Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Evolution of the Don Ellis Orchestra - Part 8 - "Don Ellis Electric Heart" by John Vizzusi [From the Archives]

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

While Jazz and its makers have historically been well-served by an aural record in the form of recordings, tapes and discs, all too often, video documentation has been lacking.

I say documentation because there are any number of clips of Jazz artists performing in Hollywood films and on television excerpts filmed through a camera and later saved on tape, but well prepared career documentaries are the exception rather than the rule.

Thankfully, the decade and a half existence of the Don Ellis Orchestra has been made into an insightful and interesting documentary in John Vizzusi’s Don Ellis Electric Heart.

Here’s John’s explanation of how and why this film came into being.


By John Vizzusi

"In the summer of 1972 I attended a show at The Oakland Civic Auditorium featuring The Don Ellis Band as the headliner." It was an evening filled with rock music from The Sons of Chaplin and Moby Grape. 

The Ellis Band was late and the audience became restless and many headed for the exits. We were there to see Don Ellis although I only knew of him from a Music Theory Professor at West Valley Junior College that thought Ellis was the greatest Jazz musician of the day. I anticipated this but had my doubts. When Ellis finally came out wearing his electric blue cape and carrying his silver trumpet case, he immediately told the audience he was sorry for the delay and because of his lateness, he would go "all out" for us. 

From then on, it was the most incredible show of any band I have ever seen then and today! I was astonished at his mix of Jazz-Rock-Blues-Soul-Classical and his own version of what we would call World Music today. He went far beyond anything I have ever heard and it all seemed to work, that is his odd-metered arrangements and strange electronic sounds. But this was not a gimmick I quickly realized but written arrangements and were so complex myself and the audience were completely mesmerized. He and band received a standing ovation for each piece he played and then for the last songs, we simply stood up and danced into the aisles. 

And when Don Ellis himself jumped from the stage and came down into the crowd it was just unbelievable! The memory of this concert has stayed with me my entire life.

Cut to 1997 as I was digging through my old Jazz LP's,l came across my Don Ellis albums. I listened to all of them in a day and I asked myself, whatever happened to this guy? I remember being very saddened when I heard of his death in 1978 as he was only 44 years old. But why was it that a musician this noteworthy was never talked about nor his music very seldom played. I stopped wondering quickly and created 'The Sights and Sounds of Don Ellis' a promotion to memorialize him and to get a Doc Film made on his life story. 

It was disgusting and still is that a Jazz Artist of this magnitude can just die out, name and music. So I stoned out on a path to attempt a resurgence of the name of Don Ellis, in Jazz and beyond. With the help of Don's son Tran Ellis, working together we were able to track down old footage shot on film and videotape. 

At that point I was able to offer a promotional DVD of Ellis 'Live' at Monterey, Concord and in San Francisco to whomever wrote a testimonial letter about their own experience with Ellis and donated a few bucks. What happened freaked me out! Thousands of letters, hand-written and e-mails rolled in along with some nice funding to at least get me started with the bigger Doc project. Folks from around the world started to call along with ex-members of his bands. They all asked the same question I initially asked, what happened to Don and why isn't his music being sold or played? Finally after years of research and development, I was able to secure funding to go into production on Electric Heart.”

More information about the film which was produced and released on Art Haus Musik is in the following annotation that was prepared by Hans Dieter Grünefeld for the booklet that accompanies the DVD. It is translated by Alan Seaton.


The more radically musicians play around with conventions, the livelier the discussions. Don Ellis was a musician whose aesthetic principles were both admired and regarded with some suspicion within the jazz scene. On making his highly acclaimed debut with his big band at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1966, he introduced the concert's opening title with the number sequence "33 222 1 222" (his subdivision of a 19-beat bar), adding ironically that it was also the area code for Los Angeles. Since then, Don Ellis has been a byword for rhythmic provocation wrapped engagingly in eccentric humour. 

No jazz musician before him had ever tested to such a degree the durability of these unusual meters. Nevertheless, using this new arithmetic Don Ellis successfully created a distinctive, idiosyncratic style, which integrated formative influences from the post-bebop era, ethnic music from India, the Far East and the Balkans, rock and pop, not to mention contemporary and avant-garde classical music in various stages and combinations.

Donald Johnson Ellis was born on 25 July 1934 in Los Angeles (USA). His father was a pastor, his mother a pianist. They encouraged his musical talent by buying him a trumpet and providing him with the opportunity to study at Boston University, where he graduated in 1956 with a Master's degree in composition. After military service, he claimed his place on the professional scene as lead trumpet in Maynard Ferguson's big band. It was not long before Don Ellis began to make a name for himself as an exceptional soloist. In 1959, Charles Mingus hired him for the recording of Mingus Dynasty. Two years later he was involved with Eric Dolphy on George Russell's Ezz-thetics album, a seminal work which heralded the shift in jazz towards modal tonalities and improvisation. 

At the same time, Don Ellis experimented with his own eccentric ideas in small ensembles. Supported by pianist and saxophonist Jaki Byard, his mentor from Boston, he attempted to rise above harmonic cliches with a "synthesis of jazz and classical elements" (Gunther Schuller), while making twelve-tone rows (e.g. in his Improvisational Suite No. 1) the reference for free solo associations. ...How Time Passes..., the title of this first album under his own name, attempts to create a variable structuring of time by constantly accelerating and slowing the tempo.

The topic would occupy Don Ellis with increasing intensity from now on. "In Los Angeles (1962) I met an Indian musician called Hari Har Rao, a student of Ravi Shankar. I'd always been interested in different rhythms (...), but it wasn't until I met him that I realised just how far one could go, and how complex these things could be. He was just a complete revelation. We formed a group called the Hindustani Sextet, which was the first time that Indian and jazz musicians worked together on an extended basis - and tried to learn each other's music." 

Based on his experience with the Hindustani Sextet, Don Ellis sought other musicians from the region to try out new rhythms in the context of a big band. Young teachers, students and session musicians attended the rehearsals; finally, out of this core of players emerged the Don Ellis Orchestra. "It has not been easy to find 20 (...) musicians with the talent and ability to play unusual time signatures like 7/8," Don Ellis wrote in his text to the Monterey album. Moreover, he met with hostility from a number of dogmatists, who felt odd meters were unnatural. Don Ellis countered with: "Not natural to whom? They are natural to a great portion of the world's peoples." Despite such opposition from within the jazz scene, Don Ellis forced through the realization of his ideas with obsessive zeal.

What was original in this was that Ellis did not see unorthodox time signatures as in any way rivalling the dominant rhythms of Afro-American swing, rather as fuel to raise jazz (as an art form) to a universal level. For him, therefore, the avant-garde was always an organic concept - and swing an unconditional option. Within this concept, however, he modified the dimensions to such extremes that certain measures, such as 3 ⅔ /4 (= 11/8) and the way of counting them (22223) seem like intriguing mathematical puzzles even today. However, Don Ellis's arithmetic contains qualitative vibrations that are very different from "conventional" swing.

