Ellis in Wonderland

The cover of 'Ellis in Wonderland', an LP by Herb Ellis.

A few of my recent record buys have featured the virtuoso pianist Oscar Peterson as a more-or-less unobtrusive accompanist. On Soulville (1958, mentioned recently), Ben Webster was backed by Peterson’s trio, augmented by west coast drummer Stan Levey. On Anita Sings Jazz (1957, a re-titled UK pressing of Anita Sings the Most) Anita O’Day was accompanied by Peterson, again with his bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis, but this time joined by Milt Holland on the drums. It’s a record where the pianist played a more prominent role, with some wonderful interplay between him and O’Day.

It was Herb Ellis’s turn in the spotlight on Ellis in Wonderland (1956, pictured above), which was the guitarist’s first LP as leader. With their roles reversed, Peterson stayed very much in the background. To be fair, there was plenty going on in the foreground with solos variously by Ellis, and by the three horn-players involved: Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Charlie Mariano and Jimmy Giuffre (the last a college-friend of the guitarist). Alvin Stoller played the drums. Peterson, Brown & Ellis were also part of the ensemble in five of the seven tracks on New Jazz Sounds (1955, below), where alto saxophonist Benny Carter was credited as leader. It’s a somewhat uneven record that’s at its best in an opening pair of tracks which benefit from an ebullient guest appearance by trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie.

The cover of 'New Jazz Sounds', an LP by Benny Carter, et al.