Followup: Don Ellis

Don EllisTrumpeter Don Ellis (1934-1978) provided the instrumental focus in yesterday’s Third Stream Revisited post. He portrayed young Peter Parker, a boy learning to be a jazz musician. Let us look into Ellis’s all too brief future following that impressive 1962 appearance with Gunther Schuller, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. He built on his experience with Ray McKinley, Charlie Barnet, Maynard Ferguson, George Russell and some of the most forward looking players in jazz to become a bandleader himself—a daring one. In additional to his skill as a player, he was a composer and arranger. Ellis built a substantial part of his band’s repertoire on his compositions using time signatures unusual to jazz. He adapted odd meters to a large ensemble and incorporated elements of Indian and Eastern European folk music. Here he is at the 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland with his 22-piece orchestra. Ellis announces the piece, which develops into a 15-minute entertainment complete with audience participation.

”Niner Two” is included in Ellis’s Live At Montreux album. The year following that concert, he was dead of a heart attack at the age of 44. For an extensive article about Ellis’s career, see Wikipedia.

A few of the musicians in Ellis’s late 1970s band—Ted Nash, Chino Valdez, Ann Patterson among them—went on to become well known in jazz. You may be interested in the complete personnel list.

Reeds: Ann Patterson, Ted Nash, James Coile, Jim Snodgrass
Trumpets: Glenn Stuart, Gil Rather, Jack Coan
French Horn: Sidney Muldrow
Trombone: Alan Kaplan
Bass Trombone: Richard Bullock
Tuba: Jim Self
Keyboards: Randy Kerber
Bass: Leon Gaer, Darrell Clayborn
Drums: David Crigger
Congas: Chino Valdes
Percussion: Drums and Mallets – Michael Englander
Percussion; Mallets and Timpani – Ruth Ritchie
Violins: Pam Tompkins, Lori Badessa
Viola: Jimbo Ross
Cello: Paula Hochhalter

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  1. Andrew Homzy says

    This was Don’s “Blanton-Webster” band. Marvelous in execution and communication.

    Where are Pam Tompkins and Jimbo Ross today? They are excellent improvisers.

    • says

      Hi Andrew, Great to see this video with Don Ellis ’77 Montreaux Fest. What an experience!!! I have been performing with a variety of bands/groups since then, currently fronting a 5 piece Rockin’ Chicago Blues/Funk/Soul/Old School R & B group called Jimbo Ross & the Bodacious Blues Band, as well just being a work for hire musician in Los Angeles area, studio, symphonic, chamber, jazz/rock/blues/zydeco and everything in between. Check out web site for more. It is or ENJOY!!!

  2. John Bartholomew says

    I can hardly imagine how they pull this off, but they most definitely do. And it’s musical, never bombastic, from beginning to end.

  3. says

    Thanks for the posting on Don Ellis. I got hooked on the band with the “Live at Monterrey” album in 1966 and was fortunate to see the same band at an outdoor concert in LA. The band was a revelation to the big band scene as the old swing style was slowly dying out. Don was very popular with the young players and the young audiences. His premature passage was a truly bad news for Jazz.

  4. says

    There’s an intense interest today in odd meters among student jazz musicians. Yet very few know much, if anything, about Ellis’s work. When I play students his big-band recordings, their jaws invariably hit the floor.

    After Ellis died, his recordings disappeared into obscurity. Fortunately, many of them have been reissued in recent years. So there now appears to be a renewed interest in his music. That’s as it should be.

  5. Jim Brown says

    There was a fine reunion/tribute set of the Ellis band at an LA Jazz Institute event in May, 2007. My impression was that pianist Milcho Leviev had organized it. As a recently escaped Chicagoan, it was the first time I’d heard Milcho live, and I really enjoyed his playing.

    I considered this set the highlight of a week marred by wildly excessive sound amplification that can only be described as painfully awful. it was so awful that, since the organizers didn’t think they had a problem, I’ve never considered returning..

  6. Rob D says

    Wunnerful, wunnerful!! (sorry, I grew up on Lawrence Welk and his band) This was an amazing performance. I don’t know MUCH about Don and his talents unfortunately. I had heard the name from a friend who was/is a trumpeter and he always talked about the arrangements.