Just as irritating as his rhythms is his compositional style. Instead of the conventional jazz song form, Don Ellis developed the relevant meters from a melodic framework, (not vice versa), often borrowing structures from classical music and creating an independent musical discourse in the process. His Variations For Trumpet (on Autumn), for example, take the theme through five different rhythmic phases; here, Don Ellis's solo episodes appear as if accompanied by a shadow in the arrangement and - a first in recorded jazz for 1968 - make use of stereo recording technology to enhance the overall sound aesthetic.

In any case, Don Ellis modified the big band to create a flexible grouping. To begin with, he augmented the conventional ensemble, reinforcing the rhythm section with three bass players, two drummers and at least one percussionist. From the outset the saxophone section was packed with multi-instrumentalists who also played clarinets and flutes. Later, when the trend shifted towards jazz-rock, he introduced electric instruments. Then, in 1971, Don Ellis gave his orchestra a radical makeover: suddenly there were no longer sections at all, but instead a string quartet amplified by a Barcus-Berry transducer system, a brass septet (3 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba and horn), woodwind quartet (including oboe) and a rhythm section with three drummers and a percussionist, who would freely regroup to create different sound combinations. Strawberry Soup (on Tears Of Joy) is a good example of how well the approach works. In this variable Rondo the components attach themselves after each improvised execution of the basic 9/4 figure to each soloist in turn, resulting in a hypnotic kaleidoscope of tonal shades.

In addition to being an intellectual conceptualist, lecturer, writer, composer and arranger, Don Ellis was first and foremost a brass freak. In 1966 he commissioned a quarter-tone trumpet (featuring an additional fourth valve), because he considered the equal temperament twelve-note scale to be arbitrarily limiting. With his special trumpet he could not only fit "24 equal notes to the octave, but I could also, with a slight adjustment of my lips, get almost any interval that I would want," - a technique particularly well illustrated in The Squeeze (on Pieces Of Eight).

To one of the trumpet's tuning slides he attached a small microphone, which could be hooked up to amplifiers. Two years before Miles Davis established a trend for electric jazz with his revolutionary Bitches Brew, Don Ellis had already alienated the sound of his trumpet by connecting it to a variety of devices. Using the echoplex he could play duets with himself as extravagant cadences, such as in the soaring, impressionistic ballad Open Beauty (on Electric Bath), or his cover of the Beatles song Hey Jude (on At Fillmore). In certain solos he introduces distortion, grunting parallel octaves or amusing sound kicks with an Oberheim ring modulator and Conn Multi-Vider. His arabesque trumpet style was heavily influenced by bebop linearity. With high-speed arpeggios and striking staccato patterns, he found his way around the complex rhythms with great virtuosity.

Don Ellis also had a Superbone (a hybrid trombone with valves), a Firebird trumpet (with trombone slide) and a four-valve flugelhorn, capable of reaching very low registers, such as in the ballad Loneliness (on Live At Montreux), a poetic gem. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Don Ellis was also an accomplished drummer. From 1970 onwards he played an active part in the band's drum rota and gave himself the lead role in his composition The Devil Made Me Write This Piece (on Soaring). Not long afterwards, however, Ellis was forced to give up playing drums - and even cut down his solo activities as a trumpeter - on account of a weak heart. He suffered a heart attack in 1975, from which he made a very slow recovery. He made a return to the stage in February 1978 with a quintet at the first Jazz Yatra in Bombay. But on 17 December 1978, Don Ellis died of sudden heart failure at his home in Hollywood. 

Throughout his relatively short career Don Ellis was immensely productive and his music met with an enthusiastic response. Appearances on television shows in the United States and Europe as well as regular tours strengthened his reputation as an innovative musician. He composed around 250 titles, by no means all of which were released under his name on his 18 LPs (now also available as CDs). Posthumous releases include Pieces Of Eight, Live in India and Don Ellis and the Wojciech Karolak Trio live at the Jazz Jamboree 1962, Warsaw (Polish Radio Jazz Archives). Several of his albums were nominated for a Grammy, although it was the score he wrote for the thriller The French Connection which finally won him the prestigious award in 1972. 

Don Ellis was always at the forefront of progressive jazz trends; he even managed to transcend them without disowning the tradition of his role models Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton and Dizzy Gillespie. Less well known is the fact that Ellis played trumpet in the Frank Zappa song Brown Shoes Don't Make It (on Absolutely Free), jammed with the prog rock group Emerson Lake and Palmer, and was also a recognised figure in the classical scene: he composed Contrasts For Two Orchestras And Trumpet for Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and when Leonard Bernstein recorded Music Of Our Time in 1962, Don Ellis teamed up with Barre Phillips (b) and Joe Cocuzzo (dr) to form the trio for Improvisations For Orchestra and Jazz Soloists by Larry Austin. 

Twice, in 1967 and 1968, he made guest appearances at the Berlin Jazz Festival, where he fronted a hugely successful programme with a dream band in 7-time that included Reach - Cantata For Choir. Orchestra And Trumpet. However, although the impact of his ideas and his charismatic personality were spectacular during his lifetime, it is only in recent years that the music of Don Ellis has again become the focus of closer attention. 

Now for the first time we have an opportunity to enter his complex laboratory of meters and sound experiments - thanks to John Vizzusi's film biography: Don Ellis - Electric Heart (The Man his Times and his Music), which tells his life's work through specially recorded interviews with colleagues, including Maynard Ferguson and Gunther Schuller, and authentic concert recordings. In this way the jazz world is able once again to benefit from Don Ellis's rich legacy.”

It isn't often that the work of a Jazz artist of the magnitude and complexity is comprehensively rendered in a video format. Do yourself a favor - don’t miss the rare opportunity to do so as represented in John Vissuzi’s professional produced Don Ellis - Electric Heart (The Man his Times and his Music).

Here’s an excerpt:

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Evolution of the Don Ellis Orchestra - Part 7 "From Satchmo to Miles" [From the Archives]

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

For the next segment in our continuing series on the evolution of the Don Ellis Orchestra, circa 1964-1978, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles turns to the chapter on Don Ellis in Leonard Feather’s From Satchmo to Miles.

The fact that there is a chapter on Don in this book [published in 1972] is significant in itself as the other chapters in the book are based on those Jazz musicians who exerted a great influence on the shape of the music including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Norman Granz, Oscar Peterson, Ray Charles and Miles Davis.

Rarified company, indeed, as Leonard explains in his introduction “From Satchmo to Miles … incorporates firsthand observations of a dozen figures, all of whom, I feel, have been vital to the development and advancement of jazz ….

I admit to having chosen these personalities very selectively. If you look for Benny Goodman and Stan Kenton, whose importance I would not wish in any way to belittle, either explicitly or implicitly, perhaps it should be pointed out that their exclusion does not mean that an essential aspect of jazz in the past forty years has been neglected. Count Basie is at least as valid a representative of the swing era as Goodman; Don Ellis in many ways offers a present-day parallel to Kenton.”

“JUST AS RAY CHARLES has succeeded in wiping out artificial barriers between jazz, rhythm-and-blues, and related idioms, so has the general trend of recent years indicated an increased anxiety on the part of innumerable musicians not to think or operate in terms of categories.

