A conversation with Manty Ellis. Part One

It is fair to say that Manty Ellis is a “founding father” of the much under-recognized but deeply rich jazz tradition of Milwaukee.


This conversation was conducted on a recent evening at Mason Street Grill in Milwaukee, WI, between Manty Ellis (ME), Mark Davis (MD) and myself (JB). At one point, Tommy Antonic (TA) joins the conversation. If it reads a bit disjointed, it is because 1) I have never done this before and my interviewing skills are a bit rough (read, nonexistent), 2) there were several other people coming and going throughout the course of the conversation and at times, we were all speaking over Manty (and each other), & 3) it was a particularly loud evening in the lounge and we often had to have Manty repeat something or would “back channel” to be sure we had a name or location correct. What follows is part one of a series of conversations that will attempt to document what is a large void in Milwaukee’s music history. Manty is an incredible storyteller. Just as his improvised melodies are intelligent, articulate, and soulful – so are his words.

We began by showing Manty some images of past musicians and venues of years gone by. The first of which was a photo of the now-defunct jazz club “Sardino’s” on Farwell Ave.


Jamie Breiwick: Sardino’s, did you ever work at that place?

Manty Ellis: Yeah, thats right over there on Farwell. That was the second place. Alfie’s was first, and that came second.

Mark Davis: You mean it was the same ownership?  What do you mean by the second place?

ME: Well, after Alfie’s died, then that became the… Ray Tabs and Penny Goodwin, they stayed there for about nine years.

MD: I mean, it was open… I remember going there at the end of Sardino’s, when like Ernie Adams had a gig there, and (David) Hazeltine and Gerald (Cannon) were playing there… that was towards the end.

JB: Sardino’s?

MD: Yeah

ME: Joe.

MD: Which Joe?

ME: Joe Sardino.

MD: What clubs did they own?

ME: The Adlib. Curro’s… ahh…

MD: Pearl’s? You said, Pearl’s?

ME: Curro’s. C-u-r-r-o

MD: Oh right, Curro’s. Right. Was that out on Bluemound?

ME: No, that was right there on 3rd and State.

MD: Oh.

ME: Gallagher’s was right next door to it, just north of it. It was the third door from Wells on the west side of 3rd Street. That was Curro’s. You go out of Curro’s and walk, and the next door north, was a place called Gallagher’s. When I was checking out the joints, one night I went down there, Ahmad Jamal was working in Gallagher’s and Oscar Peterson was working in Curro’s.

MD: Nice! 

JB: Wow!

ME: I was just walking back and forth.

MD: Yeah!

ME: I didn’t realize what kind of shit that really was.

MD/JB: Right, right 

ME: And all of that, Curro’s… Aw man, I was just trying to learn how to play. I used to go down there to hang out. EVERYbody came in there, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach… ah who’s that Kay and Jay. Everybody came in there.

MD: Donald Byrd?

ME: You had Herbie Hancock and ah Duke Jord.. ah Duke Pearson. 

MD: Pepper Adams? or no?

ME: Yep, Pepper Adams, we used to hang out down there. Ahhh, lets see now… This is during the time…

MD: This is the 50’s?

ME: Ah, late or, must’ve been late…

MD: Or early 60’s?

ME: Yeah. Duke Pearson was involved in the Martin Luther King marches.

MD: Oh really?

ME: So, there was a march in, down there where Martin Luther King got killed. Anyways, he was with, ahh, Donald Byrd… and Donald Byrd came up to him and said…  Man, you gotta make the gig. And they got into it.

MD: Really?

ME: Yeah, so Duke Pearson said fuck it. Said he went, said he was going to make the gig… no I mean, mean make the march. They were coming from Chicago, so Donald Byrd got pissed off and hired Herbie Hancock. First gig was in Milwaukee.

MD: That’s why? Because Duke wanted to be a part of the march?

ME: Right, but Duke came to Milwaukee anyway, and I was down in the club. ‘Cause, see I knew Herbie when he was a little kid, man… we were studying with Billy Wallace. 

MD: Ok, right.

ME: At Curro’s.

MD: Would Herbie come to Curro’s?

ME: Yeah, that’s where he started.

MD: Really?

