Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Ehlis, John (Anthony)
Ehlis, John (Anthony), guitar, mandolin, ethnic flutes and percussion; b. Riverside, CA, 17 February 1964. His father, Bill Ehlis (1936-1994) was born in Dickenson, North Dakota. His mother, Judy Ehlis (b. 1941) was born in Riverside, CA. His brother, Chuck Ehlis (February 13, 1961-January 6, 2000) was born in Riverside, CA and played electric fretless bass, guitar, and homemade instruments. His sisters, Karen Ehlis (b. 1966) and Cheryl Ehlis (b. 1967), were both born in Riverside, California.
Guitarist John Ehlis is inspired by traditional music from around the world including Brazil, Cuba, India, Mali, South Africa and the Basque region of Spain and France. He rechannels the influences of these musically vast cultures into a unique sound that incorporates chanting, lyrical melodies, ambient sounds and collective improvisations.
Ehlis grew up in Riverside, California, Mt. Prospect, Illinois, and Phoenix, Arizona. His parents were not musical per se, but creativity and inquiry were fostered and there was often music in the air. Records by the likes of Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie, Cheech and Chong and Lenny Bruce and music from the radio, the Beatles, Hair, Midnight Cowboy, Ray Charles, 50's Rock n Roll were often heard. His maternal grandmother played the accordion and her mother trained on the piano at the Detroit Conservatory of Music in the early 1900's. She also played the organ in church and gave lessons.
His brother Chuck brought the first guitar in the house when John was in his early teens and introduced other music into their home, expanding their ears in all directions. Chuck, a man of many hats, was also an artist and amateur astronomer. He recorded with the Sand Box Trio, with saxophonist Tony Passerell and played with and was greatly respected by the members of two popular bands, Primus and Cake.
Primarily a self-taught musician, Ehlis enrolled at Mesa Community College (Mesa, Arizona) at age 19 to study under the direction of Grant Wolf. In Phoenix he befriended pianist and arranger Prince Shell, whose wisdom and understated style added new depth to Ehlis's understanding of musical structures and the importance of studying a tune in depth. Tenor saxophonist John "School Boy" Porter is remembered for his colorful personality and getting down to the "feel" of the tune.
Ehlis completed his formal music education at UC Riverside (Riverside, California) in 1989. He credits trumpet player and composer/arranger Donald Johns for shaping his ideas about form, textures and counterpoint. Guitarist Bob Scarano and trombone player and band director Bill Helms were generous supporters on the practicalities of playing music for a living. Ehlis pursued studies on the alto sax and bass clarinet with Frank Chase, a sought after woodwinds instructor in Southern California who when he was a young man in New York was crossing the color line on Jazz Recordings prior to Benny Goodman.
In 1990 Ehlis moved to San Francisco, California. There, he met guitarist David Lofton. It is with Lofton that Ehlis really began to develop his compositions and form his own groups. His earliest adventures were with the improvisational ensemble Beautiful Cuba and Francis the First, a cello, guitar and bassoon trio. These groups gave way to the John Ehlis Ensemble which led to two recording dates with producer Chris Cooper.
In 2000 Ehlis moved to New York City and shortly thereafter formed a trio with saxophonist Allen Won and percussionist Todd Isler called the Wu Wei Trio.
Ehlis has performed with musicians that include John Tchicai, Francis Wong, Jon Birdsong, David Lofton, Marie Afonso, Ken Butler, Joe Craven, Beth Custer, Tony Passerell, Rent Romus, Tapia and Leturia, the Gauden Bat Basque Dancers, Euskal Giroa, and many others.
John Ehlis currently resides in Montclair, New Jersey.
John Ehlis Ensemble (1996); San Carlos (2002)
Berkeley Public Television:
-XTV 1997 with David Lofton, Jon Birdsong, Horacio Altan
-XTV 1998 with David Lofton, Horacio Altan
-KPOO & KUSF Radio San Francisco, California
-KUCR Radio Riverside California
-KLSU Radio Baton Rouge, Louisiana
-Radio Interview and Live Performance with Mark Weinstien
WPRB Radio Princeton, New Jersey, August 6, 2003