More and more often we have heard such statements as, "I don't want to be labeled a jazz musician," "Jazz and rock must draw from one another," "Jazz is a white man's word," and various dogmatic remarks telling us that jazz in some way inhibits the performer's freedom, and must yield the right of way to a new music, free of the stigma allegedly implicit in that word.

It remains unquestionably a matter of fact rather than opinion that jazz today is alive, that even those artists who abhor the word continue to play the music, that it is taught more extensively than ever at the school and college levels, that concerts and festivals are staged in its name.

Since the late 1960s the changes in jazz have been more fundamental and have evolved at a more accelerated pace than at any previous period. On the one hand, musicians are demolishing the fences, opening the way toward the new, nameless idiom that represents their concept of a musical Utopia; on the other hand, factionalism, particularly in the form of racial separatism, has tended to draw the performers away from each other, polarizing a music in which unification has long been an objective.

These contradictory cross-currents are nowhere better illustrated than in the cases of Miles Davis and Don Ellis. Both are generally accepted as innovative jazz musicians; both are composers who play trumpet and flugelhorn; both have become deeply involved in the use of amplified instruments, wah-wah pedals, ring modulators, and other devices that control and distort what we have always thought of as "natural" sounds.

Despite these superficial similarities, however, the worlds of Ellis and Davis overlap only minimally. The most conspicuous difference between them is that while Ellis is primarily interested in experimentation with big-band jazz, Davis has given new directions to small combo music. Don talks to his audiences at length about the subdivisions of 9/4, 7/8, 9/8, or 3/2 they are about to hear; Miles, who does not find it necessary to tell his listeners anything, allows his musicians almost limitless latitude and is far more concerned than Ellis with freedom and spontaneity.

That Miles is black and Don white may be assumed by some to connote an automatic difference in their approaches. Of course, it could be pointed out that Ellis worked for quite some time as a sideman or leader in predominantly black combos, and that Miles has never had an association more fruitful than his partnership with the white composer-arranger Gil Evans in a series of ambitious orchestral ventures. The contrast actually is one of attitudes determined by background and associations rather than simply of race per se. Ellis clearly has sprung from the roots that gave us Stan Kenton. His orchestra usually is almost or completely all-white, as Kenton's bands have been, and the composition of his audiences is similar. Miles thinks black and talks black, but his appeal is interracial, and paradoxical though it may seem, his group in recent years has been more international and more integrated than Ellis' band; in person or on records he has employed an English bassist, a Scottish guitarist, Austrian and English pianists, and a Brazilian percussionist.

The temperamental differences between the two men are not hard to perceive. As both trumpeter and leader, Ellis exercises a tight, hard-edged discipline. He can perform with great lyricism but more often displays harmonic and rhythmic complexities. The listener is less conscious of the technical or intellectual effort that goes into the creation of a Miles Davis solo.

It must not be concluded from these observations that the jazz of Ellis and the jazz of Davis are mutually exclusive: a member of one group might find himself at ease with the other. Still, these two dominant personalities of the 1970s are representative of two clearly different directions in contemporary jazz.

On the afternoon of September 18, 1966, the audience at the Monterey Jazz Festival accorded a tall, blond, trumpet-playing composer-bandleader named Don Ellis what may have been the most thunderous standing ovation in the festival's history.

One of the most talented young musicians in America today, Ellis is also something of a paradox. As a musician, he is a radical innovator, an exponent of unlimited freedom, an uninhibited experimenter who once performed a piece consisting entirely of musicians standing around a piano and looking at it in total silence. At the same time, on the personal level he is a conservative, clean-cut, all-American — totally rigorous and disciplined.

His triumph at Monterey climaxed years of experimentation with almost every kind of musical adventure. There were tours as a band sideman; combo gigs with Charles Mingus and George Russell; the formation of several groups of his own that played Greenwich Village, Stockholm, Oslo, and Warsaw; Third Stream ventures with Leonard Bernstein and Gunther Schuller; study on the West Coast; and a long flirtation with Indian music that resulted in his Hindustani Jazz Sextet. After a year in Buffalo he went to Los Angeles where, in 1964, he launched a rehearsal band, which varied from twenty to twenty-three men and which produced the orchestra responsible for the Monterey madness.

Intermingled with Ellis' various jobs were several stretches of studying and teaching, an initiation into liturgical jazz, numerous painstaking attempts at journalism, and a number of forays into the recording field, some of which ended in frustration when the albums were never released.

Nat Hentoff, one of Ellis' earliest and most vociferous rooters, has observed that "No contemporary jazz composer makes use of as many different devices. He draws from both the classical and jazz traditions, and invents forms of his own. His writing is as varied as his playing."

Donald Johnson Ellis was born in Los Angeles on Jury 25, 1934, the son of the Reverend and Mrs. Ezra Ellis. A precocious child, he began to show musical talent at a very early age. His mother, a church organist who had studied to be a concert pianist, noticed Don's rapid development; by the age of five he could transpose a tune from C to G without hesitation.

"But I rebelled against piano lessons," says Don. "I hated scales. The trumpet, on which nobody ever had to talk me into taking lessons, was what held my interest."

His formal musical education included composition studies with four teachers, trumpet lessons with at least seven, and a degree in composition from Boston University in 1956.

His attraction to jazz began at West High School in Minneapolis. "The first band I ever heard in person was Tommy Dorsey's, with Charlie Shavers on trumpet. I was so fascinated I even forgot the chick I was with and just sat there open-mouthed." A few years later he heard both the classic Hot Five 78s of Louis Armstrong and "Manteca" and "Cool Breeze" by the early Gillespie band. Although Armstrong and Gillespie were far removed from each other, they both excited Ellis.

(Don himself has been compared to such diverse jazz artists as Dizzy, Rex Stewart, Roy Eldridge, Maynard Ferguson, Fats Navarro, Clark Terry, and almost every jazz trumpet giant.)

After graduating from college, Ellis auditioned successfully for the Glenn Miller band, then directed by Ray McKinley, and joined up immediately. "I'll never forget how he started his professional life," his father recalls. "He had nothing but a toothbrush, a razor, and a trumpet."

"It was quite an indoctrination," Ellis agrees. "We had three months of one-night stands with a total of three nights off, making a minimum of 500 miles a day on the bus. But I was happy to be right out of college making $135 a week. I stayed until September of 1956, when the Army got me."

The Army was more fun than drudgery; the Seventh Army Symphony and Soldiers' Show Company included a jazz orchestra, for which he was chief arranger. During his second year the band was fronted by Leo Wright, later well known as Dizzy Gillespie's sax-and-flute specialist. The personnel also included Sam Fletcher, the singer; Cedar Walton, the pianist now best known as an Art Blakey alumnus; and saxophonist Eddie Harris.

Once out of the Army, Ellis shared a cramped apartment in Greenwich Village with Fletcher, Walton, and pianist Horace Parian. He played some local gigs, a few brief stints with dance bands in Boston, and a short tour with Charlie Barnet. Then one night Slide Hampton and Joe Zawinul of the Maynard Ferguson band heard Don sit in with a combo at Smalls Paradise in Harlem, and promptly recommended him to Ferguson. He joined the orchestra in the spring of 1959 and remained for nine months. "Maynard was a great natural talent," says Ellis. "In those days no one else could play like that."

