Jazz Guitar legend Herb Ellis passed away on March 28, 2010. Ellis was born on August 4, 1921 in Texas and took up guitar after hearing George Barnes on a radio program. Herb attended North Texas State University and majored in music but due to lack of funds he left school and began performing. Ellis' first break came with Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra in 1943 which led to being hired by Jimmy Dorsey whom he played with until 1947. Herb's first recorded solos can be heard on Dorsey records from that time period. Ellis then joined with Lou Carter and John Frigo forming the Soft Winds styled after the Nat King Cole Trio.
This led Ellis to a much bigger break replacing Barney Kessel as the guitar player for the Oscar Peterson Trio with Ray Brown on bass. The trio also served as the house band for Norm an Granz's Verve Records and in this role Ellis recorded with Ben Webster, Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Louis Armstrong, Buddy Rich, Roy Eldridge and many more. Herb toured with Ella Fitzgerald in the late 1950s and more of his work worth checking out includes the ensemble he created called Great Guitars with Barney Kessel, Charlie Byrd and Joe Pass.
Along with some others Herb Ellis is responsible for making the hollow body guitar an important instrument in Jazz. Ellis also routinely played in groups with no drummer and was able to play the guitar as a percussion instrument as well as harmonic helping make the music swing just as hard for the listener and band mates. And of course Ellis' beautiful melodic lines and mastery of his instrument help make Herb one of the best Jazz guitar players to have lived. Ellis' legacy will live on and his playing will continue to be enjoyed by Jazz fans across the globe.
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