Herb Ellis

American jazz guitarist Herb Ellis (Mitchell Herbert Ellis in Farmersville, Texas on August 4, 1921, Los Angeles, California on March 28, 2010) was born Herb Ellis. Ellis grew up in Dallas, Texas and first heard George Barnes play the electric guitar on a radio station. He is believed to have been inspired by this experience to learn how to play the guitar. By the time Ellis entered North Texas State University, he was a music major. Ellis studied music but, as there was no guitar program in that area, he learned the string bass. His college days were cut short due to a lack of funding. Herb quit college in 1941 and went on a six-month tour with a band from Kansas. He joined Glen Gray and The Casa Loma Orchestra in 1943. It was Gray’s group that earned him his first recognition in jazz magazines. Ellis was a member of Gray’s group and later joined the Jimmy Dorsey Band, where he recorded some of his first solos. Ellis continued to be with Dorsey throughout 1947. He traveled extensively and recorded extensively. He also played in dance halls, movie palaces, and other venues. Ellis’s life was forever changed by a pivotal moment. In 1996, Lou Carter, pianist, told Robert Dupuis that the Dorsey group had a six week gap in their schedule. We had all played with the big band together. John Frigo, who was already out of the band, knew the Buffalo owner of the Peter Stuyvesant Hotel. We stayed there for six months. The Soft Winds group was born. The Soft Winds were named after the Nat King Cole Trio. They remained together until 1952. Herb Ellis joined the Oscar Peterson Trio, replacing Barney Kessel. They formed what Scott Yanow later called “one of the most memorable piano, guitar and bass trios in jazz history”. Ellis rose to prominence after performing with Ray Brown and pianist Peterson in the Oscar Peterson Trio, 1953-1958. His inclusion in the trio was controversial as he was the only person of color in the group at a time when racism was very prevalent. This unit was responsible for the “house rhythm section” of Norman Granz’s Verve Records. It supported the likes tenormen Ben Webster, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge as well as Sweets Edison and other jazz legends. They were Buddy Rich’s backing band, and also played on popular “comeback” albums featuring the duo of Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong. They were a mainstay of Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts and swept the jazz world. In November 1958 Ellis quit the Peterson Trio to be replaced by Ed Thigpen, a drummer. Ellis was touring with Ella Fitzgerald from 1959 to 1960. The trio performed “Tenderly” together as a jazz improvisational background to John Hubley’s 1958 cartoon The Tender Game. Storyboard Film’s version is a classic tale about a boy falling in love with a girl. He also created the Great Guitars with fellow jazz guitarists Charlie Byrd, Joe Pass and Barney Kessel. Herb Ellis, a Los Angeles resident, died on March 28. Text contributed by users is available under Creative Commons By–SA License. It may also be available under GNU FDL.

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