Procope, Russell

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Procope, Russell

Procope, Russell , jazz alto saxophonist, clarinetist, violinist, long associated with Duke Ellington; b. N.Y., Aug. 11, 1908; d. there, Jan. 21, 1981. He can be heard on countless Ellington dates from 1946 to 1974. His brother, Bill, played violin, sax, and clarinet; their father was a violinist, their mother a pianist. At six, he started on violin, then began doubling on clarinet, studying with Lt. Eugene Mikell and playing in the 369th Cadet Band. He played with Willie Freeman’s Band in 1926 and during the same year also did a spell with drummer Jimmy Campbell’s Band in Albany on saxophone and violin. He had a residency at the 116th Street Dancing School in N.Y., then worked with Henri Saparo at Bamboo Inn, with Charlie Skeete (1927), and trombonist Billy Kate (1927–28). Procope played with Jelly Roll Morton at Rose Danceland (summer 1928), with Benny Carter’s Band at Arcadia Ballroom (1929), then with Chick Webb (1929–31). After performing with Fletcher Henderson (spring 1931–34), he worked with Tiny Bradshaw (1934–35) in N.Y. and Chicago, then played in Teddy Hill’s Band (1936–37), including a tour of Europe. He worked with Willie Bryant, then with John Kirby Sextet until he was called up for service in U.S. Army in late 1943. He played in shows while stationed in N.Y. during his tour of army duty. After he was demobilized in late 1945, he rejoined John Kirby (December 1945), then played with Duke Ellington (spring 1946). After a temporary absence due to illness, he returned to tour Europe with Ellington (autumn 1971), and remained with the band until Duke’s death in 1974. He then performed with the Brooks Kerr Trio, including work in the musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and freelancing.


Persuasive Sax of Russell Procope (1956).

—John Chilton, Who’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter