Paul Russo was a jazz guy who wanted everybody to be, too

Paul Russo, right, with jazz singer Giacomo Gates, at the 2013 Syracuse Jazz Festival. (Photo by John Herr)

Paul Russo, right, with jazz singer Giacomo Gates, at the Syracuse Jazz Festival. (Photo by John Herr)

If jazz music in Syracuse was part of your life, you knew Paul Russo.

The man made certain of that.

The Syracuse native loved the style of music to its heart and his core. His son Craig played Latin jazz, put out albums. His brother Victor taught jazz, won awards as educator of the year.

Paul Russo was a big man, sometimes a loud man, a businessman who moved to Dubuque and then Utica and then back to Syracuse. He staged small jazz shows. He volunteered at the big jazz festivals, with the lanyard hung around his neck as he welcomed VIP pass holders into the seating by the stage with a pat on the back and his arched eyebrows and a story, a question, another story, a statement of opinion that had to be fact that might be whispered into your ear or might be yelled across several rows.

Paul Russo was a character that made the Syracuse jazz circle wider and more vibrant.

I truly believed he was most happy when he was presenting me his hand-written letters about Craig’s latest accomplishments and a CD, or pointing me toward Vic with word about another award. If Central New York singer Nancy Kelly had any blip on her radar, Paul made sure I heard.

Paul S. Russo at the Savoy in Rome, N.Y. (Photo by John Herr)

Paul S. Russo at the Savoy in Rome, N.Y. (Photo by John Herr)

Paul S. Russo died Friday at the age of 77.

Calling hours will be 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and services will be 11 a.m. Thursday at Farone and Son, on Park Avenue in Syracuse. Burial will follow services Thursday, at St. Mary’s Cemetery.

You can leave condolences at the Farone site here.

Photographer John Herr, who contributed the pictures posted with this story at no cost, calls Russo a good friend and regular traveling partner to jazz shows around the region.

Herr happily remembers Russo watching the monthly performance of the big band Salt City Jazz Collective at the downtown Syracuse Suds Factory. “Sometimes directing,” Herr recalls of Russo’s front-table presence at the gigs, adding that future editions “should be dedicated in his memory.”

Russo aligned himself front and center at the Central New York Jazz Arts Foundation, M&T Syracuse Jazz Festival, small shows, big shows, college bands, high school ensembles, junior high outfits, kids learning to play.

He thought it was the most natural thing in the world to love jazz. What, don’t you, his face said.

That sort of spirit doesn’t come along every day.

Did you ever see Paul Russo demonstrate his love of jazz music and the people who made it? Do you have a Paul Russo story to share? Is there a Paul Russo-type who shared his love of music or the arts where you live?

34 thoughts on “Paul Russo was a jazz guy who wanted everybody to be, too

  1. I never met him, but I was well aware of his legacy. It’s comforting to see someone so invested in something they love, the community they love, and blending them together.

    It’s comforting to see that our area’s longtime senator, DeFrancisco, is heavily involved in keeping not only jazz, but all music, alive in Central New York.


  2. he sounds like a wonderful man, in mind, body, and spirit all. and there is no doubt he will be sorely missed, hope he’s sitting in with his jazz buddies who went before him, somewhere )


  3. I can feel your sadness. I’m so sorry. Sounds like we’re missing out on one helluva guy. You describe a man with words that come to mind when people think of you. I’m sure of it. I love jazz. Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker…
    So sorry hermano


  4. So sorry to read this one Mark. It’s hard when legends die, and we are left with the memories, but remember one good thing here, the memories never die as long as you keep them alive. And you have some good ones here my friend, so never lose them, and he will never die.


  5. Thank you for writing about a man who was passionate about what he loved. It’s sad to see that kind of “spirit” slowly fading from mankind. His example just wants you to dig in deeper and to keep on going no matter what this world says. (((HUGS))) Amy


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.