ME: He came out of Chicago, that was his first gig…

MD: When he was a kid? Like even maybe still a teenager?

ME: ‘Bout 19… 18… ‘cause me and my wife were… we went from Chicago with Billy, I knew him when he was 9 years old! You know… He’s up there, man… like a 19 year old, scared to death. He’s just leaving Chicago and they going to New York. And I was, you know, I was lookin’ at him like – he plays the keys off the fuckin’ piano, man. And I was wondering what’s wrong with him, man, he’s nervous. I and thought, I said, man, I don’t know what you’re nervous about, you goin’, I say, you probably be the cat! (laughs) … and he became the cat.

JB: Obviously! Yeah.

MD: Wow!

ME: Very quickly he became the cat, because Miles hired him. Fired Wynton Kelly, fired Paul Chambers, fired ah, Jimmy Cobb.

MD: Really? Did you get to know them a little bit here?

ME: Yeah

MD: Where did you get to know Jimmy Cobb?

ME: It was at Curro’s.

MD: Really? That was the joint?

JB: Where was that place, Manty?

ME: 3rd and State

JB: Ok

ME: Then right across the street, south of State St, Johnny Walker’s had the clothing company on the corner…

MD: Ok.

ME: Right next to it was The Brass Rail.

MD: I’ve heard of that place. Was that the same ownership?

ME: No, that was Izzy Pogrob.

MD: Who was that?

ME: Izzy Pogrob was his name. He was about 6’ 8” and weighed about 500 lbs.

JB: The Brass Rail, this is?

ME: Yeah.

MD: The owner of the Brass Rail?

ME: Right. I was down there when Chico Hamilton called me and says, hey man, why don’t you come on… this was the last night of the gig… see, he was in… Philly Joe was on the gig, he’s gettin’ ready, he came here with no drums, and Jimmy Story was a drummer around here, and he loved Philly Joe. So he went and got drums for him. 

JB: Jimmy who? 

ME: Story

JB: Story?

ME: Yeah, he died in jail. Now, this is crazy here… and, ahh, so Jimmy Story, he had, um, let Philly Joe use the drums, and ahhh what’s his name… the cat we were talking about…

MD: What instrument? Jimmy Cobb?

ME: No, it wasn’t Jimmy Cobb. The cat Jimmy Cobb was a drummer… 

-Tommy Antonic joins the table-

JB: Hey Tommy

MD: Manty, do you know Tommy Antonic? Young guitar player. Yeah, nice guitar player.

JB: Manty is telling us some stories. I’m just recording it, and trying to document a lot of the history of Milwaukee.

MD: We’re talking about a lot of the old clubs… Curro’s and the Brass Rail…

JB: There was a place called Curro’s on 3rd and State…

MD: Is the building still there do you think?

JB: It was Herbie Hancock’s first gig with Donald Byrd, was there, in Milwaukee at Curro’s. What did you say? Duke Pearson was the piano player in the band and it was during the time of a lot of the civil rights protests, and Pearson was very involved with the MLK protests and he wanted to attend this march and so Pearson was like, screw that I’m going to this march. And so Byrd hired Herbie as a teenager, and his first gig with Donald Byrd was in Milwaukee at this place Curro’s.

ME: …and they both went to the piano at the same time!

MD: Did they both show up?

ME: Yeah.

JB: So Pearson showed up anyways…

MD: They both showed up.

ME: Herbie kept the gig. 

JB: Wow!

MD: Did Donald Byrd have to intervene, and say you’re not on the gig, or something? How did they… I mean?

ME: Aw man, I told you, It didn’t make him no difference. You know.. Man, those cats…  But, um, yeah there was another cat around here, Holder Jones…

MD: What’s the first name?

ME: Holder, H-o-l-d-e-r. He had a bachelor’s degree from, um, Wisconsin State Teacher’s, which is UWM.

JB: UWM, yeah

MD: What did he play?

ME: Trumpet. But his main… his forte was he was an arranger.

MD: Good?

ME: Damn good, aw yeah. And he always had a big band here. 

MD: When you were coming up, like your first gigs, Manty, what kind of gigs were you doing? Like, what, like small group stuff? Or were there a lot of organ trios? 

