Russ Gershon is an accomplished musician, vocalist, and arranger who has performed at venues all over the world.
But Gershon’s most recent performance at “Music on the Square” with his All-Star band, Lookie Lookie, which focuses on Afro-Cuban and Latino music, was close to home – very close, in fact.
“I was delighted to perform in Chelsea for a lot of reasons,” said Gerson, who plays tenor sax. “One thing is I live 100 feet from where the stage was, so the commute was easy. And I like Chelsea a lot. I’ve been living here for about five years. I love the town. I think it’s a really nice place. I was happy to perform for my neighbors.”
The large crowd on Winnisimmet Street included Chelsea residents and fans of Lookie Lookie from other communities. Also making it a special night for Gerson was the fact that he was performing at a live concert for the first time since before the pandemic.
Councillor-at-Large Leo Robinson was among the residents who attended the concert. “This event is bringing the city together and the fact that one of own residents is performing makes it an even more special happening in the city,” said Robinson. “And I know that Russ is certainly great at what he does.”
Harvard College Brought Him to the Boston Area
Russ Gershon grew up in New York and Westport, Connecticut, where he started taking piano lessons at the age of 7.
“My mother (Nancy) was a musician so I took piano lessons and violin lessons at school,” recalled Gershon. “When I was teenager, I got the jazz bug big time. I started listening to Jazz records and after a couple of years of that, I really just needed to play the saxophone. I felt like I didn’t have a choice, I had to play the sax.”
Gershon attended Staples High School and at 6 feet, 2 inches, he played some sports. He was also an outstanding student, earning admission to Harvard College in Cambridge.
“I came up to the Boston area to go to Harvard and I studied Philosophy,” he said. “I was playing a lot of music on the side and I did a lot of radio broadcasting on WHRB, which is Harvard’s FM station. I met so many cool people at Harvard that I’m still friends with. My first band was mostly Harvard students.”
There were some interesting times at Harvard, the world’s most well-known university. “The first summer after freshman year, three friends and I got into a two-door Fiat and drove across the country,” he recalled. “It goes to show you how crazy 18-19 year-olds are and how much more limber they are than 62-year-olds. That was the first time I drove across the United States and the first time I really understood how big a country it is. I spent a lot of next 20 years driving across the country to tour and play concerts and clubs.”
Rock and Pop and a Gravitation to Jazz
Gershon performed with a lot of rock and pop bands in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, including one of New England’s most popular bands at the time, the Sex Execs.
“I was in bands that were trying to get big record contracts and just be rock stars,” he recalled. “In the mid-1980s, I gravitated back to jazz and founded the band, the Either/Orchestra, which took off within the jazz world and we made a lot of records and toured all over the United States and Europe.”
He also leads the Russ Gershon Trio which will return to the stage later this month. And he is often called upon for many freelance appearances with other bands.
A Grammy Nomination
The multi-talented musician received a Grammy nomination in 1992 for some of the musical arranging he had done for the Either/Orchestra.
“That was a surprise and a thrill,” said Gerhson about his prestigious Grammy nomination.
In the late 1990s, Gershon developed an interest in Ethiopian music. “We wound up getting invited to Ethiopia in 2004,” he said. “We were the first American big band to play in Ethiopia since Duke Ellington played there in 1973. That was a real honor.”
A Distinguished Music Teacher
Russ Gershon has taught music privately and at elementary and middle schools. He also held a position as a music history lecturer at Lasell College in Newton.
“I got the music bug early and I couldn’t get rid of it,” said Gershon about his lifelong involvement in the endeavor. “Music is always interesting. There’s always new things to learn and it’s a great way to connect with other people with whom you’re playing music and also with the audiences. Music is the universal language.”
Gershon has a brother, Andy, an attorney who works in the New York Attorney General’s Office. He has two sisters, Jill, who has worked in the advertising and as a textile designer, and Laurie, who works in film and television production.
“They all live in New York. I’m the only one that’s defected and come up to Boston,” said Gershon, who is not related to the movie actress, Gina Gershon.
Gershon has a son, Luca, 24, who is a chef working at Uni Boston, a lively, sophisticated restaurant in the Back Bay.
Life in Chelsea Gershon is enjoyed his residence in the city. One of his frequent stops is at nearby Katz Bakery. “Those are great bagels and I’m a New Yorker, so I know my bagels,” said Gershon. Two years ago he performed with his trio at a concert at the art gallery located at 100 Pearl St. “I really love Chelsea,” he said. And based on the tremendous reception that the Lookie Lookie band enjoyed from the audience in Chelsea Square, the city loves Russ Gershon and his music. (Lookie Lookie’s next show will be on Aug. 7 at the Cambridge Community Center for the Arts