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Don Ellis

A talented trumpeter with a vivid musical imagination and the willingness to try new things, Don Ellis led some of the most colorful big bands of the 1965-75 period. After graduating from Boston University, Ellis played in the big bands of Ray McKinley, Charlie Barnet, and Maynard Ferguson (he was featured with the latter on "Three More Foxes"), recorded with Charles Mingus, and played with George Russell's sextet (at the same time as Eric Dolphy). Ellis led four quartet and trio sessions during 1960-1962 for Candid, New Jazz, and Pacific Jazz, mixing together bop, free jazz, and his interest in modern classical music. However it was in 1965 when he put together his first orchestra that he really started to make an impression in jazz. Ellis's big bands were distinguished by their unusual instrumentation (which in its early days had up to three bassists and three drummers including Ellis himself), the leader's desire to investigate unusual time changes (including 7/8, 9/8, and even 15/16), its occasionally wacky humor (highlighted by an excess of false endings), and an openness towards using rock rhythms and (in later years) electronics. Ellis invented the four-valve trumpet and utilized a ring modulator and all types of wild electronic devices by the late '60s. By 1971, his band consisted of an eight-piece brass section (including French horn and tuba), a four-piece woodwind section, a string quartet, and a two-drum rhythm section. A later unrecorded edition even added a vocal quartet.

Among Don Ellis's sidemen were Glenn Ferris, Tom Scott, John Klemmer, Sam Falzone, Frank Strozier, Dave MacKay, and the brilliant pianist (straight from Bulgaria) Milcho Leviev. The orchestra's most memorable recordings were Autumn, Live at the Fillmore, and Tears of Joy (all for Columbia). After suffering a mid-'70s heart attack, Ellis returned to live performing, playing the "superbone" and a later edition of his big band featured Art Pepper. Ellis's last recording was at the 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival, a year before his heart finally gave out. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

sodapop087
I saw The Don Ellis big band twice at Basin West (SF) and really enjoyed his crazy tempos. Also, Frank Strozier played in the DeAnza Daddio stage band as a guest during one of his appearances with the Ellis band. I was part of that band.
Soaring... what a knockout.
Creative to a fault! Always a surprise to hear what comes next! You can tell when everyone is on the same page but each with a unique musical contribution of his own!!! Too bad Don's heart couldn't sustain his creative juices!
ispeakvolume s
Saw the Don Ellis Orchestra at the old Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis in 1972, and got to play with the U of Minnesota Band under Mr. Ellis' direction. Made quite an impression. The sheer power of that band was incredible. He's the reason I own/play a 1971 Holton T102 trumpet.
maxiceska
I heard Don Ellis with a quintet at Burlington County CC in perhaps 1973. To borrow, thanks Jazz Man, it was a great thing. A tiny room, everything except cigarettes and Jack, but who needs them when one has Don. Gift to the world of a genius for a short time.
benwollin
My (classical) piano and composition teacher just introduced me to this guy with "soaring". My new favorite larger ensemble. Don Ellis beats Buddy Rich any day.
edzentera
The first time I heard jazz, it was Don Ellis. Soaring - Changed my life.
firstapostle
During the time he was in Los Angeles, he had his big band play at a supper club in North Hollywood every Sunday night for months. I think I saw most of them, and man, was that a GREAT thing to be a part of!
A true master of harmony, time signature development, and composition. H i s melodic smoothness in conjunction with with his use of creative complex time signatures, range,tone and creativity make him one of the most unique and under rated music creators of our time!
a super talent
jmberinger
A neglected artist that deserved much better. Eloquent solos with clearly noted musical arcs. Closer to a composition when ad libing solos, technically superior to the majority of jazz trumpet players with superior sound and range.

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