The Jazz.com Blog
March 19, 2008 · 0 comments
Eugene Marlow’s interview with Bobby Sanabria, published this week in jazz.com digs deeply into many of the key issues impacting the current state of jazz. If you haven’t read it yet, you should take the time to hear this articulate spokesman for the art form offer his diagnosis of what ails the today's music scene.
I want focus here on a passing comment made by Sanabria, referring not to a current matter but to one of the unfairly neglected masters of the past – the great Don Ellis. Frankly, I rarely hear musicians or critics talk about this artist, who died in 1978 at the age of forty-four. In fact, his profile is so low today, I had no qualms about including Ellis in a recent Dozens column devoted to “Twelve Trumpeters You Need to Know on a First Time Basis.”
Here is what Sanabria had to say.
We are kind of, in a sense, going backwards. For example, a person who was progressively minded and had a futuristic conception of composition and performance was a person like Don Ellis, performing in the sixties and seventies. There is nobody like that today. . . . Imagine a whole big band with the trumpet section, saxophone section, the trombones all electrified with wa-wa pedals. The whole string section had wa-wa pedals and different electronic devices. He invented a four-valve trumpet so he and his trumpet section could play quartertones. Amazing. And forget about the stuff he did without meters. The time period right now in jazz is not conducive to free thinkers like that because it so, so conservative. We have got to break down those walls of conservatism.
So much of what Ellis did in the 1960s pre-figures later developments in jazz. His efforts in mixing mainstream and avant garde traditions anticipate the essence of the post-modern paradigm. His early advocacy of World Music -- Ellis did graduate work in ethnomusicology at UCLA and was publishing scholarly work on Indian music back in the mid-1960s -- was decades ahead of its time. He was playing for rock audience before Miles even had a glimmer of Bitches Brew (Ellis was an opening act for the Grateful Dead at Fillmore West back in 1966). Of course, there is his well known work with odd time meters. Finally, let's not forget what a great soloist Ellis was.
Yet here is another artist who you won't find in the Down Beat Hall of Fame, and is unlikely to get in during my lifetime. What gives?
Those with long memories, however, may remember when Ellis's Electric Bath LP was album of the year in Down Beat. In honor of Mr. Ellis, jazz.com is featuring his 1967 track “Indian Lady” from this exceptional album as our classic jazz performance of the day.
This blog entry posted by Ted Gioia