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John Ellis: Wide Angle

By Published: June 10, 2008

AAJ: I became aware of you through your association with guitarist Charlie Hunter. Was there a New Orleans connection in your meeting with Charlie?

John EllisJE: Yeah. I met him kind of through [drummer and Galactic member] Stanton Moore. I think I actually met him coincidentally, but he said, "Oh yeah, Stanton told me about you." Stanton and he had done some touring together. Galactic and Charlie did a co-billed tour in the late 90s, and I was playing with Stanton quite a lot. Stanton said, "Charlie, you'd like this guy John Ellis," and I guess he filed it away. Charlie has an impressive brain and doesn't forget very much. So when I met him, he knew who I was from talking to Stanton, and we started playing shortly after that and played for five and a half years together.

AAJ: Are there ways that you approach music now that come out of that association?

JE: Of course. To play with someone like that for five and a half years, it makes a tremendous impression. I guess I'm not sure how much of that is conscious and how much is unconscious, but that was a good part of my musical identity for that time. Playing for those audiences changed a lot of things for me. The thing that's great about Charlie, and about being a saxophonist in that band—when you play with someone who's playing a hybrid instrument that's unprecedented [like Charlie Hunter's 8-stringed guitar], that knows lots of different types of music, you're referencing a lot of things, but there's no "What did the 8-stringed guitar players of the 60s do?" There isn't any of that, you're not burdened by that.

Honestly, before I started playing with him, I hadn't even listened to his music all that much, so I wasn't even burdened by his history. I was just listening to the music and trying to make it work, which is a great place to be. It's very liberating. You don't really feel like you have to play a certain way. It's harder on drummers to play with him, but I had a great deal of freedom the whole time.

AAJ: What's worth it for you about being a professional musician. What makes it worth going through the struggle?

JE: I used to joke when we would go on tour that we were in the moving business, and that we would just get to play a little music for fun. Oftentimes, that's how it feels. The music part is the part that's worth it. The time when you're actually making the music. When it's at its best, there's nothing like it. When there's a community that grows around it, and you also feel an audience interacting with each other and interacting with you, that's also nice. But my love for the music and the great feelings I have playing it don't always depend on that. Sometimes we're playing for very few people, and I still feel very fulfilled. Music-making is very therapeutic. That's why you go through all the other stuff.

John Ellis

AAJ: What's coming up for you in the near future? More music with this band?

JE:As much as possible. I have this as a named project—Double-Wide—for a reason, because I imagine this project making multiple records and growing over the years. There's quite a few things on the horizon. This band is playing in Toledo for the Art Tatum Jazz Festival. We're playing at Yoshi's in August. And a little West Coast thing. We're tying to book as much as we can. We might do a little tour through the South in the fall. I'm hoping that comes together.

I also have some music I wrote for eight musicians. That's a whole separate project that I worked on for most of the end of last year. Hopefully I'm going to record it sometime this year. There's definitely no shortage of things I want to do. There's a shortage of time.

Selected Discography

John Ellis & Double-wide, Dance Like There's No Tomorrow (Hyena, 2008)

Mike Moreno, Between The Lines (World Culture Music, 2007)

John Ellis, By A Thread (Hyena, 2006)

Charlie Hunter Trio, Copperopolis (Ropeadope, 2006)

John Ellis, One Foot In The Swamp (Hyena, 2005)

Charlie Hunter Trio, Friends Seen and Unseen (Ropeadope, 2004)

Charlie Hunter Quintet, Right Now Move (Ropeadope, 2003)

John Ellis, Roots, Branches and Leaves (Fresh Sound/New Talent, 2002)

Charlie Hunter, Songs From The Analog Playground (Blue Note Records, 2002)

John Ellis, The Language of Love (self-produced, 1997)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Scott Friedlander
Bottom Photo: John Ellis Website

Featured Photo: Peak

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