ME: No. No organ. Not when I came up.

JB: When were your first gigs? Do you remember about what years?

ME: Oh yeah, my first gig was at, ah, Lapham Park Social Center. [1]

JB: Lapham Park Social Center?

ME: Yeah. That’s where Bunky (Green) and all the guys started over there. You know, we had a big band over there called the Rhythm Kings.

JB: Were those gigs mostly big band gigs?

ME: Well it started out, I ended up running the thing over there and me and Bunky were the last two working the gig. You know, they got, ah… See, I was always figuring out the business angles on the gig, rather than the music my old man was teaching me I didn’t have to worry about, ‘cause I was looking at the business angle. And I looked at that and they were doin’ something stupid. Mr. Gellwright (sp) was the, ah… director for the social center. He told the guys that they could have a session over there. And at that time, man, six bucks a night was big money. So… and I saw how he was running it, he says, well, just have all the guys come up and i’ll come in at about ten o’ clock and see how many guys there are and get you the money for, you know, all the guys…. and I thought, wait a minute.. he’s gonna pay me for all the guys that come? So, I went around and got everybody.

MD: What kind of place was it Manty? When you say it was a social club, was it a bar? 

ME: No, it was like a recreation center.

MD: Yeah, so no alcohol, you mean? or…

ME: Oh, no, no this like a city, ah..

MD: Yeah.

ME: You know, you had a gymnasium.

JB: A community center. 

ME: Yeah, it was basically for the gymnasium, thats where we had the concerts. I got sixteen guys to come over there and he came in and he counted ‘em, and he handed me a check for sixteen guys, six bucks apiece. Wow! This is great! So I called Bunky off to the side, say man, lets work this thing real good. (laughs) We worked the hell out of it, man!

JB: So, it was you, Bunky Green, who else? Do you remember anybody else who would’ve been in there, involved with that?

ME: On that gig, let’s see… There was Bill Jordan, ah, the bass player, and Curtis Sprewer, the drummer. You ever heard of them? Never?

JB: No. 

MD: What age? Were these guys a lot older than you?

ME: Oh yeah. Curtis was, ah… he must have been eight years older.

MD: Yeah.

ME: And, um… Let’s see… Dick Smith… Did you know Dick? Dick Smith? Drummer? 

MD: I don’t think so.

ME: Oh, man. There, now that was a terrible story there. There’s a guy that was before his time. He had drummers like Max and Art Blakey and them cats… they all knew about him.

MD: He was serious?

ME: Aw man!

JB: Dick Smith?

MD: And was he a Milwaukee guy? 

ME: Yeah!

JB: I’ve never heard of him!

MD: Was he like the best cat around? Was he like the best?

ME: By far… Right now, if he was here, he’d still be, by far…

All: (laughs)

ME: I tell you, here’s a guy, he was playing like Elvin Jones and those cats in the 40’s!

MD: Really?

ME: Right… and nobody would hire him. They told him he was crazy, and all this. He’s just ahead of his time!

JB: Wow!

ME: He used to keep everybody in line. The last time I talked to Bunky was when we buried him. I called Bunky and I told him. Bunky says, yeah man, he says, Dick Smith was very hard on me. He says, but he was right. I said, what do you mean? He said, man… See Bunky was like… a monster at about 14 years old. You know? And so, Dick Smith would always get on his case ‘cause Bunky was playing so much.

MD: Yeah.

ME: He used to tell him, Bunky, you are over-playing your horn.

JB: Over-playing, yeah.

ME: He was over-playing. So Bunky said, man, this particular night, we’re playing on the gig and he said, man, I played and I played and I played, and I thought I was… and I went runnin’ to Dick Smith… and this cat wore glasses on his nose and he always looked over his nose, like that. And Bunkys talkin’ about, hey man did you hear? And Dick Smith was… Man, you ain’t playin’ shit!
All: (laughs)

ME: Bunky said, he hurt me so bad, he said,  that I didn’t know what to do. But he… Bunky said, you know what? He was right!

All: (laughs)

JB: What was Dick Smith’s story?

MD: Yeah, what happened to him?

JB: How much older was he than you? Or was he..

ME: He was about ten years older.