In the next couple of years Ellis broke away more and more from standard bebop playing and the symmetrical, formula method of writing. He demonstrated his concern for freedom and expansion of tempo and meter on his first album as a leader, a 1960 cut on the long-defunct Candid label. Prominently featured on the LP was Ellis' roommate, a friend from Boston and an ex-Ferguson colleague, Jaki Byard, who was closely associated with Ellis from 1959 to 1962.

"Ironically," Ellis recalls, "at the time of what turned out to be the end of our professional relationship, I was set to take a quartet into Wells' in Harlem, and found that Jaki didn't want to play uptown." Byard, who is black, and Ellis were feeling the first effects of the reverse racism that disapproved of mixing.

Some observers, aware of Ellis' rightist views, find a curious paradox in his close musical association and personal friendship with black musicians. His father is a friend of Richard Nixon, who has visited Rev. Ellis’ church, and Don is a staunch Republican, a Reagan enthusiast, a Goldwater fan and an opponent of the Rumford Fair Housing Act. He says: "I'm for a complete laissez-faire capitalist economy" and believes that "If people who have the intelligence not to be prejudiced would simply ignore racial differences, the whole racial problem would be solved rapidly."

In his politics as in several other respects Ellis has much in common with Stan Kenton. Like Stan, he is a restless seeker after new musical forms. Both men are tall (Ellis six feet, Kenton six feet four inches) and physically prepossessing; both have a keen sense of self-promotion; both lean toward grandeur and magniloquence rather than simplicity and soul.

Don is a firm disciplinarian. "Those rehearsals have to start right on the button," says Dave Wells, formerly of Ellis' trombone section. "He figures out his whole life that way."

Ellis' rigid self-discipline enabled him to concentrate his efforts on the furthering of his professional ambition. As everyone now knows (including the imitators, who are multiplying by the minute), the door to success was unlatched by mathematics—a kaleidoscope of metric novelties that could swing the tempo of his big band, in the course of a single set, from 5/4 to 5/8 to 13/4 to 27/18 to 6/8, with only a now-and-then glimpse back at that quaint old 4/4 beat that used to be the basis of all jazz.

According to Third Streamer Gunther Schuller, who annotated the first Ellis album and later used him in a series of contemporary music concerts, "Ellis has found a way of expanding the rhythmic vocabulary of jazz to include rhythmic patterns heretofore excluded because they couldn't be made to swing. ... It is evident that he has listened to Webern, Stockhausen, and others of the avant-garde."

The shape of swing to come was clearly indicated in a 1961 interview when Ellis said, "I don't know where jazz is heading, but I'd like to see it keep improvisation and swing. And it doesn't have to be sanctified to swing ... it doesn't always have to be 4/4. There are a lot of other time signatures to try out. I think we'll go into 5/8 and 7/8. Hall Overton was showing me some things like that. . . ."

The Village years were productive both on the musical and personal levels. One night a stunning blonde ex-model named Connie Coogan walked into the Phase 2 on Bleecker Street where Don had a gig. She became Mrs. Ellis in July of 1961. Their combined experimentation has included a natural-health-food kick, which allegedly improved Don's vision, enabling him to Throw Away That Glass Mask (early photos show him wearing heavy horn-rimmed glasses). Don even gave experimental names to his sons, Brav and Tran, born in 1963 and 1964. "This was an attempt to get away from the same old familiar names," he explains. "Brav was derived from Bravo and Tran from Transcend." The Ellises were divorced in 1971.

In October of 1962 Don went through the familiar prophet-without-honor phase. He and Connie left for a couple of months of travel and study, starting at the International Jazz Jamboree in Warsaw. He wrote "Warsaw Diary" for Down Beat, recording the minutest details of the festival, each entry clocked to the nearest fifteen minutes.

He and the Poles, who were deeply immersed in the Third Stream, got along famously. Soon afterward, in Stockholm, Ellis reported, "We were treated like royalty. The musicians I recorded with for Swedish radio were very sympathetic to the 'new thing' and impressed me with their natural feel for it."

It was in Stockholm that Don earned his first headlines by mixing straight playing with "jazz happenings" at Gyllene Cirkeln [Golden Circle], a jazz restaurant. The happenings supposedly represented an acting out of something a musician might have thought or felt during the evening in relationship to what he had been playing. The concept was reflected in such gambits as using sticks on the piano, pouring salt into it, inflating and bursting paper bags, crawling around under the piano, or drawing a paintbrush across the strings.

Looking back at these attempts to become the John Cage of jazz, Don says, "I felt jazz musicians could do more than classical musicians. The idea was, everybody was too staid and stagnant, afraid to try new things. I never felt that Ornette Coleman was that new or radical.

"There was one happening called The Death in which we just stood around the piano looking at it. It was fascinating, because of the varying audience reactions; it was a dramatic thing.

"This was just something I wanted to try out, but I later found it didn't have enough substance to justify doing it over and over. Other areas were more fruitful."

Lalo Schifrin, the composer and pianist who collaborated with Ellis in an Improvisational Jazz Workshop in New York in 1963, had reservations about Don's motives for staging happenings. "Don was and is one of the most creative musicians on the scene," says Schifrin. "His imagination is just what jazz needs. However, sometimes he would become too bold, just to attract attention. I felt we were becoming too much actors, and for me this was not really art. Later I was pleasantly surprised to see Don come back to music. I guess he had just gone through a Dada period, like the French poets and painters in the 1920s."

In 1964 Don returned to Los Angeles, where he conducted workshops in improvisation and ensemble playing at UCLA. At this time a latent fascination with Indian music surfaced as he studied with the sitarist Hari Har Rao, who worked with him in a group they called the Hindustani Jazz Sextet. Next he formed a big workshop orchestra, the forerunner of his current band.

From the start the big group employed unconventional meters and instrumentation; Ellis added three drummers and a three-man bass section. The latter sometimes sawed away in somber unison but also were often used for intricate harmonic effects. His percussion section included cowbells, conga, cuica, and bongos, as well as conventional American drums. A later innovation was an attachment that can feed sound from Don's trumpet or any of the other horns to an elaborate amplifying system.

If the men have problems with a 5/8 or 9/4 beat, Ellis sits down with them and claps the part until everyone claps together. (Aware that drummers had difficulty learning to keep the odd time signatures, Don taught himself to play drums— "in self-defense, so I could demonstrate to my drummers how those meters went.") "He's a real teacher-preacher type personality," said Dave Wells. "I never saw Don lose his temper with the band. He covers up his emotions very well. When our morale was low, you can imagine how much this helped."

The Ellis initiative was forcefully demonstrated one night when the band arrived at the Havana Club where they were working, and found it padlocked: the owners had had a disagreement and closed it up. Ellis, unruffled, called up Walt Flynn, a trombonist friend, who was working at a Hollywood club called Bonesville. Within an hour the entire band followed Ellis into Bonesville, together with customers from the padlocked room.

