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March 31, 2010 • Music Diary, News

Herb Ellis, An Accessible Jazz Guitar Great, Dead at 88

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Think back to the first time you met a ‘big celebrity’ – not a sighting in a massive crowd, or perhaps getting an autograph scrawled on whatever you could grab, but when you had some actual human contact with someone considered a legend in their field; contact in the form of sharing kind words, having that person take an interest in you as a person and sharing some of their wit and wisdom. For me, that person was legendary jazz guitarist Herb Ellis, who died Monday night at the age of 88.

When you’re a kid all of your music heroes are big stars – whether you like rock, pop, country, or whatever type of music. Even for me as a young person going against the popular currents as a fan of jazz, my early heroes were big stars – Pat Metheny, Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Jaco Pastorius. When I saw them live, I was one of hundreds or thousands in packed concert halls – these were bigger than life artists you only met in your dreams. At some point most of us realize that these folks are just people – and for me that goes back to a three-guitar ensemble called Great Guitars, featuring the already legendary Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis.

Yesterday we learned that Herb Ellis died at 88 Monday night, after suffering with Alzheimer’s for some years. I was very fortunate to have met Herb briefly when I saw him at a live performance. It was the first time I was even in a position where the musicians were just hanging around chatting with the small audience and everyone was comfortable talking with someone I knew was a jazz legend. I loved his Great Guitars stuff, and had since discovered his work with the Oscar Peterson Trio. It isn’t stuff I listen to very much these days, but his easy style and engaging personality made quite a mark on one young person many years ago.
Here is a nice medley by the Great Guitars group -a radio show of their stuff was my intro to Herb Ellis:

Here he is in his most famous role, in Oscar Peterson’s Trio:

In the many years since I have met with ‘important’ and high-ranking people in a variety of walks of life, and have always remembered something I learned the day I met a jazz legend – all of us are just people who enjoy chatting with other nice people. Whether it is music, computer technology, gadgets, whatever – we’re all just people with a limited time on this planet, so surround yourself with folks you enjoy, and never be intimidated out of saying a friendly ‘hello’.

NPR has a nice blog entry that captures much of Ellis’ life story in its memorial.

Source: Washington Post

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