JB: Ten years older than you… Do you know much about his background? As far as… I mean, was he born and raised here? Or? How did he have a national rep… I mean, how did those cats know about him? Max and Art Blakey and those guys know about him?

ME: There used to be a lot of bands that come out of here.

JB: Right. Ok.

ME: Um, Dick Smith was around when Jay McShann, you heard of that name?

JB: Yeah, Kansas City, yeah.

ME: Around that time when Bird and them… and, ah… he was on the road with different cats. 

JB: Yeah.

MD: Ok

MD: What happened… What happened to Dick Smith? Did he stay in Milwaukee?

ME: MmmHmm

MD: When did he pass away? Like…

ME: Aww man, lets see… its got to be at least ten years.

MD: So, did he stop playing?

ME: Finally at the end he did.

JB: (to Mark) It’s funny you never heard about him.

MD: Was he playing? I never heard about him.

ME: Ah, he was playing. He used to go to the Jazz Oasis.

JB: That’s incredible.

MD: Yeah.

JB: That… Never heard of him. Amazing.

ME: Bad dude.

MD: So, where else did you play when you were real young, Manty? What part of town? Or what was the…

ME: Up and down 3rd Street.

MD: Third Street? That’s what was happening?

ME: Third and Walnut? Where MYSO is?

JB: Yes.

ME: That’s where I used to work all the time.

JB: And that’s what they used to call Bronzeville right? And that.. 

ME: I don’t know nothin’ about Bronzeville.

JB: That’s why I was curious to ask you about that.

MD: Why do you say that Manty, like the term? You ever use that term?

JB: No one called it that.

ME: Never heard of it.

MD: Did they ever use that term? 

ME: Nope.

MD: Is that like a newer thing? Where they start calling it Bronzeville?

JB: After the fact.

ME: Yeah, later on they started calling… talking about Bronzeville. I always wondered what the fuck they were talking about.

ME: I remember up on… twenty-four, twenty-five hundred block of 3rd, there was a club we worked in, and the guy that had the club… Jimmy Johnson was the bass player… I don’t know who else was working on that gig. Nelson Symonds was working down the street, this guy.. You ever heard of Nelson?

MD: Nuh-uh

ME: You know him?

TA: I heard he was crazy.

JB: Never heard of him. Nelson Symond?

ME: Yeah. Guitar player. 

JB: (to Tommy) Who did you hear about him? How…

TA: Wes talks about him in an interview. 

MD: Really?

JB: What?

TA: He said, Nelson Symond… I’m interested now. “Cause Wes said, if Nelson Symond came to the U.S., it would be over. That was what Wes said. But I checked some of his stuff out… like there was…

JB: So he has recordings out there? That are available? Where did you hear him?

TA: They were hard to find, but like twenty pages into google… 

JB: Ok

TA: I found some stuff.

JB: So wait, what was the deal with Nelson? He was living here?

ME: From Canada.

MD: Right.

ME: Him and, ah… Did you know Jimmy Duncan?

MD: No, I just heard the name.

ME: His brother, Charlie Duncan was a drummer, and they lived in, ah… Montreal. They came here and stayed until the visa ran out. So I got to know Nelson real good. Played with him… I mean, he couldn’t.. He was a guitar player. At that time wasn’t that many cats playing. And, ah…

MD: So, a lot of guitar chops or something? Or what? Is that what you mean by a guitar… I mean.

ME: Naw, he was music oriented, jazz oriented… but not… He didn’t know nothin’. He just played. But he could play. You know… at that time thats when the organ groups first come around.

MD: Did organ groups get real popular in Milwaukee at a certain point? Or not necessarily.

ME: Uhh…

MD: I thought Berk said at one point, he said there were a lot of organs…

ME: But, ah… see, the organ players around here… there was a good organ player around here, Will Green?

MD: Will Green, I hear about.

JB: He taught Hazeltine, and…

ME: and Marcus (Robinson)

MD: Was he an incredible player?

ME: Yeah.

MD: Yeah.

ME: Yeah, I mean, he played organ… all four members were separated…

MD: Yeah.

ME: … and he played the bass with his foot 

MD: And he was blind right?

ME: Blind.

