04.08. – Happy Birthday !!! An excellent bop-based guitarist with a slight country twang to his sound, Herb Ellis became famous playing with the Oscar Peterson Trio during 1953-1958.
Prior to that, he had attended North Texas State University and played with the Casa Loma Orchestra, Jimmy Dorsey (1945-1947), and the sadly under-recorded trio Soft Winds. While with Peterson, Ellis was on some Jazz at the Philharmonic tours and had a few opportunities to lead his own dates for Verve, including his personal favorite, Nothing But the Blues (1957). After leaving Peterson, Ellis toured a bit with Ella Fitzgerald; became a studio musician on the West Coast; made sessions with the Dukes of Dixieland, Stuff Smith, and Charlie Byrd; and in the 1970s became much more active in the jazz world. He can be heard on the first three releases issued by the Concord label, interacting with Joe Pass on the initial two, and he toured with the Great Guitars (along with Byrd and Barney Kessel) through much of the 1970s into the ’80s. After a long series of Concord albums, Ellis cut a couple of excellent sessions in the 1990s for Justice, as well as 1999’s Burnin’ on Acoustic Music. After battling Alzheimer’s disease, Herb Ellis died at the age of 88 at his home in Los Angeles on March 28, 2010.
Growing up just outdside of Dallas, Texas, Ellis first heard the electric guitar performed by George Barnes on a radio show. This experience inspired him to take up the guitar, and he became proficient on the instrument by the time he entered North Texas State University as a music major. While in college Ellis heard recordings of Charlie Christian, his main jazz influence.
After dropping out of collegeEllis spent time on the road with Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, Jimmy Dorsey, and Soft Winds. It was with Dorsey that Ellis would record some of his first solos. He became prominent after performing with the Oscar Peterson Trio from 1953 to 1958. He was a somewhat controversial member of the trio because he was the only white person in the group in a time where racism was still very much widespread. Ellis, Peterson, and bassist Ray Brown toured and recorded extensively to become one of the most popular and acclaimed trios in all of jazz. He toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic while he was with the Peterson Trio.
Since leaving the Trio he has toured and recorded with a wide range of musicians, and also recorded his own sessions. He spent time with the Steve Allen show in the 1960’s. The show featured plenty of jazz played by Allen and members of the show’s band, the Donn Trenner Orchestra, which included such virtuoso musicians as Ellis and trombonist Frank Rosolino.
Ellis’ Concord recordings with Joe Pass and with the Great Guitars (Barney Kessel and Charlie Byrd) have become modern classics. He was an early champion of the late jazz guitarist Emily Remler and played on a tribute album to her.