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April 1, 2010

Jazz Guitar Legend Herb Ellis Dies

Written by
cindy mcleod

jazz music obituaries

Herb Ellis

Herb Ellis
1921 – 2010

Ellis Set Footprint for Modern Jazz Guitar

Herb Ellis, renowned jazz guitarist and former member of the Oscar Peterson trio, has died at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 88, having succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease.

Herb Ellis is said to have created the footprint for modern jazz guitar. Although best known as a jazz guitarist, Ellis’ harmonic style embraced bebop to blues and country music. The music veteran was highly regarded by his peers, who marveled at his technical virtuosity, musicality and originality.

Born in Farmersville, Texas, on Aug. 4, 1921, as a child Mitchell Herbert Ellis first played banjo and harmonica as a child before taking up guitar. He later studied at North Texas State Teachers College (now the University of North Texas).

During the 1940s Ellis spent time in the Casa Loma Orchestra before joining Jimmy Dorsey’s Band, leaving Dorsey in 1947 with fellow band members Lou Carter (piano) and Johnny Frigo (bass) to form Soft Winds, an instrumental/vocal group. Soft Winds produced the hit song “Detour Ahead,” which has since become a jazz standard and was most notably recorded by Billie Holiday, among others.

In 1953 Ellis joined pianist Oscar Peterson and bassist Ray Brown to form one of the most celebrated trios in jazz music history. In addition to the trio’s many recordings and live appearances, the group were also a mainstay for Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic and his Verve Records, where the group backed artists such as Ben Webster, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Sweets Edison, to name a few. Adding drummer Buddy Rich, the trio became an all-star quartet to back the legendary duo of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, producing a string of hit albums.

The sixties saw Ellis doing more studio work, mainly in television. In 1973 he returned to the jazz scene with fellow jazz guitarists Barney Kessel, Charlie Byrd and Joe Pass to form Great Guitars, recording frequently for Concord Jazz Records with the ensemble as well as leading his own groups.

Herb Ellis is survived by Patti, his wife of 53 years, son Mitch, daughter Kari Ellis Yedor and three grandchildren.

for more info visit www.herbellis.com

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