JB: I heard about him from Hazeltine.

MD: Didn’t he do like repair work, ah… TV’s… or

ME: Yeah.

MD: And he was blind.

All: (laughs)

MD: How did he do that?

JB: That’s amazing! A TV repair man that…

MD: He knew electronics, apparently.

JB: That’s unbelievable! 

MD: Did you work with Will a lot?

ME: Well, we hung out. Will… now that you mention that… I’ve gone up… Will had a little shop, on 11th…

MD: A repair shop?

ME: Yeah.

MD: On 11th?

ME: MmmHmm. And he taught music in there.

JB: In the repair shop?

ME: Yeah, yeah he had an organ… oh it was a big place.

JB: Yeah.

ME: I had gone up in there several times… had to take the TV off his head where he’s sticking his head up in this big TV? And he’d cut something in there, you know and have his ass…

JB: Stuck in the TV…

ME: I had to take the TV off of him twice!

All: (laughs)

ME: He had a reputation, he’ll fix your TV, but nobody else could ever fix it after that!

All: (laughs)

ME: And he made a thing called a “T-bass”.

MD: “T-bass”?

ME: For the organ. He made it. Hooked it up, man, you take your foot and play the organ pedals, sound like somebody playing the bass.

MD: So, it created the sound.

ME: MmmHmm

MD: Using the pedals?

ME: MmmHmm

MD: More acoustic sound?

JB: So, he invented this?

ME: Yeah, integrated it with the organ.

MD: Did anybody ever produce it, you think? Or was it just him…

JB: Just him…

ME: Just him… and Lonnie Smith had something similar, too.

MD: Oh really? Was Lonnie… Lonnie was around here a bit?

ME: MmmHmm.

MD: I mean, living here?

ME: Yeah!

MD: Yeah. Wait, in the 70’s? or.. or, late 60’s?

ME: Late 60’s.

MD: Yeah.

ME: Um… Lonnie was, ah… a place up on 3rd and North called Maxamillion’s.

JB: Ok.

ME: And, um… Lonnie Smith came here and stayed for about six months…

MD: What did have, a house gig there?

ME: Yeah.

MD: Like every night? or something?

ME: Yeah, six nights a week.

JB: Six nights a week, at… it was Maxamillion’s?

ME: MmmHmm

JB: That is unbelievable. I didn’t know that. That is why he is listed on that Ron Myers website [2].

MD: Ron’s got him on there?

JB: Lonnie Smith. He has him listed on there. That makes sense if he was here for six months. I mean… he was here. The other… other person I heard that lived here for a while, maybe you know, was Rashaan Roland Kirk.

ME: Yeah.

JB: Did he stay here for a while, also?

ME: We put him on a train to go to New York. First, he went through Chicago.

JB: … through Chicago.

MD: Where is he from? Cleveland?

ME: He’s from Ohio somewhere.

MD: Yeah.

ME: He stayed here for…

MD: He came here first?

JB: Did you work with him at all? 

ME: Yeah.

MD: Did he come here before New York? Like…

ME: Yeah… You ever heard of Marvin Stamm?

MD: MmmHmm

JB: Yes. The trumpet player, yeah sure.

ME: No.

JB: No?

ME: Marvin Stamm…

JB: Must be a different Marvin Stamm. 

ME: Flute…

MD: Oh really?

ME: … and tenor saxophone.

JB: Marvin Stamm?

ME: He worked with a lot of organ groups.

JB: Ok. Different Marvin Stamm then, yeah.

ME: Now… Berkeley would know him. I might have the last name wrong. Just mention “Marvin”, ‘cause they… they’re real good friends.

MD: He and Berk? Yeah.

ME: Marvin… he was here… um… ahhh… Roland Kirk was here, Ron Burton? Bill Burton? Ron Burton, this cat… all got aliases. He had aliases every place he go ‘cause cops were after him all the time. (laughs) So his name… here, his name was Bill Burton. When he went to New York, I’m looking for Bill Burton, then his name is Ron Burton out there. (laughs) He’s still out there!

MD: Who is… what does he play?

ME: Ah… keyboards. Well, he was, ahh… with Roland Kirk.

