|Mitchell Herbert Ellis|
|Born||August 4, 1921|
Farmersville, Texas, U.S.
|Died||March 28, 2010 (aged 88)|
Los Angeles, California
|Genres||Jazz, swing, cool jazz, West Coast jazz|
|Labels||Verve, Concord Jazz, Justice|
Born in Farmersville, Texas, and raised in the suburbs of Dallas, Ellis first heard the electric guitar performed by George Barnes on a radio program. This experience is said to have inspired him to take up the guitar. He became proficient on the instrument by the time he entered North Texas State University. Ellis majored in music, but because they did not yet have a guitar program at that time, he studied the string bass. Unfortunately, due to lack of funds, his college days were short-lived. In 1941, Ellis dropped out of college and toured for six months with a band from the University of Kansas.
In 1943, he joined Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra and it was with Gray's band that he got his first recognition in the jazz magazines. After Gray's band, Ellis joined the Jimmy Dorsey band where he played some of his first recorded solos. Ellis remained with Dorsey through 1947, traveling and recording extensively, and playing in dance halls and movie palaces. Then came a turnabout that would change Ellis's career forever. As pianist Lou Carter told journalist Robert Dupuis in a 1996 interview, "The Dorsey band had a six-week hole in the schedule. The three of us had played together some with the big band. John Frigo, who had already left the band, knew the owner of the Peter Stuyvesant Hotel in Buffalo. We went in there and stayed six months. And that's how the group the Soft Winds were born". Together with Frigo and Lou Carter, Ellis wrote the classic jazz standard "Detour Ahead".
The Soft Winds group was fashioned after the Nat King Cole Trio. They stayed together until 1952. Ellis then joined the Oscar Peterson Trio (replacing Barney Kessel) in 1953, forming what Scott Yanow would later on refer to as "one of the most memorable of all the piano, guitar, and bass trios in jazz history".
Ellis became prominent after performing with the Oscar Peterson Trio from 1953 to 1958 along with pianist Peterson and bassist Ray Brown. He was a somewhat controversial member of the trio, because he was the only white person in the group in a time when racism was still very much widespread.
In addition to their great live and recorded work as the Oscar Peterson Trio, this unit usually with the addition of a drummer, served as the virtual "house rhythm section" for Norman Granz's Verve Records, supporting the likes of tenormen Ben Webster and Stan Getz, as well as trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, and Sweets Edison and other jazz stalwarts. Ellis was part of the rhythm section but did not solo on every track. With drummer Buddy Rich, they were also the backing band for popular "comeback" albums by the duet of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
The trio were one of the mainstays of Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts as they swept the jazz world, almost constantly touring the United States and Europe. Ellis left the Peterson Trio in November 1958, to be replaced not by a guitarist, but by drummer Ed Thigpen. The years of 1957 through 1960 found Ellis touring with Ella Fitzgerald. In addition, Ellis was a mainstay in Hollywood recording studios playing on various types of sessions. Eventually, he left studio work to concentrate on his jazz career, both onstage and on records.
Herb Ellis was also featured on an episode of Sanford and Son accompanying Fred Sanford's singing.
In 1994 he joined the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame. On November 15, 1997 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of North Texas College of Music.
Ellis died of Alzheimer's disease at his Los Angeles home on the morning of March 28, 2010, at the age of 88.
With Oscar Peterson
With Mel Brown
With Benny Carter
With Harry Edison
With Roy Eldridge
With Victor Feldman
With Johnny Frigo
With Stan Getz
With Dizzy Gillespie
With Vince Guaraldi
With Coleman Hawkins
With Lou Rawls
With Illinois Jacquet
With Bud Shank
With Gábor Szabó
With Oscar Peterson
With Sonny Stitt
With Ben Webster
With Lester Young