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Mitchell Herbert Ellis (August 4, 1921[1] – March 28, 2010),[2] known professionally as Herb Ellis, was an American jazz guitarist. During the 1950s, he was in a trio with pianist Oscar Peterson.

Herb Ellis
Herb Ellis.jpg
Background information
Birth nameMitchell Herbert Ellis
Born(1921-08-04)August 4, 1921
Farmersville, Texas, U.S.
DiedMarch 28, 2010(2010-03-28) (aged 88)
Los Angeles, California
GenresJazz, swing, cool jazz, West Coast jazz
Years active1941–2010
LabelsVerve, Concord Jazz, Justice
Associated actsOscar Peterson



Born in Farmersville, Texas and raised in the suburbs of Dallas, Ellis first heard the electric guitar performed by George Barnes on a radio program. This experience is said to have inspired him to take up the guitar. He became proficient on the instrument by the time he entered North Texas State University. Ellis majored in music, but because they did not yet have a guitar program at that time, he studied the string bass. Unfortunately, due to lack of funds, his college days were short-lived. In 1941, Ellis dropped out of college and toured for six months with a band from the University of Kansas.

In 1943, he joined Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra and it was with Gray's band that he got his first recognition in the jazz magazines. After Gray's band, Ellis joined the Jimmy Dorsey band where he played some of his first recorded solos. Ellis remained with Dorsey through 1947, traveling and recording extensively, and playing in dance halls and movie palaces. Then came a turnabout that would change Ellis's career forever. As pianist Lou Carter told journalist Robert Dupuis in a 1996 interview, "The Dorsey band had a six-week hole in the schedule. The three of us had played together some with the big band. John Frigo, who had already left the band, knew the owner of the Peter Stuyvesant Hotel in Buffalo. We went in there and stayed six months. And that's how the group the Soft Winds were born". Together with Frigo and Lou Carter, Ellis wrote the classic jazz standard "Detour Ahead".

The Soft Winds group was fashioned after the Nat King Cole Trio. They stayed together until 1952. Ellis then joined the Oscar Peterson Trio (replacing Barney Kessel) in 1953, forming what Scott Yanow would later on refer to as "one of the most memorable of all the piano, guitar, and bass trios in jazz history".

Ellis became prominent after performing with the Oscar Peterson Trio from 1953 to 1958 along with pianist Peterson and bassist Ray Brown. He was a somewhat controversial member of the trio, because he was the only white person in the group in a time when racism was still very much widespread.

Herb Ellis's 1953 Gibson ES-175

In addition to their great live and recorded work as the Oscar Peterson Trio, this unit usually with the addition of a drummer, served as the virtual "house rhythm section" for Norman Granz's Verve Records, supporting the likes of tenormen Ben Webster and Stan Getz, as well as trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, and Sweets Edison and other jazz stalwarts. Ellis was part of the rhythm section but did not solo on every track. With drummer Buddy Rich, they were also the backing band for popular "comeback" albums by the duet of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

The trio were one of the mainstays of Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts as they swept the jazz world, almost constantly touring the United States and Europe. Ellis left the Peterson Trio in November 1958, to be replaced not by a guitarist, but by drummer Ed Thigpen. The years of 1957 through 1960 found Ellis touring with Ella Fitzgerald.

The three provided a stirring rendition of "Tenderly" as a jazz improvisational backdrop to John Hubley's 1958 cartoon The Tender Game.[3]

With fellow jazz guitarists Barney Kessel, Charlie Byrd and Tal Farlow, he created another ensemble, the Great Guitars.

Herb Ellis was also featured on an episode of Sanford and Son accompanying Fred Sanford's singing.

Ellis gave cartoonist and The Far Side creator Gary Larson guitar lessons in exchange for the cover illustration for the album Doggin' Around (Concord, 1988) by Ellis and bassist Red Mitchell.

In 1994 he joined the Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame. On November 15, 1997 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of North Texas College of Music.

Ellis died of Alzheimer's disease at his Los Angeles home on the morning of March 28, 2010, at the age of 88.


