A Don Ellis Portrait: Strawberry Soup

It all began as an assignment for Ethnomusicology 205.  The two archivists (Aaron and Maureen) suggested archival collections to research that might specifically interest each student in the class.  For Marc Bolin, we could think of no better choice than the Don Ellis collection.  Bolin looked through dozens of boxes of Ellis parts and scores and when he found "Strawberry Soup," he knew he had to do something with the piece and decided to perform it.


Bolin contacted his friend and colleague Dr. Courtney Jones, Assistant Professor of Trumpet, School of Music, University of Iowa and sold him on the project.  Bolin found the funding (thank you to the Nelson fund, Dr. Daniel Neuman, and the Office of Instructional Development), organized the band, and conducted rehearsals until Jones came to town.  The archivists want to acknowledge and thank Marc Bolin for his passion, drive and exceptional organization skills; this project made the musical manuscripts in the Archive and the music of Don Ellis come to life.

Marc Bolin on tuba


Once we all knew the project was definitely moving forward, we felt we had to pull out all the proverbial stops.  It was decided Dr. Jones would play Ellis' quarter-tone trumpet and PhD student Alex Rodriguez would play the Ellis "superbone" (slide/valve trombone).  We admit that most curators would traditionally view instruments as objects to be viewed, not as instruments to be played, but we felt very strongly that these instruments needed to be heard. 

Alex Rodriguez on the Ellis "superbone"

Alex Rodriguez on the Ellis "superbone"

Dr. Courtney Jones on the Ellis quarter-tone trumpet

And once we decided the instruments were to be played, how could we not showcase several of the Ellis costumes?  The white mirrored suit was designed by the Emmy-winning Pete Menefee for the 1977 Shirley MacLaine Special Where Do We Go from Here?  And we could provide no better description of Dr. Jones than the one penned by Bolin describing Jones as "a talented and spirited musician, conductor, and performer whose talents helped to refine a presentation that will not be forgotten."

Dr. Courtney Jones--wearing the Menefee-designed Ellis costume--conducting

A Don Ellis Portrait: Strawberry Soup with Marc Bolin, Ph.D. student, UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology and Dr. Courtney Jones, Assistant Professor of Trumpet, School of Music, University of Iowa premiered in Professor Charley Harrison's "Jazz in American Culture: 1940s to the present" (Ethnomusicology 50B) course.

Yes, the teal shirt is another Ellis original costume

The final stop of the "Don Ellis Portrait" tour took place in the UCLA Music Library as part of UCLA's inaugural Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) performances.  Kudos to Music Librarian Joy Doan for making JAM happen at UCLA!

The Ellis Portrait Big Band performing in the UCLA Music Library

The Ellis Portrait Big Band performing in the UCLA Music Library

And we have to include an image of the Archive's own recording technician, David Martinelli, on percussion

Thanks to everyone involved, A Don Ellis Portrait was not only a huge success, but an amazing collaboration between UCLA students in ethnomusicology, systematic musicology, musicology, music performance, jazz majors, world music majors, and the Thelonious Monk Institute.

And let's introduce the band...  Matt Gaffney, soprano sax/flute; Dave Wilson, alto sax; AJ Kluth, tenor sax/clarinet; Liam Collins, baritone sax; Courtney Jones, Ellis quarter-tone trumpet; Tristan Hurd, trumpet; Jack Kent, trumpet; Zach Ramacier, trumpet; Rachel O’Conner, French horn; Alex Rodriguez, superbone; Cameron Rhamani, bass trombone; Marc Bolin, tuba; Duke Anderson, drums; David Laudicia, drums; Ziyad Marcus, percussion; Dave Martinelli, percussion; Brita Tastad, violin; Luke Sanstanastaso, violin; Lydia Luce, viola; Rhamin Abrams, bass; Nashir Jay, jazz bass; Carmen Staaf, piano.

Thanks to Dr. Jones for posting video of the performances!

(And thanks to Aaron for all the images!)

Images--Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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