JB: Oh ok, so he came through with Roland Kirk.

ME: MmmHmm.

JB: Ok.

ME: And he stayed too.

JB: Was… Now, like, Lonnie Smith coming through, and Roland Kirk, was it that there were a lot of gigs to be had? At that time?

ME: Well, at that time, a lot of guys were on the road.

JB: Or was Milwaukee just on the scene? Or was it more of a circuit, like people could come here and like pass through…

MD: Was there any more than Chicago? Not necessarily… It was just…

ME: No, alot of the guys… you see, being close to Chicago you get the over flow.

JB: Right.

ME: Guys… You go there… work at the Showcase, maybe Wednesday through Sunday. Then, if they came here, they get the gig here on Mondays and Tuesdays.

MD: Yeah.

ME: Like at the Jazz Gallery.

JB: Right.

ME: Chuck [3] used to do that. A lot of guys did that.

MD: Right… Manty, did you study guitar with someone? I know you played piano, but, did you study guitar?

ME: My old man.

MD: He was a guitarist?

ME: Piano…

MD: He sang too, right? Did he sing?

ME: Danced, sang, all that shit.

MD: So, he was your guitar teacher?

ME: He got me started. Basically, he got me started with piano.

MD: Or, did you teach yourself guitar from, at a certain point.

ME: Well… when I started, there was a guy named George Patrick.

MD: Patrick?

ME: And, um… he was like a theory monster. Now… and it used to be the Milwaukee Academy of Music which was right across from the Conservatory [4]. On the corner.

JB/MD: On Prospect?

ME: That’s why I couldn’t play football or anything. I went to Lincoln, I’d go out for football and my old man would make me quit and go to music school. And he always said, well just make the team and then quit. You know, so that’s what I did. I’d make the team… then quit.

JB: What did your father play?

ME: Piano, guitar, banjo…

JB: So he taught you first, he was your first teacher.

ME: Yeah.

MD: Was he doing, like, stride… and that kind of stuff?

ME: Yeah. You know, ‘cause he… the older cats, you know they…

MD: The older styles…

ME: … Anything over a seventh, man, was… Wow! You know? (laughs)

MD: Did he work as a professional musician?

ME: Oh yeah. He worked around, you know… when he was workin’ man, two bucks a night was big money.

MD: Really? Did he do other things too? Or was music his main thing?

ME: Mechanic

MD: Mechanic?

ME: Yep, Machinist… used to do a whole lotta shit. He’d do anything.

MD: Yeah.

ME: Anything, just… And, um…

MD: What was your dad’s name?

ME: Grover.

MD: Grover? So you were named… named after him?

ME: Yeah.

MD: Yeah…. Was your family in Milwaukee a long… did he grow up here?

ME: He came here in the… 8th grade.

MD: Where did they move from?

ME: Texas.

MD: Hmm

ME: Born in Indiana.

MD: Oh ok. 

ME: Jeffersonville. Ah… Do you follow boxing? Do you remember when Muhammad Ali was, ah… screwed up and they put in… took his title?

MD: Ok.

ME: And his sparring partner became the champion?

MD: I didn’t know that.

ME: Jimmy Ellis? They are all from Jeffersonville, Indiana.

MD: Are you related?

ME: Yeah! Aw man, I got a lot of relatives that been out there… ah… Do you watch basketball?

JB: MmmHmm

ME: College?

MD: You probably do Jamie.

JB: A little bit… little bit.

ME: You ever heard of Steph Curry?

JB: Yeah, of course!

ME: That’s my cousin.

All: (laughs)

ME: Del Curry…

JB: Del Curry, yeah.

ME: … that’s his father. 

JB: Yeah, yeah.

ME: Well, Del’s grandmother, is my mother’s sister.

JB/MD: Ok, ok

JB: So, yeah, cousins.

MD: Just, once removed.

JB: Steph Curry is a… he’s a big star!

MD: That’s cool.

JB: He’s a big star.

MD: Yeah.

ME: Shit yeah, Del was worse than him! Man, the metro conference.

JB: Yeah, shooting… he was a shooter.

ME: They called…

JB: Deadly!

ME: Yeah… they called a certain time of the game, they called it “Curry time”. And he was shootin’ them three-pointers, man, in college, like they were nothin’!

