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Jazz guitarist Herb Ellis dies at 88

Renowned jazz guitarist Herb Ellis, 88, died at his home in Los Angeles on March 28. He had Alzheimer's disease.

The death was confirmed by his son, Mitchell Ellis.

Mr. Ellis was a member during the 1950s of the Oscar Peterson trio, which served as the house recording band for Verve Records and accompanied a who's-who of jazz greats, including Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Harry "Sweets" Edison and Ben Webster.

It has been said that in Herb Ellis, virtuoso jazz pianist Peterson found his truest musical peer.

Mr. Ellis was a Texan and a disciple of Charlie Christian, the guitar player who innovated horn-like electric guitar solos with the Benny Goodman band. In his youth, Mr. Ellis played with big bands such as Glen Gray's Casa Loma Orchestra and the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. In the late 1940s, he started the Soft Winds trio with pianist Lou Carter and bassist Johnny Frigo.

After his five-year stint with Peterson's trio in the 1950s, Mr. Ellis toured with Ella Fitzgerald and then settled in southern California, where he worked in movie and television studios before launching his own small jazz groups.

One of his most memorable venture was creating the Great Guitars with fellow jazz guitarists Barney Kessel and Charlie Byrd. At every show, these three peers challenged each other's dexterity in musical conversation.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to Ellis are these words from guitarist Les Paul, who instantly recognized his friend's style during one of Downbeat magazine's infamous blindfold tests.

Paul said, "If you're not swinging, he's gonna make you swing. Of the whole bunch of guys who play hollow-body guitar... I think Herb Ellis has got the most drive."

A full obituary will follow.

--Terence McArdle

By Emma Brown  |  March 29, 2010; 6:19 PM ET
Categories:  Musicians , Terence McArdle  
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I am very fortunate to have seen him with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown. Rest in Peace Mr. Ellis

Posted by: truth1 | March 29, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

For those readers unfamiliar with Lou Carter, Herb's partner in the Soft Winds - he was a wonderful pianist, songwriter, and a hilarious, good guy. Here's a good link to explore:

Lou passed away four or five years ago - I was lucky enough to be his neighbor for many years.

Posted by: jshirk | March 30, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

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