A Don Ellis Portrait

An eclectic and experimental musician, Ellis helped pioneer the use of odd time signatures, electronic instruments and special effects, vocal choirs, strings, serial music and Indian music. Ellis' big band became well known after a highly acclaimed performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Much of this band's music is described as "Third Stream," a conscious synthesis of jazz and other music forms, usually from the classical or modern classical tradition. Ellis' later work combines these influences with those of rock and ethnic music.

The Blue Devils explore Ellis' music in a program divided into three movements, each based on musical selections that demonstrate his various experiments in jazz. The first movement is "Open Wide" and "Great Divide. "Both of these pieces reflect ethnic influences, especially African and Eastern European. The complex 3-3-2-3-2 multimeter "Great Divide" is the perfect piece for the Blue Devils' sophisticated musical ensemble.

The second movement is "Chain Reaction," a Hank Levy composition made famous by the Ellis band. This ballad, dark and haunting in tone, is composed in an unusual 13/8 time signature. The Ellis interpretation of this piece reflects his experimenting with the concept of "chance music."

"Strawberry Soup" and Niner Two" comprise the final movement in the program. Both of these pieces are examples of jazz/rock fusion. "Strawberry Soup," composed in 9/8, is one of Ellis' most eclectic pieces, combining with jazz elements with rock, pop, and big band swing.