"From that time on," says Ellis, "things began to pick up."

Stan Kenton, intrigued by the concept of offbeat time signatures, took Ellis under his wing. One evening in February 1966, Don brought the Hindustani Jazz Sextet to the Los Angeles Music Center. In an original work aptly entitled Synthesis, he grasped Kenton's entire mighty Neophonic Orchestra, stuffed it in his very hip pocket, and ran off with the show.

"We used two basic ragas," Ellis says, "with Hari Har Rao on sitar and tabla. I explained to the audience that the Indians have the most sophisticated rhythmic system in the world." He also used a jazz saxophonist, plus mallet and rhythm instruments, all fortified, of course, by the twenty-five towering neophonicists around them. The synthesis wound an idiomatic route from New Orleans to New Delhi, with brief European and African detours along the way.

The Kenton break set the ball in motion . . . now it was up to Ellis to keep it rolling. During the next few months he urged his Bonesville audiences to keep up a letter-writing campaign, pleading that the big band be introduced at Monterey. Festival chief Jimmy Lyons read the letters, heard the band, and gave his word that the deal was on. Meanwhile the fast-growing Bonesville movement took on the aspect of a cult.

On a typical Monday evening at Bonesville, Don's wife Connie sat by the entrance, ready to collect the $1.50 admissions. On the wall at her side was a placard advising the unaware that membership in the Don Ellis Jazz Society would entitle the joiner to such privileges as a reduced ($1) admission fee, a free brochure about Don and the band, an autographed photo of Don, and a free supply of "Where Is Don Ellis?" bumper stickers of the type that had publicized him at Monterey. It was 7:30. For the past hour the band had been running over some new charts. The concert was due to start at 8, but this was one of those nights when the early entrants would get in on the end of a rehearsal.

Ellis tried out a number he had scored for a vocal album. A songwriter friend had commissioned him to write arrangements of several of her tunes. After the first rundown, Ellis said, "All right, now let's transpose it from D minor to E minor, and then we'll try it in C minor, because one chick has a real low voice, and we don't know yet what singer is going to do this song or what her range will be." The band patiently went through the chart in all three keys, with Ellis taking the vocal on trumpet.

This done, Ellis looked around and, in a very even voice, said, "Are we having trouble getting blue shirts for Monday? It looks kinda nice, you know, blue shirts. Those wearing white tonight, what happened?"

An unintelligible mumble came from the three-fourths of the band members wearing white shirts. "Well," said Ellis, "make it blue every night from now on." A moment later he was busy explaining to a drummer how to get the right feeling into a 5/8 work.

By the time the rehearsal ended, the room, a sparsely decorated high-roofed bar with a seating capacity of three hundred, was half full. By the end of the first formal set, customers were standing in line outside.

After each number Ellis spoke to the crowd as if he were addressing an assemblage of loyal constituents. When he found himself becoming too technical in explaining the next number, he used a bit of humor to lighten things. For instance, after explaining a work written in a nineteen-beat meter and correspondingly titled "3-3-2-2-2-1-2-2-2," he added, "Of course, that's just the area code,"

On the program that night was a composition by a Czech writer, Pavel Blatny. A couple of years before, Ellis had received a tape recorded by Blatny in Prague of an original work featuring a trumpet playing quarter-tones. 

"Blatny later sent me the music, then I persuaded a New York instrument manufacturer to make me a quarter-tone trumpet. I guess they were determined not to let the East beat out the West. Maybe someday I'll get a five-valve trumpet so that I can play eighth-tones."

Another finger-twisting feature of the opening set was a boogie-woogie number conveniently shorn of one beat, which gave it a limping quality. Ellis called it "Beat Me Daddy, Seven to the Bar."

As the evening wore on, Ellis' announcements became more informal and engaging than ever. He announced his forthcoming appearance at Shelly's Manne Hole (the band's first full week anywhere). He plugged a benefit for an ailing musician. After dwelling on three or four more extraneous topics, he said, "Oh, yes, about this next tune. What did I say we were going to do?"

Early predictions of success have been borne out by Ellis' progress in the past five years. Don is very much involved in all aspects of the music field. He led the all-star "dream band" at the Berlin Jazz Festivals in 1967 and 1968; at the 1968 Festival his cantata, Reach, was premiered. He has scored two motion pictures: Moon Zero Two, filmed in London and not released in the United States, and The French Connection; he also made a joint appearance with Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, playing Ellis’ Contrasts for Two Orchestra and Trumpet,

Still as deeply concerned with teaching as with learning, Ellis has given courses at U.C.L.A. and San Fernando Valley State College. He has emphasized his role as a drummer, playing more frequently and studying with a private teacher.

The band, gaining substantially in public acceptance, has toured extensively and with notable success at colleges, and has played everywhere from the Ed Sullivan Show to the Fillmore West (both of which it has fortunately survived). There has been a series of Columbia albums of variable merit. The band was nominated for a Grammy award by the Recording Academy for four consecutive years but has not yet won.

The Kenton analogy was brought to mind when, during Kenton's illness, Ellis substituted for him as leader for a week in the summer of 1971.

Of his own orchestra Ellis now says: "We went through a heavy rock phase, but now we're getting into new colors. By early 1971 I felt I had explored as much as possible within the standard orchestral framework, even with the electronics; so I added a string quartet, which helped mellow the sound of the band when necessary, and transformed the saxes into a woodwind quartet. We don't need three bass players any more because everyone plays electric nowadays, so I switched to just one fender player. I'm enjoying all the challenges of this revised instrumentation.

"As for my political views, I don't consider myself a right-winger. I'm a radical for personal freedom and liberty. I'm disappointed in Nixon. He came in on one set of principles, then operated on another. Why, if a left-winger had made some of those same proposals, everybody would be up in arms!"

Nat Hentoff once pointed out that Ellis had done much to prove, by his own example, that musical freedom is increased rather than constricted by the acquisition of knowledge. It is safe to assume that in the years immediately ahead he will continue not only to acquire new knowledge but also to impart it to a growing audience wherever jazz is heard. Toward the end of the last decade I ventured a prophecy that Ellis would become the Stan Kenton of the 1970s. To a substantial degree that prediction has already been borne out, and I suspect, to paraphrase Goldwater, that in his heart Kenton knows this is right.”

Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Evolution of the Don Ellis Orchestra - Part 6 - "Times for Revolution" an interview with Pete Welding [From the Archives]

 © -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Regarding his own work in the late 1960s, Ellis said, "Music, like any art, hits you at an emotional level before you dissect it analytically. A lot of people relate to the 'sense of life' in our music. I just see it as a new way of swinging"
- Sean P. Fenlon, Doctoral Dissertation, Peabody Institute, Johns Hopkins University

The JazzProfiles feature on the evolution of the Don Ellis Orchestra continues with the interviews and essays that appeared in Downbeat  magazine in the 1960s and 1070.

Times for Revolution an interview with Don Ellis by Pete Welding appeared in the April 20, 1967 edition of Downbeat.

