Herb Ellis (1921-2010) can best be described as a somewhat countrified disciple of Charlie Christian. Much like Barney Kessel, Ellis’s style falls somewhere between swing and bop, but in some of his solos his sound bears the hint of a county twang.
One of the more unusual albums he recorded was 1959’s Herb Ellis meets Jimmy Giuffre. Ellis’s guitar is heard in the context of a larger ensemble than usual, his direct, well articulated lines cutting through a texture dominated by Giuffre’s pungent and at times subtly dissonant writing for four-part sax section.
Giuffre’s arrangement of the Coslow/Johnston standard My Old Flame cleverly integrates composed and improvised ideas, beginning with an unaccompanied statement of the melody by Ellis. The saxophone section takes over the melody with Ellis responding with improvised fills, segueing into his improvisation over the bridge of the tune. The transcription below covers this brief improvised section. Ellis’s ideas are well focused and incorporate a recurring ascending triplet pattern. Three of the seven bars begin with bluesy on-the-beat slurs.
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