About Craig Russo

Craig RussoThe group is led by drumset artist and percussionist Craig Russo, who has a special interest in Afro-Cuban music styles. Craig has traveled to Cuba extensively to study at the prestigious National School of Arts in Havana. He toured Cuba with the all-star Midwest Cuban music group “Charanga Tropical,” the first American group ever invited to perform at Cuba’s prestigious, International Festival of Danzon. Craig also performed with the international, Grammy-winning Cuban salsa singer Mayito Rivera on his first U.S. solo tour. He recently played Levitt Amp Foundation and St. Louis Hispanic Festival Midwest shows with Tito Puente Jr. Craig’s style is steeped in the sounds of American jazz but deeply influenced by Latin America, especially Cuba.

Craig Russo’s passion for Latin music began at age fifteen during a family vacation to Puerto Rico. After a day at the beach, his father encouraged him head out on his own to experience live salsa at a local night club. With just enough money for cab fare and little more, Craig ventured to a San Juan night club and encountered a band like nothing he had ever seen before. The power and intricacy of the percussion, the charismatic lead singer, the groove, the improvisation, everyone dancing, sweating, and smiling; it was another universe compared to his hometown of Dubuque, Iowa.

That evening Craig stayed too long and spent too much. To return to the hotel, he took a taxi and watched with growing concern as the cab’s meter kept turning – closer and closer to what he had left in his wallet to pay for the fare. Finally, unable to speak Spanish, he tapped the driver on the shoulder and gestured to pull over so he could walk the rest of the way to the hotel. The cabbie gently smiled, turned off the meter, and took him all the way to the hotel. Impressed by the power of the music and the kindness of the people, Craig purchased conga drums soon after returning home and began his lifelong involvement with Latin music.

Craig was already a promising percussionist at the time of that formative night in Puerto Rico, but time passed before the seeds planted that night flourished. Living in Iowa there were few opportunities to learn Latin percussion. Craig continued to focus on drum set and orchestral percussion and earned a music scholarship to the University of Iowa. He eventually forfeited the scholarship to pursue a career in medicine, but still spent weekends playing in jazz bands, R & B groups, and in a range of other settings.

Craig RussoAfter years of undergraduate and graduate education in the Midwest, New York City and Richmond, Virginia, Craig arriving Central Illinois and became part of small but burgeoning salsa and Latin jazz scene in Champaign-Urbana. As bands folded he eventually formed his own group, The Craig Russo Latin Jazz Project.

Active as performer, Craig is equally passionate about music study and research. Since 2000 he has made several trips to Cuba, each time studying intensively with world renowned percussionists such as Enrique Pla’, Jose Eladio, and Roberto Vizcaino.

Steeped in the American sounds of jazz but deeply affected and knowledgeable about Cuban music,

Biography from Charanga Tropica

Other Craig Russo Articles

Craig Russo Interviews

  1. Interview on WAER, Syracuse, NY - November 18, 2004
  2. Craig Russo on WGLT’s Jazz Next Podcast Part 1
  3. Craig Russo on WGLT’s Jazz Next Podcast Part 2

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