Much of the information in this article has appeared subsequently in other writings about Don but what is important to keep in mind about this interview is that it is a primary source. It’s not a secondary source regarding Don and his music written by a researcher, but rather, Don himself talking about what he attempting to do with his music in response to interview questions that were put directly to him by Pete Welding.

His ability to articulate his approach to big band Jazz cogently and coherently is as much a part of Don genius as the music himself, because it was imperative that it be taught to others in order for it to come into existence. Don knew that his conception was but one part of the equation; the execution of this concept formed the other half and he had to teach it to others before it could be realized.

“IT DOESN'T LOOK LIKE the headquarters of a revolution. At first glance, in fact, there is little to distinguish it from its neighbor "antique" shops, job printers, and electronics stores that cluster on West Los Angeles' Melrose Ave.

It's a strange location for a jazz club.

Still, Bonesville is not only a busy, important club in its own right but, in its capacity as home base for the Don Ellis Orchestra, serves as a kind of operational and rallying center for the dissemination of the leader's ideas.
While there are no manifestoes tacked on the door, a revolution has been taking place—and none too quietly—within the club's walls for a number of months. In the last year and a half, trumpeter Fills, first at Ihe Club Havana and lately at Bonesville, has forged a totally new jazz orchestra, and what the band has been doing under his zealous guidance is, in a real sense, revolutionary.

What strikes one most forcibly upon seeing the band is the rhythm section— three drummers and three, sometimes four, bassists. The remainder of the group's instrumentation is relatively orthodox: four trumpets, three trombones, five reeds, and piano/organ.

When the band starts playing, however, the reason for the expanded rhythm section is evident. The music is rhythmically exciting to a degree unmatched by any other jazz orchestra. The bassists and drummers set up a fantastically complex, elaborate rhythmic counterpoint, over which the orchestra rides with tremendous power.

While there is superbly disciplined ensemble and section playing, plus excellent solo work from a number of the horn men, the orchestra's forte is most evidently its consummate execution of difficult time signatures and its effortless way with forceful, emotion-charged rhythmic polyphony of an intricacy and subtlety not heard in orchestral jazz before.

The power the band generates is almost physical.

Excitement is the orchestra's stock in trade, and the greater part of this, Ellis says, is attributable to the band's approach to rhythm. This is an outgrowth of his own long preoccupation with the subject, as he noted in an article in the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival program brochure :

"Rhythm was the main thing that attracted me to jazz: both in the excitement of swing and the complexity of the cross-rhythms. For many years now I have been trying to conceive of new ways to expand jazz rhythms. Alternation of 4's and 3*s was one of the first things that occurred to me, and then I tried experiments of 'stretching' the time by means of accclerandos and ritardandos. 'Free' rubato time (so common to the avant-garde today) also proved interesting, as did the possibility of having several tempos going at once.

"The next step was to attempt to play things in 7/4 and 9/4. Arif Mardin, the Turkish jazz composer, gave me a chart in 9, divided 2-2-2-3, that was based on a Turkish folk rhythm, and made me more aware of the fact that the odd-numbered meters, which at first seem so exotic and difficult to us, are really very natural and a part of the folk culture of much of the world….

"I reasoned that since it was possible to play in a meter such as a 9, divided 2-2-2-3, it should then be possible to play in meters of even longer length, and this led to the development of such meters as 3-3-2-2-2-1-2-2-2 (19). To arrive at this particular division of 19, I tried many different patterns, but this was the one that swung the most.

"The longest meter I have attempted to date is a piece in 85. But this isn't so far fetched as one might think at first, because at the department of ethnomusicology at UCLA I learned of one folk song with a 108-beat cycle."
Most of these experiments in rhythmic elaboration were conducted on his own through a tedious process of hit-and-miss investigation.

Ellis was feeling his way toward rhythmic sophistication; the process was considerably accelerated when he moved to the West Coast in 1962 to pursue graduate studies in UCLA's music department.

He met Hari Har Rao, an .Indian sitarist and former pupil of Ravi Shankar who was teaching in the university's ethnomusicology department. Ellis enrolled in Rao's class in Indian music, supplementing this with private studies with Rao.

Ellis recently recalled the meeting:

"It's been a continuing interest of mine to develop rhythmic ideas, but it wasn't until I got out here and started studying Indian music with Hari Har Rao that I truly realized that there's a whole other world of rhythm. I knew about rhythm and swing and time and different meters— I had even written that piece in 19/4 long before I had met Hari Har—but it wasn't until I met him that I realized how far advanced Indian musicians were rhythmically and how far behind we were in our culture. It's when you understand the subtleties in their music that you see how incredible it is."

Some time before he met Rao, when he was getting interested in rhythms, Ellis bought recordings of Indian music and listened to them. He found it all very nice, even exciting, he said, but it wasn't until he had met Rao that he realized that, even though he had been listening to the music, he had no idea what was going on.

"In fact," he said, "most of the time what I had thought was, say, a downbeat wasn't even close to it. I had no idea what they were really doing until I started studying it. I'll wager that there's no possible way for anyone who hasn't studied the music to understand it; it really takes conscious study. Not that you can't just listen to it and get something out of it, but you can't listen to it and even keep the basic beat unless you've studied it. The cycles are so much more complex."

Because rhythm is his main interest, Ellis went on, his all-consuming passion has become to develop himself as far as he can rhythmically and, as a sort of byproduct, to get these rhythms permeating throughout the whole popular culture ("it's already happening now," he said), getting people aware that there's more than 4/4 and 3/4 and that even within them there's a lot more that can be done with them in terms of rhythmic subtlety and sophistication.

"In the beginning," Ellis wrote for Monterey, "there used to be two arguments against playing jazz in these new rhythms and meters: 1) They are not natural. And my answer was: not natural to whom? They are natural to a great portion of the world's peoples. 2) You can do the same thing in 4/4. This is ridiculous; if one can't play comfortably in 5 and 7, for example, how can one hope to superimpose these correctly over 4/4? Also, superimposing any other meter over 4/4 is nor the same thing as playing in that meter exclusively."

Ellis’ formation, with Rao, of the Hindustani Jazz Sextet followed. It was an inevitable outgrowth of the two musicians' mutually interdependent interests. Ellis was by now totally engaged with the rhythms of the East, while Rao was interested in coming to a fuller understanding of jazz. It was a fruitful association. Ellis described his debt to Rao:

"He opened up undreamed-of new worlds of rhythm that he and his teacher, Ravi Shankar, had worked out. I learned exercises for developing the ability to superimpose complicated rhythm patterns one on the other, ways of counting to be able to always keep my place in a given cycle, no matter how long or involved.

"He showed me how to arrive at new rhythmic ideas, the proper ways of working these out and practicing them. It was a tremendously exciting and rewarding experience."

The Hindustani Jazz Sextet enjoyed considerable popular success wherever it played on the West Coast, the trumpeter recalled, though he also remarked that he and Rao were unable to interest a record company in the potential of the group. In the summer of 1963, Ellis decided to expand the sextet to orchestra size.

"I figured that with a bigger band," he said, "it would be easier to get the gospel spread as to the new rhythms, because we'd be exposing more of the musicians to it. Also, I've always loved the big-band sound—that was my original interest when I first started listening to jazz."

