Friday, April 9, 2010

Herb Ellis (1921-2010)

Herb Ellis, one of the last giants of jazz guitar, passed away. He studied at North Texas State and played with Jimmy Dorsey during the 1940s. His major association was with the Oscar Peterson Trio, 1953-58, and as an accompanist to singers. Much studio and subsequent club dates as a senior swing-to-bop stylist.

His most celebrated LP is recorded for Verve (521674-2), under the significant title of Nothin' but the blues, including an all-star appearance by Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, and Oscar Peterson. He also has many recordings for Concord label during 1970s. He was a great soloist in tradition of Charlie Christian, playing clean, fluent lines, especially effective in the blues idiom. "His style mixed the harmonic sophistication of bebop with the earthy directness of the blues and seasoned the blend with a twang more typical of country music than jazz," wrote Peter Keepnews in an obituary in New York Times.

While never a major star, he was long a favorite of critics and musicians. In 1959 a fellow guitarist, Jim Hall, praised his “fantastic fire and drive.” In 1990 Gary Giddins of The Village Voice raved about the “easy, loping quality” of his playing, “buoyed by familiar dissonances yet surprisingly free of cliché.”

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