I was early to the self-releasing party. I paid for and released my first record, “Language of Love”, more than 20 years ago, in 1996. We recorded it to tape in Tim Stambaugh’s home studio in New Orleans. It was an exciting time. I felt like I was in control of my own destiny. I was going to own my own masters, and as would naturally follow, I imagined I’d own my own destiny. This was an era, if you remember, when a record could go out of print and disappear – an era when you might record for a major label and get dropped before the record came out. So I really thought I was being smart. Not that I had much hope that a label would be interested in me anyway, but I was aiming for self sufficiency, full artistic control, and most importantly…sustainability; all I hoped to do was make enough back on each record to be able to pay for the next one. This was really not an unrealistic goal. Well…as I’m sure you can imagine, nothing worked out quite like I’d hoped. I won’t go into all the sordid details, but when the streaming revolution happened, I watched my potential earnings on all my self-produced masters turn to dust. Of the 9 records of mine that are out, I own the masters for 7 of them. I basically spent every cent I made on making my own records. As you might imagine, I was reluctant to make them available to be streamed. I refused to even use any of the streaming services out of principle. Then I started experimenting with having some titles available for streaming while others wouldn’t be. Finally I gave in. Mostly it’s because I finally started using the streaming services myself, and I loved having the access. From the consumer standpoint, it’s a no-brainer. It’s so convenient and so well suited to our current technological phone-driven reality. But once I gave in and allowed my records to be streamed I discovered something else problematic. There are so many other artists with my name that my streaming life is completely tangled up with lots of other John Ellises. So although my records are on Spotify and Apple Music, if someone goes there to look for them, they will likely end up listening to someone else’s music. I’ve been trying for a while now to get this all sorted out, but to no avail. The robots that organize all this just don’t care that much. So today I made a Spotify playlist that has a few tracks from all 8 of my albums that are available there. I share it with you here for now, in hopes that at some point in the future, my streaming life will be fully disentangled from all the other John Ellises, so that my capitulation to the current technology at least allows people to hear my music who want to, and I don’t just get drowned out entirely by the shouting of others who share my name.
I’m excited to be presenting my score to Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage Dans La Lune this Friday at The Colburn School’s Thayer Hall in Los Angeles. The score will be performed as part of a program by Colburn’s Contemporary Ensemble under the direction of Ted Atkatz. Showtime is at 8pm. We debuted this piece earlier in the year as a part of the St Barts Music Festival, and you can watch the movie synced with that performance here.
I’m happy to announce that Double-Wide will be in northern California playing at the Arcata Playhouse at 8pm on November 10th. Original DW member Jason Marsalis will be back with us, which doesn’t happen often since he relocated to (Old) Orleans, France. So this will be a treat. It’ll also be nice to have organist Brian Coogan back with us, who joined us on our second album, “Puppet Mischief”. We haven’t had a chance to play together in a while, so it’ll be like a family reunion. All the info you need is right here. We’ll also be making a stop at Moody’s in Truckee on November 11th, on the way back down to the bay area. I haven’t seen my friend JJ Morgan in years, and Moody’s has such a special vibe. Come see us at one of these. [Also a pretty cool non DW gig happening on November 8th at the Blue Whale in LA. That’ll be with Gerald Clayton, Alan Hampton, and Jason Marsalis.]
I’m very lucky to be a part of three great new albums by my friends Joe Sanders, Eden Ladin, and Alan Ferber. Check ’em out!
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On September 16th, Double-Wide will be headlining the first-ever Nanaimo International Jazz Festival in Nanaimo, BC. We’ll be in residence from the 14th through the 16th culminating with our final concert at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo. More info can be found here, and tickets can be purchased here.
I had the great pleasure of composing and recording new music for this podcast, just out today. Check it out!
I played this past January with these guys in St Barts for the St Barts Music Festival. We had such a blast, and so I’m thrilled to be able to present the same group back home in NYC. The band is incredible: Reuben Rogers – bass, Gary Versace – organ/accordion/piano, Joe Dyson – drums, Joel Ross – vibes, and Eric Miller – trombone. We’re playing two sets this Tuesday, August 8th – 7:30 and 9:30pm. Click here for more info and to reserve tickets. You can even livestream the gig here.
The great Tom McDermott was kind enough to review Double-Wide’s CD “Charm”. Check it out below!
John Ellis and Double-Wide
Parade Light Records
John Ellis and Double-Wide is my kind of modern jazz band. There are no endless strings of Coltrane and Brecker licks in this music. Rather you get clever tunes, finely crafted counterpoint, and whopping dollops of humor. And with a lineup of sax, trombone, organ, sousaphone and drums (and occasional accordion), you hear some timbres rarely heard in jazz.
“Charm” is a NYC/Nola potpourri, with the Crescent City represented by sousaphone virtuoso Matt Perrine and the ever-elastic Jason Marsalis on drums. Trombonist Alan Ferber, organist Gary Versace and leader-saxophonist Ellis are NYC residents. This type of fusion often yields great results; and of course, Ellis was a New Orleans resident back in the 1990s.
John wrote all the tunes, and he is very careful on “Charm” to give each track a different stamp. “Booker” is not specifically evocative of the Piano Prince, but has two very catchy tunes, which may have given it opening-song status.
“High and Mighty” is a rambunctious shuffle with some rhythmic breaks from Pluto. The perfectly-titled “Horse Won’t Trot” plods along dolefully in a lopsided 5/4 stutter-step.
Things pick up with Raymond Scottian “Charm is Nearly Always Sinister,” with some ingenious interplay in the statement of the melody between Perrine and Versace. Eastern Europe is summoned up to a degree on “Old Hotel,” with shades of the Tin Hat Trio, and “International Tuba Day,” redolent of the Slavic brass band tradition. “Snake Handler” (tango), “Barbed Wire Britches” (funk), “Yearn” (gospel, but with some outre progressions) – Ellis’ conjures many styles without losing an ounce of his wonderfully quirky personality.
Helen Sung Quartet west coast tour starts on Wednesday featuring: John Ellis (saxophone), Boris Kozlov (bass), Darrell L. Green (drums) – (4/26-4/30), Terreon Gully (drums) – (5/2-5/5), Christie Dashiell (vocals) – (4/28-4/29):
April 26: The John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts – Eugene, OR
April 27: Fremont Theater – Portland, OR
April 28: Bread of Life Church – Torrance, CA
April 29: blue whale – Los Angeles, CA
April 30: Salk Institute – La Jolla, CA
May 2: Yoshi’s Oakland – Oakland, CA
May 3: Unity Spiritual Center – Bellingham, WA
May 4: PONCHO Concert Hall at Cornish College of the Arts – Seattle, WA
May 5: Frankie’s Jazz Club – Vancouver, Canada
More info & tickets can be found at: helensung.com