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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, U.S.
GenresJazz, swing, cool jazz, West Coast jazz
Years active1941–2010
LabelsVerve, Concord Jazz, Justice

Mitchell Herbert Ellis (August 4, 1921[1][2] – March 28, 2010)[3] was an American jazz guitarist. During the 1950s, he was in a trio with pianist Oscar Peterson.


Born in Farmersville, Texas,[1] 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.[1] 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,[1] 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.[1] 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 standards "Detour Ahead" and "I Told Ya I Love Ya, Now Get Out".[4]

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,[1] 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.[1] 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
Herb Ellis's 1953 Gibson ES-175

In addition to their 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.[1] In addition, Ellis was a mainstay in Hollywood recording studios playing on various types of sessions. Eventually, he left studio work to concentrate on his jazz career, both onstage and on records.

The three provided a stirring rendition of "Tenderly" as a jazz improvisational backdrop to John Hubley's 1958 cartoon The Tender Game.[5]

With fellow jazz guitarists Barney Kessel, Charlie Byrd and later, Tal Farlow, he created another ensemble, the Great Guitars.[1]

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.[6]


As leader

With Monty Alexander and Ray Brown

With Oscar Peterson

As sideman

With Mel Brown

With Benny Carter

With Priscilla Coolidge

With Harry Edison

With Roy Eldridge

With Victor Feldman

With Johnny Frigo

With Stan Getz

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Vince Guaraldi

With Coleman Hawkins

With Illinois Jacquet

With Peggy Lee

With Randy Newman

With Oscar Peterson

With Esther Phillips

With Lou Rawls

With Bud Shank

With Gábor Szabó

With Sonny Stitt

With Ben Webster

With Lester Young


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 136. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
  2. ^ Birth Certificate, Vital Records, Collin County Clerk
  3. ^ "Post Mortem - Jazz guitarist Herb Ellis dies at 88". Archived from the original on December 29, 2016. Retrieved March 29, 2010.
  4. ^ "Herb Ellis". Secondhand Songs. Retrieved September 13, 2021.
  5. ^ "Legendary jazz guitarist Herb Ellis dead at 88 Archived July 10, 2012, at"., March 29, 2010
  6. ^ "Herb Ellis obituary". The Guardian. April 2, 2010. Retrieved July 26, 2021.