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Donald Johnson Ellis (July 25, 1934 – December 17, 1978) was an American jazz trumpeter, drummer, composer, and bandleader. He is best known for his extensive musical experimentation, particularly in the area of time signatures. Later in his life he worked as a film composer, contributing a score to 1971's The French Connection and 1973's The Seven-Ups.

Biography

Early life

Ellis was born in Los Angeles, California, on July 25, 1934. His father was a Methodist minister and his mother a church organist. He attended West High School in Minneapolis, MN. After attending a Tommy Dorsey Big Band concert, he first became interested in jazz. Other early inspirations were Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. He graduated from Boston University in 1956 with a music composition degree.[1]

Early career

Ellis' first job was with the late Glenn Miller's band, then directed by Ray McKinley. He stayed with the band until September 1956, when he joined the U.S. Army's Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra and the Soldiers' Show Company. Ellis was transferred to Frankfurt, Germany for duty. In the Army band, Ellis met pianist Cedar Walton, and saxophonists Eddie Harris and Don Menza. While in that band Ellis had his first opportunity to compose and arrange for a big band.

After two years, Don Ellis left the Army band and moved to Greenwich Village in New York City. He was able to get some work, but mainly with dance bands and other local work. He toured briefly with bandleader Charlie Barnet and joined the Maynard Ferguson band in spring of 1959. He remained with Ferguson for nine months.[2]

The New York avant-garde

Shortly thereafter, Ellis became involved in the New York City avant-garde jazz scene. He appeared on albums by Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, and George Russell, working in that sextet for two years. Under his own name, Ellis led several sessions with small groups between 1960 and 1962, which featured, among others, Jaki Byard, Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, Ron Carter, Charlie Persip, and Steve Swallow. The last one, Essence, was recorded in mid-July 1962.

On 3 June 1962, Ellis performed the jazz liturgy Evensong, composed by Edgar Summerlin. The performance took place at the First International Jazz Festival in Washington, D.C., and was broadcast on Look Up and Live on 12 August 1962. Ellis performed alongside Lou Gluckin on trumpet, J. R. Monterose on tenor saxophone, Eric Dolphy on flute, Slide Hampton on trombone, Dick Lieb on bass trombone, Barry Galbraith on guitar, Ellis was born in Los Angeles, California, on July 25, 1934. His father was a Methodist minister and his mother a church organist. He attended West High School in Minneapolis, MN. After attending a Tommy Dorsey Big Band concert, he first became interested in jazz. Other early inspirations were Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. He graduated from Boston University in 1956 with a music composition degree.[1]

Early career

Ellis' first job was with the late Glenn Miller's band, then directed by Ray McKinley. He stayed with the band until September 1956, when he joined the U.S. Army's Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra and the Soldiers' Show Company. Ellis was transferred to Frankfurt, Germany for duty. In the Army band, Ellis met pianist Cedar Walton, and saxophonists Eddie Harris and Don Menza. While in that band Ellis had his first opportunity to compose and arrange for a big band.

After two years, Don Ellis left the Army band and moved to Greenwich Village in New York City. He was able to get some work, but mainly with dance bands and other local work. He toured briefly with bandleader Charlie Barnet and joined the Maynard Ferguson band in spring of 1959. He remained with Ferguson for nine months.[2]

The New York avant-garde

Shortly thereafter, Ellis became involved in the New York City avant-garde jazz scene. He appeared on albums by Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, and George Russell, working in that sextet for two years. Under his own name, Ellis led several sessions with small groups between 1960 and 1962, which featured, among others, Jaki Byard, Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, Ron Carter, Charlie Persip, and Steve Swallow. The last one, Essence, was recorded in mid-July 1962.

On 3 June 1962, Ellis performed the jazz liturgy Evensong, composed by Edgar Summerlin. The performance took place at the First International Jazz Festival in Washington, D.C., and was broadcast on Look Up and Live on 12 August 1962. Ellis performed alongside Lou Gluckin on trumpet, J. R. Monterose on tenor saxophone, Eric Dolphy on flute, Slide Hampton on trombone, Dick Lieb on bass trombone, Glenn Miller's band, then directed by Ray McKinley. He stayed with the band until September 1956, when he joined the U.S. Army's Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra and the Soldiers' Show Company. Ellis was transferred to Frankfurt, Germany for duty. In the Army band, Ellis met pianist Cedar Walton, and saxophonists Eddie Harris and Don Menza. While in that band Ellis had his first opportunity to compose and arrange for a big band.

After two years, Don Ellis left the Army band and moved to Greenwich Village in New York City. He was able to get some work, but mainly with dance bands and

After two years, Don Ellis left the Army band and moved to Greenwich Village in New York City. He was able to get some work, but mainly with dance bands and other local work. He toured briefly with bandleader Charlie Barnet and joined the Maynard Ferguson band in spring of 1959. He remained with Ferguson for nine months.[2]

Shortly thereafter, Ellis became involved in the New York City avant-garde jazz scene. He appeared on albums by Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, and George Russell, working in that sextet for two years. Under his own name, Ellis led several sessions with small groups between 1960 and 1962, which featured, among others, Jaki Byard, Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, Ron Carter, Charlie Persip, and Steve Swallow. The last one, Essence, was recorded in mid-July 1962.