The band, which rehearsed weekly for about half a year, rehearsed on Wednesday mornings al the musicians union.

The instrumentation was that of the standard jazz orchestra, with only one bassist and one drummer. The first phase of the Ellis orchestra ended when, later that year, he went back east.

ATTENDING THE Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., where he was a member of the Lukas Foss Ensemble, Ellis worked for a while with another rehearsal band, led by trumpeter Sam Noto, and also formed a small group for playing gigs in the Buffalo area.

To lend added rhythmic interest to this latter group's work, he employed two bassists and two drummers. Had he been able to find more qualified rhythm players in the area, he said, he would have added them to the section.

Experiencing some difficulty in getting from the drummers what he required of them, Ellis finally had to learn to play drums himself—"at least enough to demonstrate what I wanted them to do," he said.

Returning to Los Angeles in the summer of 1965, Ellis immediately set out to re-form the big band. His ideas for the generation of rhythmic complexity within the framework of a large orchestra had crystalized sufficiently for him to embark on the difficult task of recruiting a rhythm section considerably larger than the standard one.

He felt that the new rhythms, if they were to work in the big-band format, required at least three bassists and an equal number of percussionists. Finding the right men was not easy.

"I started auditioning rhythm-section men." he recalled, "and I was lucky at first, because I found two of my most important bassists, Ray Neapolitan and Chuck Domanico, right off. It was at a rehearsal of Paul Moer's band that I met Chuck and his best friend, Ray, who was also a bassist.

"They started making the early rehearsals with me—that is, without the rest of the band; we were just trying  to get the rhythm section set, since it is so crucial to the band's total conception.

"It's interesting—we went through almost every drummer who was in town and auditioned them, and we couldn't really find anyone who could play the rhythms. The guys would come in—and some of them were very big names—sit down, and we'd start, but after a bar they'd be completely lost, had no idea where they were. They were rather embarrassed.

"It was suggested to me by a young altoist. Tom Scott, that there was an organist in town who also played drums—a young guy, Steve Bohannon. Tom thought that he might be able to do the thing. So we had him come in, and he sat down and asked, 'Well, what's the subdivision? We told him whatever it was. I said, 'Oh, it's 19; it's divided 3-3-2-2-2-1-2-2-2.' He said okay, and I counted off the tempo, and he just played it, and he's never had any problem with whatever rhythm I would set up. He just plays it. I attribute that to the fact that he doesn't know that it's supposed to be hard. "So Steve came in and ever since then has been the foundation of the rhythm section."

Then there was the late Ross Pollock, a drummer who studied with Hari Har Rao. Both Bohannon and Pollock were still in high school at the time they started with the band. Pollock, Ellis said, in just the half-year he was with the band, "developed fantastically" but died in a tragic elevator accident while touring Europe with another group. "This was a great blow to all of us in the band, personally and professionally," Elis said. "Everyone was wondering what would happen to the band, because he was one of the powerhouses of the rhythm section.

"Luckily, however, we found a young guy, Alan Estes, who was a friend of Bohannon's. Al wasn't basically a set drummer; he was a mallet man, but he could play the rhythms. So he converted to the standard drum set and has been with us ever since."

With the major rhythm problems relatively solved, Ellis assembled the brass and reed sections and initialed full orchestra rehearsals at the union. The group rehearsed throughout the summer and underwent considerable personnel change.

"Guys would come in and go out," Ellis recalled. "This was a process of determining whether what we were doing was for them and whether they were for us. But now the personnel basically has settled; the nucleus of the band has been with me from the start."

In the band now are Glenn Stuart, Alan Weight, Ed Warren, Bob Harmon, trumpets; Dave Wells, Dave Sanchez, trombones; Terry Woodson, bass trombone; Ruben Leon, Joe Roccisano, Ira Schulman, Ron Starr, John Magruder, reeds; Dave Mackay or Roger Kellaway, piano, organ; Ray Neapolitan, Chuck Domanico, Bill Plummer, Frank DelaRosa, basses; and Steve Bohannon, Alan Estes, and Chino Valdes, drums.

From the weekly practice sessions at the union, the band moved to the Club Havana, on the Sunset Strip, in late September, 1965, playing there on Mondays until moving to Bonesville several months ago.

Of the men in the band, Ellis remarked, "A lot of the guys are school teachers. We have one lawyer. Some guys work days, and others are full-time musicians. This makes for a certain stability. In fact, I have more problems with the men who are full-lime musicians. One of our trombone players, for example, wasn't getting enough work around town, so he had to go on the road for a few months to get some money together. That sort of thing presents problems. That's why I've tried, as much as possible, to stick to guys who are doing studio work or something else that keeps them in town, whether teaching school or whatever."
This regular work over a long period gave the men sufficient opportunity to get the kinks out of playing unfamiliar meters, which were from the first the band's signal feature.

This process was to take some time, for there is a considerable difference between merely being able to play the unusual rhythms and playing them with crispness, authority, and naturalness.

"In teaching the band these new rhythms I have found that the hardest thing is to learn to tap one's foot unevenly," Ellis has noted. "Usually the 5's come most easily (pairing in a subdivision of 2-3 or 3-2), then the 7's and 9's follow—each one usually being progressively more difficult. Once one is used to patting one's feet unevenly, the longer, more complex patterns are relatively easy. ... I remember our delight when . . . after struggling like mad to feel comfortable in a fast 7 (divided 3-2-2), I brought in a chart in 32/3 /4 time (11) and the band played it at sight! That was a turning point because they realized that now they could count almost any rhythmic pattern at sight. The time barrier had been broken."

Recently Ellis recalled, "Just getting the band to play a chart in a 7 or something like that and feel natural in it—it took about a year for the band to settle into it. That happened just before we went to Monterey—that is, when the guys really felt secure in the rhythms."

THE BAND'S playing at the Monterey festival—its first engagement other than Monday nights at Bonesville—came as a revelation to everyone who heard it at the Sunday afternoon program of "new jazz." The group's great fluency in the projection of exciting rhythmic counterpoint was revealed in number after number, each played with verve, wit, impeccable drive, and a complete lack of self-consciousness. The difficult rhythms and meters sounded thoroughly natural.

The group repeated its success three weeks later at the Pacific Jazz Festival at Costa Mesa, Calif., 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Ellis arranged for the taping of the band's festival appearances and, through a firm he directs, Ellis Music Enterprises, produced and sold the albums to Pacific Jazz' parent label, Liberty records. Pacific Jazz says it plans to issue at least iwo LPs of the performance.

The recordings, Ellis hopes, will create a demand for the orchestra and the music he has been nurturing so lovingly these last 20 months of Monday nights.

With interest in the tonality and rhythms of Indian music increasing daily, Ellis said he feels that it is only a matter of time before the band is discovered and taken up by large segments of the public.

"I'd like nothing better than lo get people dancing to the new rhythms," he said. "I know it's going to happen, because the rock groups have already started using these rhythms. It's just a matter of time; il could happen almost overnight. If the thing starts catching on, everybody will be doing it. Even if it doesn't catch on right away, it will filter down little by little, so that in the next 10 to 20 years the whole scene will have changed rhythmically."

