DON ELLIS Biography - Musicians


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Name: Donald Johnson Ellis                                                               
Born: July 25, 1934 Los Angeles, California, U.S.                                       
Died: December 17, 1978 Hollywood, California, U.S.                                     
Don Ellis (July 25, 1934 - December 17, 1978) was an American jazz trumpeter,           
drummer, composer and bandleader. He is best known for his extensive musical             
experimentation, particularly in the area of unusual time signatures. He held a         
Teacher's Certificate for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Later in his life           
he worked as a film composer, among other works contributing a score to 1971's           
The French Connection.                                                                   
Ellis was born in Los Angeles, CA on July 25th, 1934. His father was a Lutheran         
minister and his mother a church organist. He attended West High School in               
Minneapolis, MN. It was after seeing a Tommy Dorsey Big Band concert that he             
first became interested in jazz. Other early inspirations were Louis Armstrong           
and Dizzy Gillespie. He graduated from Boston University in 1956 with a                 
composition degree.                                                                     
Ellis' first job was with the Glenn Miller band, directed by Ray McKinley. He           
stayed with the band until September, 1956 when he joined the Seventh Army               
Symphony and Soldiers' Show Company. He was sent to Frankfurt, Germany. In the           
Army band, Ellis met pianist Cedar Walton, and saxophonists Eddie Harris and Don         
Menza. It was also in this band that Ellis got his first opportunity to write           
for a big band.                                                                         
After two years he left the Army band and moved to Greenwich Village in New York         
City. He was able to get some work, but mainly with dance bands and other local         
work. He toured briefly with bandleader Charlie Barnet but held no notable               
positions until he joined the Maynard Ferguson band in spring of 1959. He               
remained with Ferguson for nine months.                                                 
Shortly thereafter, Ellis became involved in the New York City avant-garde jazz         
scene. He appeared on albums by Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, and George Russell,         
belonging to the latter's sextet for two years. Under his own name, he led               
several sessions with small groups between 1960 and 1962 which featured, among           
others, Jaki Byard, Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, Ron Carter, Charlie Persip, and             
Steve Swallow. The albums are as notable for their explorations of tempo, form,         
and tonality as they are for their excellent musicianship. The last one, Essence,       
was recorded in mid-July 1962, after which Ellis would not release another               
record in America for several years. But he was far from inactive during this