As leaderEdit

  • 1956 Ellis in Wonderland (Norgran)
  • 1957 Nothing but the Blues (Verve)
  • 1957 Herb Ellis Meets Jimmy Giuffre (Verve)
  • 1961 Softly... But with That Feeling (Verve)
  • 1963 Three Guitars in Bossa Nova Time (Epic)
  • 1963 Together! with Stuff Smith (Epic)
  • 1963 Four to Go with Andre Previn, Ray Brown, Shelly Manne (Columbia)
  • 1965 Guitar/Guitar with Charlie Byrd (Columbia)
  • 1965 Man with the Guitar (Dot)
  • 1974 Soft Shoe with Ray Brown (Concord Jazz)
  • 1974 Seven, Come Eleven (Concord Jazz)
  • 1974 Two for the Road with Joe Pass (Pablo)
  • 1974 Jazz/Concord with Joe Pass (Concord Jazz)
  • 1975 Rhythm Willie with Freddie Green (Concord Jazz)
  • 1975 In Session with Herb Ellis
  • 1975 After You've Gone (Concord Jazz)
  • 1976 Great Guitars with Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessel (Concord Jazz)
  • 1976 A Pair to Draw To with Ross Tomkins (Concord Jazz)
  • 1977 Poor Butterfly with Barney Kessel (Concord Jazz)
  • 1978 Windflower with Remo Palmier (Concord Jazz)
  • 1978 Herb (Musical Heritage)
  • 1979 Soft & Mellow (Concord Jazz)
  • 1980 At Montreaux Summer 1979 (Concord Jazz)
  • 1980 Great Guitars at the Winery with Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessel (Concord Jazz)
  • 1981 Interplay with Cal Collins (Concord Jazz)
  • 1981 Trio with Monty Alexander, Ray Brown (Concord Jazz)
  • 1982 Triple Threat with Monty Alexander, Ray Brown (Concord Jazz)
  • 1983 Great Guitars at Charlie's Georgetown (Concord Jazz)
  • 1983 Jazz at the Philharmonic Blues in Chicago 1955 (Verve)
  • 1984 Overseas Special (Concord Jazz)
  • 1986 Anniversary in Paris with Marc Hemmeler (Phoenix Musikverlag)
  • 1988 Triple Threat II with Monty Alexander, Ray Brown (Concord Jazz)
  • 1989 Triple Threat III with Monty Alexander, Ray Brown (Concord Jazz)
  • 1990 Snappy Doo with James Morrison, Jeff Hamilton, Ray Brown (WEA)
  • 1991 Roll Call (Justice)
  • 1992 Texas Swings (Justice)
  • 1994 The Jazz Masters with Ray Brown, Serge Ermoll (AIM)
  • 1996 The Return of the Great Guitars with Charlie Byrd, Mundell Lowe (Concord Jazz)
  • 1996 Down Home (Justice)
  • 1997 Herb Ellis Meets T. C. Pfeiler (Tonewheel)
  • 1998 An Evening with Herb Ellis (Jazz Focus)
  • 1998 Blues Variations (Live at EJ's)
  • 1999 Conversations in Swing Guitar with Duke Robillard (Stony Plain)
  • 2001 Great Guitars Live with Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessel (Concord)
  • 2003 More Conversations in Swing Guitar with Duke Robillard (Stony Plain)

As sidemanEdit

With Mel Brown

With Benny Carter

With Harry Edison

With Roy Eldridge

With Victor Feldman

With Johnny Frigo

With Stan Getz

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Coleman Hawkins

With Lou Rawls

  • Lou Rawls Live! (Capitol, 1966)

With Illinois Jacquet

With Bud Shank

With Gábor Szabó

With Oscar Peterson

With Sonny Stitt

With Ben Webster

With Lester Young


  1. ^ Birth Certificate, Vital Records, Collin County Clerk
  2. ^ Herb Ellis obituary from The Washington Post
  3. ^ "Legendary jazz guitarist Herb Ellis dead at 88 Archived July 10, 2012, at"., March 29, 2010

External linksEdit