The original Flying Luttenbacher, Hal Russell was a Chicago icon. A multi-instrumentalist, he played tenor sax, c-melody, soprano, drums, trumpet, vibes, marimba, musette, congas and keyboards. One of the most surreal jazz characters of the second half of the twentieth-century jazz scene, this guy brought humor, theater and playfulness into his artform.
Harold Luttenbacher was born in Detroit, played drums in Dixieland and swing bands (Woody Herman, etc) before discovering bebop. Moving with his family to Chi-town as a teenager, he started playing trumpet as a second instrument in college. In 1950 he played drums with Miles Davis and did some gigging with the likes of Billie Holiday, Sonny Rollins, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, John Coltrane and Stan Getz.
He caught the heroin bug for awhile in the '50s, playing dreadful sessions with Pat Boone to score some bread. By 1959 he had joined one of the earliest free jazz groups, the Joe Daley Trio. He stayed with them for a few years but was pretty quiet until the '70s (although he would lead jam sessions for up-and-coming Chicago improvisors).
He was a member of the triple-sax attack of Chemical Feast and in the late '70s, after teaching himself saxophone, he founded the crazy fusion group NRG Ensemble. They cut some records for Nessa and Hal also hooked up with Charles Tyler and Joel Futterman for more sessions.
In '91 he formed the punk-jazz trio the Flying Luttenbachers (Weasel Walter on drums) and released a nutty multi-tracked all-solo album called Hal's Bells for ECM. Recording his "autobiographical" album The Hal Russell Story, he died of heart problems a month after the sessions. He was a bridge between the '60s AACM scene and the '90s free jazz revival in Chicago.