Russell Bowles

Biography by

The trombonist Russell Bowles was principally associated with the big band of Jimmie Lunceford, with whom he played for more than 16 years. Bowles developed his talents in Louisville, KY, playing in the…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

The trombonist Russell Bowles was principally associated with the big band of Jimmie Lunceford, with whom he played for more than 16 years. Bowles developed his talents in Louisville, KY, playing in the Booker T. Washington Community Centre Band even before he entered high school, where he continued his musical studies. Beginning in 1926, he spent several years as a member of Ferman Tapp's Melody Lads, a somewhat legendary Kentucky territorial band who sometimes made it over the mountains into West Virginia and Ohio. Near the end of 1928, Bowles joined forces with Horace Henderson, but wound up taking a break from the touring life by taking a theater orchestra position in Buffalo.

The relationship with Lunceford began promptly in 1931; indeed, the trombonist actually joined up with the band on January 1 of that year, although whether the hiring also included the prior evening's New Year's Eve gig is unknown. As with many sidemen in this outfit, loyalty was for the most part based on the superb music, always full of surprises and exciting passages for the hornmen. Performers who would develop into great arrangers on their own, such as Sy Oliver and Gerald Wilson, stood side by side with Bowles in the Lunceford brass section. Not even the death of the leader in 1947 convinced Bowles that it was time to go, since he continued on for several years in a ghost Lunceford band under the direction of arranger Eddie Wilcox. In the '50s, the trombonist's main involvement seems to have been with the goofy Cab Calloway, yet he only gigged in this popular outfit sporadically, perhaps to replace someone else. Bowles dropped out of music somewhere in the middle of this decade and went to work as a clerk in a New York department store.