Herb Ellis: the guitarist who revolutionized jazz

Herb Ellis is a great American guitarist who distinguished himself in the jazz style and contributed to the popularity of this musical genre. He became known for his subtle playing, fluid technique and expressive power. He played with such renowned musicians as Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, and also formed a popular trio with Ray Brown and Stan Getz.

Ellis was born in Coweta, Oklahoma, in 1921. He began learning the guitar at the age of seven and quickly developed a unique technique that combined classical and jazz playing. He went on to perform in clubs and on local radio stations before joining the ranks of the great jazz musicians.

A love of jazz

From an early age, Herb Ellis had a passion for music. He was listening to jazz with his friends and learning to play classical and acoustic guitar by the age of 11. What interested him most, however, was jazz. In the late ’30s, he started playing for a local trio and soon became a big name in the field.

Herb Ellis’s career

In 1952, Ellis began working with pianist Oscar Peterson, with whom he recorded several albums. These records contributed to the popularization of jazz and showcased Ellis’ incredible talent. In 1957, he formed his trio with Ray Brown and Stan Getz, and the group performed at festivals and clubs around the world.

The trio recorded numerous albums, including Remembering the Thirties (1962) and Let’s Get Away from It All (1965). These albums were very well received by the critics, and helped the trio gain in popularity. Herb Ellis’s songs were composed by himself and showcased his fluid, expressive playing.

Herb Ellis discography

Here’s a complete list of the albums, singles and compilations he has released over the course of his career:

  • Studio albums: Guitar Groove (1956) and Soft & Warm (1957)
  • Singles and EPs: My Wife et moi (1956), Don’t Blame Me/I’m Getting Sentimental over You (1956)
  • Compilations: The Great Guitars (1966), The Best of Herb Ellis (1977) and Old Schoolin’ (1981)

Although some of these titles are hard to find, they are well worth seeking out. Herb Ellis’ music is unique, and with its original compositions and timeless interpretations, it continues to delight jazz and blues music lovers.

Studio albums

Guitar Groove (1956)

Guitar Groove is Herb Ellis’ first solo album, released in 1956 by Pacific Jazz Records. It features Ellis as lead guitarist accompanied by Lou Levy on piano, Red Mitchell on double bass and Stan Levey on drums. The album consists exclusively of Ellis’ original compositions, including “John’s Idea”, which became a popular song. Other tracks include “Don’t Blame Me” and “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”. Guitar Groove is now considered one of Herb Ellis’s finest jazz albums.

Soft & Warm (1957)

Soft & Warm is Herb Ellis’s second solo album, released in 1957 on Verve Records. It features Ellis playing swing standards and original compositions, accompanied by Lou Levy on piano, Red Mitchell on double bass and Shelly Manne on drums. The album’s best-known tracks are “Dancing in the Dark”, “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me” and “What Is This Thing Called Love?”. Soft & Warm is an essential masterpiece from the golden age of jazz, and is still appreciated today.

Singles and EPs

In addition to his studio albums, Herb Ellis also released a number of singles and EPs. In 1956, he released the EP My Wife and Me, featuring four tracks: “My Wife and Me”, “Charlie’s Choice”, “It Could Happen to You” and “Minor Swing”. The same year, he also released the single “Don’t Blame Me”/”I’m Getting Sentimental over You”. These tracks are highly sought-after by collectors and can be hard to find.


Over the course of his career, Herb Ellis also took part in a number of compilations. In 1966, he was included on The Great Guitars album, which also featured Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow. In 1977, Verve Records released The Best of Herb Ellis, featuring the best tracks from his three studio albums. In 1981, he took part in the compilation Old Schoolin’, which included legendary artists such as Art Tatum, Nat King Cole and Oscar Peterson. These compilations are very popular with jazz fans and are readily available in specialty stores.

Herb Ellis’ collaborations

Over the course of his career, Herb Ellis has collaborated with many important musicians. These include pianist Dave Brubeck, organist Jimmy Smith and saxophonist Stan Getz. These collaborations enabled Herb Ellis to showcase his unique style and explore new possibilities in jazz. He also played with other great guitarists such as Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel and Johnny Smith. With them, he was able to explore new territories and achieve a level of perfection never before attained.

The influence of Herb Ellis

Many jazz guitarists have been inspired by Herb Ellis’ music and his unique style. They have learned from him how to integrate different styles to create original and captivating arrangements. His influence can also be heard in the solos and improvisations of contemporary musicians.

Herb Ellis has been a major innovator in the style of jazz and has helped shape the face of modern music. His subtle playing and fluid technique have inspired many artists, and his work has helped make jazz one of the most popular genres today.

Herb Ellis’s musical style

Herb Ellis has demonstrated great versatility in his music, exploring many styles from standards to original compositions. His music is characterized by complex melodic lines, rich harmonies and good use of silences to accentuate phrasing. His playing is influenced by traditional jazz, blues and even classical music, and always incorporates modern elements to stay relevant.

Herb Ellis’ projects

Throughout his career, Ellis has worked with many talented musicians and taken part in numerous performances and recordings. In 1990, he released his solo album The Great American Guitar, featuring jazz versions of the standards “Summertime” and “Georgia on My Mind” as well as original compositions. The same year, he also released an album with violinist Joe Venuti entitled Jazz Masters.

After retiring in 1992, Ellis devoted himself to teaching, giving masterclasses and lectures around the world. In 1997, he received a Grammy Award for his contribution to American music, and was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1998. His music lives on through many of today’s guitarists, who look to him as a role model and source of inspiration.

Herb Ellis’s legacy

Although Herb Ellis passed away in 2010, his legacy remains intact. His contribution to jazz music was considerable, and his influence continues to be felt today. Artists such as John McLaughlin and Pat Metheny owe him a great deal, and it’s thanks to him that many other guitarists have been able to draw inspiration and evolve. What’s more, his unique, inventive style has inspired entire generations of jazz musicians, making him a key figure in the history of music.

Herb Ellis was an exceptional and innovative guitarist who profoundly influenced modern jazz. His unique, audacious style pushed the boundaries of the genre and opened the way to new styles. His contribution to jazz music will always be recognized and appreciated by all music lovers.

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