Russell Malone's first guitar was a plastic green toy his mother bought him. Only four years old, Malone strummed the little guitar all day long for days on end trying to emulate the sounds he had heard from guitarists at church in Albany, Georgia. As a child, Malone developed an interest in blues and country music after seeing musicians on television like Chet Atkins, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Roy Clark, Son Seals, and B.B. King. Then, at age 12, he saw George Benson perform with Benny Goodman on Soundstage. Malone has said, I knew right then and there that I wanted to play this music.
A self-taught player, Malone progressed well enough to land a gig with master organist Jimmy Smith when he was 25. It made me realize that I wasn't as good as I thought I was, Malone recalls of his first on-stage jam with Smith. After two years with Smith, he went on to join Harry Connick Jr.'s orchestra, a position he held from 1990-94, appearing on three of Connick''s recordings. Malone also worked in a variety of contexts, performing with artists as diverse as Clarence Carter, Little Anthony, Peabo Bryson, Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Barron, Roy Hargrove, Branford and Wynton Marsalis, The Winans, Eddie Cleanhead Vinson, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Jack McDuff.
Malone is one of the most commanding and versatile guitarists performing. He can move from blues to gospel to pop to R&B and jazz without hesitation, a rare facility that has prompted some of the highest profile artists in the world to call upon him: Diana Krall, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Natalie Cole, David Sanborn, Shirley Horn, Christina Aguilera, Harry Connick, Jr, Ron Carter, and Sonny Rollins.