An excellent altoist, Russell Procope became much better-known as a New Orleans-style clarinetist during his Duke Ellington years. He studied violin for eight years before switching to clarinet and alto. Procope recorded with Jelly Roll Morton in 1928 and had important stints with the big bands of Benny Carter (1929), Chick Webb (1929-1931), Fletcher Henderson (1931-1934), Tiny Bradshaw (1934-1935), Teddy Hill (1935-37), and Willie Bryant. However, it was as a member of the John Kirby sextet (1938-1943) during which he exclusively played alto that Russell Procope did his finest work, playing brilliant solos with a distinctive tone that perfectly fit the music. After a period in the Army and a reunion with Kirby (1945), Procope became a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1946, staying (except for a short period in 1961 with Wilbur DeParis) until Ellington's death 28 years later in 1974. Because of Johnny Hodges' presence, Procope had very few alto solos, serving instead as a section player and occasional clarinet soloist whose warm tone contrasted with that of the cooler Jimmy Hamilton; Procope was under-utilized but secure and happy during his Ellington years. Later in the 1970s, he played with Brooks Kerr's group.
Russell Procope Biography
by Scott Yanow