After playing in George Russell's sextet in New Yrok, white trumpeter Don Ellis showed
his credentials as one of the most experimental musician of his time in a
quartet with pianist Jaki Byard, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Charlie
Persip on How Time Passes
(october 1960), notably the 22-minute Improvisational Suite #1. Adding
vibraphonist Al Francis, New Ideas (may 1961) enjoyed
sabotaging all the elements of jazz music,
and Essence (july 1962) by another quartet (with pianist Paul Bley and
bassist Gary Peacock) delivered complex and brainy pieces such as Ostinato
After a brief stint in the European avantgarde and with the
Improvisational Workshop Orchestra (1963) in New York, Ellis moved back to his
native Los Angeles where he studied Indian classical music with Harihar Rao and
formed The Hindustani Jazz Sextet (1965), which included Rao on sitar. This
group evolved into the larger Stan Kenton-esque Don Ellis Orchestra (1966) for
which the leader employed a customized four-valve quarter-tone trumpet. Live
at Monterey (september 1966) includes a Concerto for Trumpet as well
as pieces in all sorts of unusual meters.
Live in 32/3/4 Time (march 1967) includes
several lengthy demonstrations such as Orientation, all of them in odd
time signatures (hence the title of the album).
Don Ellis incorporated elements of rock music and of
electronic music, as well as indulging in unorthodox time signatures, on Electric
Bath (september 1967), notably the 12-minute New Horizons (in 17/4)
and Turkish Bath (composed by his trombonist Ron Myers) as well as
their signature tune Indian Lady. The album featured several reedists,
plus piano and vibraphone, accompanied with exotic instruments such as sitar,
congas and timbales. During that time Ellis also composed the symphony Contrasts
for Two Orchestras and Trumpet (1967).
His experiments at the trumpet peaked with the 20-minute Variations
for Trumpet, off Autumn (august 1968), that also includes a 17-minute
version of Indian Lady. The orchestra became popular among the rock audience
for its idiosyncratic interpretation of contemporary rock music, but the albums
disappointed, even At Fillmore (june 1970) despite the 17-minute Final
Analysis, despite ever larger line-ups. The experimental side showed up
once more in Strawberry Soup, off Tears of Joy (may 1971). By
then the orchestra consisted of a wind quartet, a string quartet, a brass octet
and a five-piece rhythm section. Haiku (june 1973) contains
contemplative pieces for string orchestra and jazz quartet
inspired by Japanese haiku poetry.
Ellis died in december 1978.