Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 25 July '34, LA; d 17 Dec. '78, North Hollywood) Trumpet, leader. Worked in dance bands, US Army bands '50s, Maynard Ferguson '59; own trio and quartet early '60s, with George Russell Sextet '61 (incl. Riverside LPs). On Ellis's own trio set Out Of Nowhere '61 on Candid (with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow) he reharmonized standards; on How Time Passes '60 on Candid and New Ideas '61 on Prestige (now on Fantasy/OJC) he composed original material which should have been as influential as Ornette Coleman's, albeit in a slightly different direction. As a leader he can hardly be faulted, colleagues such as Jaki Byard, Ron Carter, Paul Bley and others knowing exactly what he was doing and able to make their own contributions. He was a trumpet soloist with NY Philharmonic '63--4 in works by Larry Austin and Gunther Schuller; became a prolific teacher and composer. He led a big band on albums for Pacific Jazz, then Columbia, restlessly innovating with time signatures, going farther than anyone else in this respect. Compositions such as 'New Nine' and '3--3--2-- 2--2--1--2--2--2' were derived from Indian music; he appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival '66 with a custom-made trumpet that would play quartertones. In 'Tears Of Joy' he used an amplified string quartet and woodwind quintet, in 'Milo's Theme' electronically processed flutes, in 'Star Children' Indian drones and a distant chorus; his big-band albums on Columbia were successful during the psychedelic era of the '60s: Electric Bath, Shock Treatment, Don Ellis At Fillmore and Soaring. He also recorded four tracks '67 with Norwegian singer Karin Krog, two released as a single on a Brave label. Film music work incl. a Grammy for theme from The French Connection '73; he had a heart attack '75, was recovering and took up 'superbone' (slide/valve trombone), but had his final attack. He was a greater loss to jazz than has yet been realized; the success of the big band obscuring his emergence as an original voice in the small groups of '60--61.