Dave Ellis: Talented Tenor on the March
“From a marketing standpoint, that may be a difficult angle to play, but I am not interested in being labeled one thing or the other. If it had to be anything, it would be jazz saxophone. But I take a little bit away from each thing. I tend to believe more harmonically advanced or sophisticated stuff is my interest. I can get enough of two-chord jams where everyone wanks away for hours. That does get boring to me, but not everybody studies Trane and spends their formative in music the way I did and a lot of my peers did. A lot of people don’t want to hear sophisticated harmony. They want to hear one chord and a drum beat...and I can relate to that too, but at the core, I like to progress and grow.”
Ellis said the new music “a very important milestone, as it were. Next for me is showing a little bit more of the electric, funky side. This record, even though it’s being released now, was done about a year and a half ago. Things have changed for me quite a bit. I have a new daughter, two and a half years old. And in those couple years things change. So that’s what I’m looking to do next.”
Ellis said he has no time line in place for the next recording, but he plans on doing more of his own compositions “with an electrically oriented thing. And when I say electric I don’t mean Smooth Jazz, but something that is more of a studio record, more crafted by me, compositionally and arrangement-wise, and not just a saxophone showcase. So that’s where I’m headed now.”
Getting a working and out on the roads is also important in his immediate future. “There’s some very good guys around here, so we’ve been getting together and playing and I’m looking forward to getting together with these guys and seeing what comes of that. I’d like to get in a record with them, if possible,” he said.
All this is happening at a time when the music business isn’t all that gracious, particularly, Ellis said, in his native Bay area.
“The current environment is not one that fosters more gigs. Even the great players who are out here are making decisions to either go down south to LA, or go to New York or something like that. It’s pretty miserable right now. These things go in peaks and valleys, but this has been a very long, low valley right now as far as maintaining an existence as a professional player on the west coast.”
But the east coast isn’t beckoning, even if it has advantages.
“I don’t want to live in New York. I understand what New York is and how the jazz world works. I am of the belief that you have to go and spend time on the east coast and in New York and play to understand New York’s version, which is probably the highest level of a particular kind of jazz. But I’m at the point now where I’m a lot clearer on what I want. And it’s a smaller globe. There’s a lot of things in Europe that happen and you don’t necessarily have to live in New York. It makes life a lot more convenient as a professional player. The guys I played with on this record, like I said, they’re rarely home. They’re out in Europe; a five-hour flight from London and stuff, instead of a 10 or 11-hour flight back to San Francisco. There are some practical reasons for living on the east coast. There’s a lot more gigs and less driving.
“But I like the sky and air. I’m a California boy and I’m not ashamed at all about that. I’m not trying to pretend and put up a New York front. But there’s always a nagging problem that all the cats I want to play with live there. The level of musicianship is so much higher there on a per capita basis that I fight myself in many ways by remaining here.”
Ellis is a laudable artist who should be growing in the sunlight that he likes so much in California, and basking in a spotlight that this new CD shows he deserves.