On 3 June 1962, Ellis performed the jazz liturgy Evensong, composed by Edgar Summerlin. The performance took place at the First International Jazz Festival in Washington, D.C., and was broadcast on Look Up and Live

On 3 June 1962, Ellis performed the jazz liturgy Evensong, composed by Edgar Summerlin. The performance took place at the First International Jazz Festival in Washington, D.C., and was broadcast on Look Up and Live on 12 August 1962. Ellis performed alongside Lou Gluckin on trumpet, J. R. Monterose on tenor saxophone, Eric Dolphy on flute, Slide Hampton on trombone, Dick Lieb on bass trombone, Barry Galbraith on guitar, Ron Carter on bass, and Charlie Persip on drums.[3]

In October 1962, Ellis traveled to Poland to take part in the 1962 Jazz Jamboree in Warsaw; his quartet performance was partially documented on a Polish-only 10-inch EP. Ellis chronicled his experience in an article called Warsaw Diary, which was printed in the January 3rd, 1963 issue of Down Beat magazine.[4] In December, Ellis participated in the NDR's Jazz Workshop in Hamburg, Germany,[5] and in early 1963, traveled to Stockholm, Sweden. While there, he became somewhat well known for his experimentation with happenings, similar to those used by members of the Fluxus art movement.[6]

Back in New York, Ellis formed the Improvisational Workshop Orchestra, which gave its debut performance on February 10, 1963 at the Five Spot.[7] (Anothe

Back in New York, Ellis formed the Improvisational Workshop Orchestra, which gave its debut performance on February 10, 1963 at the Five Spot.[7] (Another tape of the same group is listed in the Don Ellis Collection as being recorded on Feb. 9th,[8] but it may be a rehearsal tape.) The performance had a quality similar to those Ellis gave in Sweden: unusual artistic devices were employed, such as performers using cards to determine event orders, and musicians using their instruments to interpret a painter's work. Some uncommon musical elements were employed, such as the use of Arabian rhythms and scales, and foot shuffling.[7]

In 1964, Ellis began graduate studies in ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied with Indian musician Harihar Rao. Greatly inspired by Rao, Ellis sought to implement odd meters in a Western improvised context and (with Rao) co-authored the 1965 article "An Introduction to Indian Music for the Jazz Musician".[9] Ellis briefly formed the first version of his big band at this time but disbanded it when he received a Rockefeller Foundation-funded Creative Associate fellowship at the University at Buffalo's contemporary classical music-oriented Center of the Creative and Performing Arts for the 1964-1965 academic year. During his time in Buffalo, Ellis performed jazz, serialist and aleatoric pieces and other forms of composition with such figures as Lukas Foss, George Crumb and Paul Zukofsky.[7][10][11]

While in New York, Ellis was involved with several Third Stream projects. A live performance from February 8, 1964, at the Lincoln Center was filmed for Leonard Bernstein's

While in New York, Ellis was involved with several Third Stream projects. A live performance from February 8, 1964, at the Lincoln Center was filmed for Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts series. He performed with other jazz musicians alongside the New York Philharmonic on Larry Austin's "Improvisations for Orchestra and Jazz Soloists" (1961) and Gunther Schuller's "Journey Into Jazz" (1962). A later recording of Austin's piece, featuring Ellis, bassist Barre Phillips, drummer Joe Cocuzzo, and the New York Philharmonic (directed by Bernstein) was released on an album entitled Leonard Bernstein Conducts Music Of Our Time (1965).

In November 1967, Ellis's first symphony, "Contrasts for Two Orchestras and Trumpet", was debuted by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta.[7]

Returning to the West Coast, Ellis formed the Hindustani Jazz Sextet, which explored some of the concepts he had learned at UCLA. The Sextet is considered to be the first band of its kind in America. The Sextet centered on Ellis and his mentor, Harihar Rao, who played sitar and tabla, but also included vibraphonist Emil Richards, drummer Steve Bohannon, bassists Chuck Domanico and Ray Neapolitan, and pianist Dave Mackay. At least one performance also featured saxophonist Gabe Baltazar. The band performed original compositions such as "Sweet Nineteen", "Turks Works", and "Bombay Bossa Nova". In 1966, the group performed Ellis's composition "Synthesis" at the Los Angeles Music Center. On July 14 of that year, the Sextet performed at The Fillmore in San Francisco as the opening act for the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company.

"Live" at Monterey!

  • The New Rhythm Book (Ellis Music Enterprises, 1972)
  • Quarter tones: A Text with Musical Examples, Exercises and Etudes (Harold Branch Publishing, Inc., 1975)
  • Rhythm: A New System of Rhythm Based on the Ancient Hindu Techniques. [unpublished] (Objective Music Company, Inc., 1977)

References

  1. ^ Feather, Leonard. From Satchmo to Miles. New York: Stein and Day, 1972, 214.
  2. ^ Feather, 215.
  3. ^ Cordoba, Derick (2017). Liturgical Jazz: The Lineage of the Subgenre in the Music of Edgar E. Summerlin (PDF). Champaign-Urbana, IL: University of Illinois. pp. 108–109.