as well-known on the international circuit for helming a world-class quartet and trio as he is for his long-standing participation in Ron Carter’s Golden Striker Trio, and his recent consequential contribution to the musical production of the likes of Sonny Rollins and Dianne Reeves, who recruited Malone for his singular tone, refined listening skills, limitless chops, and efflorescent imagination.
In all these circumstances, Malone addresses the tradition on its own terms, refracting the vocabularies and syntax of such heroes as Charlie Christian, Chet Atkins, George Van Eps, Johnny Smith, Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, Pat Martino, and George Benson into an argot entirely his own. A master of all tempos, a relentless swinger, he spins his stories -in idioms ranging from the urban and downhome blues, country, gospel, various comers of the American Songbook, and hardcore jazz-with a soulful, instantly recognizable instrumental voice, and seasons them with sophisticated harmonies that are never “too hip for the room.”
Williams, James “Blood” Ulmer, and Omette Coleman. “I love to swing, but I don’t look down my nose at other styles of music, or other musicians. I’ll play with anybody, if the music is good.”
Born in 1963 in Albany, Georgia, where he was raised, Malone received his first guitar-a green plastic four-string-at 4. He began playing in church at 6, and discovered jazz at 12, when he heard Benson perform on a PBS special with Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Red Norvo, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones. In short order, he purchased Benson’s Cookbook and Benson Burner, and Montgomery’s Smokin ‘at the Half Note and Boss Guitar. “Those four records set me on a path that I have not deviated from,” Malone says.
After high school, Malone left Albany for an extended engagement in Houston with organist Al Rylander, who had employed the talented youngster for almost a year in a local club .. In 1985, he moved to Atlanta, where he built a reputation sidemanning with, among others, saxophonist-blues singer Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Little Anthony, Peabo Bryson, O.C. Smith and Freddy Cole, and leading units at Walter Mitty’s, a local club where touring musicians jammed after gigs. Two of them, Branford Marsalis and the legendary pianist John Hicks, encouraged Malone to come to New York City. He first visited the Apple in 1985, and began to network with generational peers, sitting in on various bandstands, jamming late nights at the Blue Note, and attending Barry Harris’ Jazz Cultural Theater.
Malone’s made five recordings with pianist Benny Green-three of them trios with McBride-between 1997 and 2004. All the aforementioned were close to bass legend Ray Brown, who first recorded with Malone in 2000 on Some of My Best Friends Are … Guitarists, and employed him in a crackling trio with Monty Alexander until his death in 2002, a few weeks after they made Brown’s final, eponymously titled recording. In 2003, Brown’s heir to the bass throne, Ron Carter, who had known Malone since both performed in Kansas City, recruited him for The Golden Striker, a bass-guitar-piano date with the late pianist Mulgrew Miller. Malone continues to play on Carter’s projects, and recently has spent consequential time in Dianne Reeves’ two-guitar unit with Romero Lubambo.