Russell Procope
(b. August 11, 1908 - d. January 21, 1981)

Russell Procope was an American clarinetist and alto saxophonist, was known best for his long tenure in the reed section of Duke Ellington's orchestra, where he was the section's leader and one of its two signature clarinet soloists.

Procope was born in New York City, and grew up in San Juan Hill, where he went to school with Benny Carter. His first instrument was the violin, but he switched to clarinet and alto saxophone. At the age of twenty, he recorded with Jelly Roll Morton, and went on to play with bands led by Benny Carter, Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson, Tiny Bradshaw, Teddy Hill, and Willie Bryant.

In 1938, Procope replaced Pete Brown in John Kirby's sextet, with whom he played alto sax exclusively until 1945 (with an interruption for World War II). It was with Kirby that he began to make his name.

Procope joined the Ellington orchestra in 1946, standing in for Otto Hardwicke for one night in Worcester, Massachusetts, and staying until Ellington's death in 1974. Like all members of the Ellington reed section (except for alto saxophone titan Johnny Hodges and marathon tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves) Procope doubled on the clarinet, and it was on that instrument that he made his reputation. Though he was a fine saxophonist and could (and did) play tenor as well as alto saxophone with authority, Procope was most highly regarded for his woody, understated clarinet solos, a warm contrast to fellow reed-section member Jimmy Hamilton's cheerful, breezy style. (An excellent, immediate hearing of the contrast between the two clarinetists can be heard on Ellington's three-part suite "Idiom '59"; Ellington handed Procope the solo for the slower tempoed opening part, before handing Hamilton the first clarinet solo and the bridge blues solo on the more swinging second part.) Procope was also highly regarded personally within and outside the Ellington band. "He was", wrote Ellington in Music is My Mistress, "an utterly sober and reliable musician, always to be depended upon."

After Ellington's death, Procope toured with Brooks Kerr's trio. (Source:



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