Dave Ellis: Talented Tenor on the March
“I’ve known Christian through Josh Redman, we grew up together here in Berkley [CA], so I’d known him on and off from when he was with Josh. Vincent Herring I’d spent some time with when we were both very young at Casadero Music and Arts Camp in the late 70s. He remembered me from then, so we had a great relationship harkening back to long ago. But I had not played with any of these guys.”
“There were so many things going on with me at the time. It was inspiring, first. I wouldn’t say paralyzing, and I wouldn’t say intimidating either, because any intimidation feeling would have come from my own mind – they were not giving me that in person at all. In fact they were so helpful and so musical, it was such a high level for me that I tell them that I’m spoiled now. Where do you go from there?”
Ellis, who stayed full term when he was at Berklee and graduated with a degree in production, knows the value of Keepnews and not just from a technical aspect. He knows the producer of Monk, Hawk, Newk, Henderson, Trane and so many more brings a sense of history to the table, brings a sense of respect.
“Orrin really stuck his neck out for me on this one. He’s fond of saying that if the guys are still smiling and saying good things about you after they’ve been paid, then you can consider it a success, which was the case with this. These guys live in New York year round, which means they’re on the road most of the time, live near each other, have paid a lot of dues together, so for me to come in as a California guy and play with these guys, and have it be my session, could have gone the other way than it did. It wound up being a very positive and good thing. And I think in a very large part because of Orrin’s relationship with these guys, the fact that he’s done similar things for them, and they trust his ear and his sensibility. Synergy-wise, I would have loved to spend about another four or five years playing with these guys in some live settings and it would have been a different record, but all things considered, I’m proud of it.
“One of the things I learned was Orrin’s process of putting together an entity, not just a set of songs, but a CD as one entity that plays from start to finish. A piece of work. So because we had this album on the table in late 1999 and then started talking about it again in the middle of 2000 – this album was recorded in 2001 – so we did have multiple meetings about what we wanted to do. Orrin is never one to tell a musician what or how to play, but in this case since we were crafting it together, he had a lot of ideas. So you see lots different time periods represented.
“He wanted to do an Ellington-era ballad, a less well-known one, so “Something to Live for” was that. “Grand Central” was a little more up to date, which had Cannonball and Coltrane on it originally. Orrin has done a lot of work with Vincent Herring – he pays homage to Cannonball lots in his playing, and Orrin recognizes that, so that made some sense for Vince and I to do that under an Orrin umbrella. He let me get away with having my two tunes on there and having mine on there first [“Not That You Asked” and “Isabella Blue”]. There were never any points of contention. Probably the biggest thing we argued about was whether I could get away with doing this version of “Summertime” on the record. It’s dark. It was called “Winterlude” at one point. But he capitulated on that. The Clint Houston tune “Sunshowers” is sort of obscure, but it comes from an even more recent period with sort of a West Coast representation.
“The common thread is that I’m playing on every tune and Mulgrew is playing on every tune. Otherwise the band changes from session to session and track to track. Then there’s the duo with Mulgrew. [Horace Silver’s “Peace.”] We considered all the things, the tunes, era that they represent, the key that they’re in, tempo considerations, time considerations, arrangements, all of those things were factored in. In a way, Orrin makes it seem easy and intuitive, but that’s only because he has 40 years of practice under his belt. You take for granted that somebody can make this flow as smoothly as he made this happen. This album benefits tremendously from Orrin’s production chops.”
Things may take a different direction on Ellis’ next CD, but that would be reflective of his diverse background.
A home, there was a lot of music being played, but not jazz. But in the community in which he lived, different sounds would meld. And in the well-known Berkley High School, which boats the likes of Benny Green, Craig handy and Redman, jazz had a strong pull.