Jonathan began studying violin at three and began performing for audiences by the age of five. His natural sense of swing and unique ability to improvise led to performances throughout the New York metropolitan area and a feature in the New York Times that noted his ability by age seven to conjure "sophisticated improvisations on the melodies of jazz standards." Since that time Jonathan has balanced typical New York life with performances around the country.
He began composing at the age of eight, taking composition lessons with Juilliard professor Sam Zyman, and by the age of twelve fell in love with film scores. His initial efforts at writing and sharing his own arrangements of popular scores led to study with faculty members from the graduate program at NYU, Ron Sadoff and film composer Ira Newborn. He scored his first professional short film, Radio Hate, at the age of fifteen. Recently, he received an additional music credit for the 2011 film Aarakshan, which was directed by Prakash Jha.
In 2005, at the age of nine, Jonathan was awarded an Alternative Styles Award by the American String Teachers Association. In 2006, Jonathan had the honor of being the youngest jazz musician ever invited to play in a master class at Jazz at Lincoln Center, taught by today's foremost name in jazz violin, Regina Carter. In addition to numerous other awards and distinctions, Jonathan is proud to have received the U.S. Ambassador's Award in Hungary for his performances in March of 2008, promoting mutual understanding and strengthening the friendship between the two countries. In November of 2008 Jonathan appeared as one of the youngest ever feature performers with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at Rose Hall in New York. Those performances at Rose Hall were also featured in live broadcast on XM Satellite Radio and re-broadcast on NPR stations around the world. In 2009 Jonathan was awarded the use of one of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violins by Grammy Award winning fiddler Mark O’Connor and the faculty at his inaugural Fiddle Conference, held in New York City.
Jonathan has been a feature performer at major jazz festivals, including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, with repeat visits to the Suncoast Dixieland, New Jersey, and North Carolina jazz festivals. In 2008 he made his European debut at the Bohém Ragtime & Jazz Festival with performances in eight cities throughout Hungary. He has been featured at The Blue Note in New York City and has performed numerous times at Iridium and Birdland. He has performed with Wynton Marsalis, Bucky Pizzarelli, Les Paul, John Lamb, John Bunch, Svend Asmussen, and more than 50 jazz bands from the United States and Europe. As his playing has matured he has also begun leading his own bands and ensembles, often made up of experienced musicians including Ellington and Goodman alumni as well as some of the top new names in jazz today. This ability to perform jazz from the entire breadth of its 100-year history and attract the support of seasoned professionals explains part of why he is in such demand.
Some see Jonathan Russell as an integral link to the future of jazz, connecting younger generations of listeners with great musicians and band leaders. His youth presentations have helped connect students with jazz by identifying aspects of jazz in everyday modern life and opened inexperienced musicians to the wonders of improvisation. His performances seamlessly integrate classical, modern, and popular melodies into the fabric of jazz standards while respecting and acknowledging the golden age of jazz in America and the performers who have come before.
His first CD entitled The Sheik of Araby features eleven standards from the jazz age. Jonathan's next CD, Puttin' On The Ritz, features many of the performers he has been working with including Bucky Pizzarelli, Nicki Parrott and Ed Polcer. His latest CD entitled simply Duets is a collection of modern interpretations that according to jazz promoter Jack Kleinsinger, "demonstrates that the time has come to stop appraising Jonathan as a 'gifted prodigy' and start acknowledging him as the 'veteran' jazz master he has become."
He has contributed studio work and realized orchestrations for additional CDs including the original cast recording for the Off-Broadway production of One Night with Fanny Brice, Fallen Angel by Caroline Jones, and Music for Another Day by Michael Butler. In addition to recorded contributions to Fallen Angel, Jonathan composed and realized virtual string arrangements allowing singer-songwriter Caroline Jones to enhance and extend her latest recording, which already included many of the top studio musicians from Nashville and New York.
In the summer of 2010 Jonathan created and recorded the violin part for the Off Broadway production One Night With Fanny Brice. The unique score of this one-woman show consisted of a piano and an improvised violin part that changed at each performance. Jonathan went on to perform in the show for five months in 2011 at the St. Luke's Theater in New York.
Now an eleventh-grade student at Professional Children's School in Manhattan, Jonathan studies violin at the School for Strings, where he is also principal violinist in the senior orchestra. He works closely with New York jazz artists Kenny Werner, Jon Burr, Howard Alden, and Wynton Marsalis, as well as with film scorers Wayne Sharpe and Elias Constantopedos.
Jonathan continues to develop his love for film scores into professional work while maintaining an active performance schedule on violin. He has a natural ability to capture the mood of a scene, making his compositions perfect for narrative film. His improvisatory skills and classical orchestration experience allows him to quickly create musical soundscapes for film and video. He incorporates both modern and traditional elements in his compositions supporting narrative films and short format digital media. These skills, combined with his advanced use of technology, result in fully realized orchestrations that impressed award-winning film scorer Wayne Sharpe sufficiently for him to begin collaborations and cue assignments for sixteen-year-old Jonathan.
In July of 2011, Jonathan wrote a demo for the Hollywood Brass instrument library from East West. He was the only non "in-house" composer to be asked to contribute a demo for this industry leading product. In addition to several other current projects, he is currently composing music for a streaming film, Arella, produced by Rubichouse and due to be released in early 2012.
Jonathan maintains his own youtube channel (http://www.youtube.com/jdrcomposer) for his compositions, which has more than 100 videos. He currently has well over 800 subscribers and 700,000 distinct video views.
All of his CD's are available at any performance or via the web at www.cdbaby.com and iTunes.