Ellis, perhaps characteristically, seems in no particular hurry to force acceptance of the orchestra.

He explained that he is not especially eager to embark on the usual grueling round of one-nighters, long bus trips, separation from family, and all the other inconveniences of road-band living.

Ellis has had enough of this, the result of his several years as sideman with the bands of Herb Pomeroy, Ray McKinley, Sam Donahue, Claude Thornhill, Charlie Barnel, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, and Maynard Eerguson, as well as with various small groups including George Russell's highly experimental sextet.

The idea! situation, Ellis opined, would be that in which the band played a certain number of concert-dances at select locations during the year, spending the bulk of the time working in Los Angeles-area clubs, with perhaps several weeks in Las Vegas, Nev.

An increased demand for the services of the orchestra would perhaps permit the leader more free time to pursue additional studies and to write for the band. Currently much of his time is taken up with teaching, fulfilling studio calls, and working several nights a week in a successful local Latin band.

It is evident that Ellis is a strong-willed person, well informed and highly articulate, with opinions on a variety of subjects, particularly music and the music business. If his ideas at first seem somewhat unconventional, conversation reveals that he has well-thought-out reasons to support all of them. His continued creativity and the existence of his orchestra is perhaps the best and most meaningful illustration of Ellis' ability to operate successfully in both idealistic and practical worlds.

His comments regarding his preoccupation with Indian music and its recent seepage into U.S. popular music are pertinent and appropriately well framed.

"I think it’s something that's in the air," he said of the growing interest in Eastern music. "With Hari Rao we were the first Western musicians ever to play with an Indian musician over an extended period of time. Of course, there have been situations in which Indian musicians were brought in to record and a jazz musician was thrown in with them, but no one knew what the other side was doing. But this was the first time that an Indian musician really wanted to learn what was happening in jazz and the jazz musicians really wanted to find out what was happening in Indian music-—and to see what could be dune by taking the best elements of both and putting them together.

"It's curious—we made recordings of the group [Hindustani Jazz Sextet] but could never get a record company interested. We played engagements all around Los Angeles and were always successful and well received; the group was quite in demand.

"Then—I don't know how it happened— but the Beatles picked up on the sound of the sitar, and all of a sudden it automatically became the thing to do. It then went directly to the pop field, which is now taking it on very big; strangely enough, it's now filtering back to the jazz field.

"It's funny how those things will happen— the jazz guys will sometimes innovate a thing, and everybody will ignore it. Then a pop group will take it, make it popular, and then all the jazz musicians will start doing it.

"But all the groups that have used the sound of India, so to speak, have taken the easy way out. Just lo have the sound of the sitar and the drones—immediately you associate it with Indian music…. But none of them have yet gone into what I think is the most valuable contribution that Indian music can make lo our culture and that's the rhythmic. None of them have gotten into that, probably because that's so difficult."

Another problem faced by the group's attempting to integrate the sound of Indian music and that of Western music, Ellis continued, is their incomplete understanding of the nature of Indian music; this has led some lo attempt lo try to incorporate an Indian melodic or rhythmic cycle bodily into a Western jazz or pop piece.

"I haven't taken, say, an Indian cycle and used it," Ellis said. "What I have done is to take the techniques that have been taught me for working rhythmically and asked: how can I get this to swing, how can we put it in a jazz context? I've done it that way, which is just another way of enriching the general jazz vocabulary by adding a new technique. But it's not a grafting on, whereby you merely take a specific Indian cycle or such and incorporate it bodily . . . that's what a lot of the other groups have done. They've taken one thing—say. the sound of drone and sitar—and put it in and have it play something that's entirely foreign to it."

Ellis went on to speak of the use of tonality in his orchestra and the debt to both Indian music and one innovating American composer:

"As far as tonality goes," he said, "the conscious influence has been Harry Partch, who's living out here now. Harry, of course, has set up a whole other system of musical intonation, and he was the one who really made me aware of just how abominable the equal-temperament system is.

"Now, jazz musicians and folk musicians always have found ways to get around equal temperament. You've doubtless heard a blues musician get on a blue note and just by sort of bending that note around, he'll get the whole club screaming—just by manipulating that one tone just very slightly. This is something that shows the great emotional power of tonality."

Comparing the "handful of scales" in Western music with the "literally thousands” in Indian music, Ellis remarked:

"We're really only touching the surface of melodic music. Western music developed in another sense—in the harmonic and formal areas—but I think it's time now to go back and start re-examining some of these things . . . like the basic problems of intonation, the system of tuning.

"For this reason I've developed a quarter-tone trumpet. It's funny—I can play some of the traditional blues licks with the aid of the fourth valve and get that same feeling but in quite a different way than guys have done before, having had to use their lips solely for the thing. Also, it gives me that much more of a chance to get at any pitch I want. With the aid of my lips and the extra valve, I'm that much closer. So that's opened up a whole new world for me too."

Ellis indicated some of the problems encountered in attempting to adapt the playing of microtones to large ensembles.

"In Indian music," he said, "they usually have only one melodic instrument and one drone, because the intonation has to be so fine . . . when you get into these microtones. It's hard enough to get guys to play in tune in a normal sense; the more people you have, the harder it is, because just one person out of tune throws the whole section out of tune. So, in a large orchestra you have to think not in terms of such minute quantities (at least right now) but in terms of a larger concept of tonality.

"However, I've written a piece that the band plays in a quarter-tone scale. I've worked it out so that the trumpets can do it by false-fingering; for the trombones, of course, there's no problem; the saxophones have to use their lips, but they don't play the notes that aren't near some note on their horns."

The band's arrangements, primarily by Ellis, are for the most part in the unusual time signatures that are its forte. "I've welcomed anything that's in our groove," Ellis explained, "and that's more or less what I tell an arranger who says he'd like to write something for the band. 'That's fine,’ I say. 'We'll take almost anything that's not in 3 or 4.'"

Arrangers from within the band include altoists Leon, Scott, and Roccisano, trombonist Myers, trumpeter Harmon, and pianist Mackay.

"A lot of the arrangements," Ellis explained, "are quite loose, so that I can bring in different sections at will. I can change them around while we're playing them. This isn't particularly new to jazz, however, because the older bands, when they didn't read music, did the same thing. So it's probably a departure from what has been conventional practice for the last 10 years or so but not necessarily radically new to jazz. As far as voicings and the like go, I have my own devices I have tried and used in the overall sound of the band, which I don't think you'll find in any other band."

Stan Kenton, an orchestral innovator in his own right, remarked recently lhat the next few years will see a renaissance of the big band—but a big band with a difference, not merely offering re-creations of what has gone before. Kenton said he felt that jazz was about to break out of its doldrums into a period of "new vitality injected by rhythmical innovations." "We're at the brink of an exciting new era," he said, "an era that will fuse many types of music we have previously heard separately."

When the new big-band ecumenism starts swelling, Ellis and his 20 disciples of the new rhythms and the new big-band gospel will be ready.”