JB: Yup… yeah Steph, I know. That’s awesome!

MD: Yeah, Manty.

ME: So there’s, you know… there have been a lot of… Frank Morgan was out of here.

MD: Yeah.

ME: Sam Ward.

JB: Was Frank Morgan from here originally?

ME: Well he came here at 5 years old.

JB: But he was raised here?

MD: Are you related to him? Or did you just grow up with him 

ME: His grandmother took my mother in like a daughter, and we all came up together in the same house.

JB: You and Frank were tight though, you grew up together basically.

MD: So you are almost like… yeah.

ME: Yeah. First time I saw Frank I grabbed him by his throat and tried to break his fuckin’ neck. (laughs) I just didn’t like him, man. We were 5 years old.

All: (laughs)

MD: Where did you grow up, Manty? Which street were you on when you were a kid?

ME: 5th and Vine.

MD: 5th and Vine?

ME: Yeah, thats where I was born.

MD: Ok.

ME: Then I moved to 4th and Vine, and 6th and Vine… I was 23 years old, man… I was 14 before I crossed North Avenue. So, I knew my area down there.

Continue reading Part Two.


[1] Lapham Park, now Carver Park, 911 W Brown St – A portion of the current site has a history of park use which dates back to 1853. At that point in time, Quentin’s Park, a private facility, occupied the site of what is now Roosevelt Middle School plus much of the southerly part of Carver Park. In 1879 this land was sold to the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company and Schlitz Park (a popular beer garden) was created. Through the 1940s, the park was called Lapham Park and featured the Lapham Memorial. (wikipedia)

[2] Jazz Wisconsin is an organization started by Dr. Ron Myers, “The Wisconsin Jazz and Heritage Foundation (WJHF) is dedicated to the preservation of the historic contributions of African-Americans to the legacy of jazz in North Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin.” http://www.juneteenthjazz.com/jazzwisconsin.html

[3] Chuck Lapaglia, the owner and proprietor of the original Jazz Gallery at 932 Center St in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. Presented local and national acts from 1978-1984.

[4] The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, The school is descended from two music schools, both founded in Milwaukee in 1899: the Wisconsin College of Music, originally located in Mendelssohn Hall across the street from the Central Library, and the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, originally housed in the Ethical Building on Jefferson Street facing Cathedral Square. The two schools merged in 1971. It now describes itself as “the oldest and largest non-profit independent music school in the state.”

In 1932 it leased the mansion originally built by industrialist Charles L. McIntosh in 1903. McIntosh was born in New York State, and became a banker in Denver, Colorado. In 1895 he moved to Racine, Wisconsin and bought a controlling interest in the J. I. Case Company. The architect was Horatio R. Wilson of Chicago. In 1921 McIntosh sold the house to William Osborne Goodrich (1863–1956), who was married to Marie Best Pabst (1868–1947), the daughter of Frederick Pabst (1836–1904). (wikipedia)

14 thoughts on “A conversation with Manty Ellis. Part One

  1. Enjoyed this very much. This is a good start. By the way, I knew both Jimmy Duncan and Dick Smith. They were still on the scene and playing in the mid to late 70’s. More on that later.

  2. Great interview Mr B! Felt like I was eavesdropping on a very cool conversation. Don’t change your style. The best history is hearing it from the cats who were there.

  3. […] Jamie has recently started a project archiving the history of the much under-appreciated and under-documented Milwaukee Jazz scene. There is a hidden and beautifully rich history of incredible musicians, venues, stories, etc. right under our noses, and he has begun collecting artifacts – a compilation of images, news clippings, videos, posters and more; many of which have been coming to him from around the country, as the word about this project has spread. If you are interested in viewing the archive, you can click on this link to view the collection thus far.  One other component of the project has been to interview aging musicians. The first interview, just completed last week, with Manty Ellis, our upcoming master class leader. You can read part one of the interview with him here. […]

      1. Hi, sorry I am late in responding. I do not, I have one picture of my father behind the bar and that is all. He use to have signed photographs of everyone but I do not know what happened to a lot of his things after his death. I think its awesome that there are still people who remember my father!!

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