Manty Ellis is certainly what you call a treasure. His perspective on life and music is what we all hope to attain as musicians. He has recently formed a new project – The Milwaukee Jazz Foundation – as a means to invigorate the Milwaukee Jazz scene. Manty is a master musician, and a master story teller.
By Aaron Cohen 1997 Midwest Jazz Masters Journal volume 4, number 3 – Fall 1997, page 29
“Personally, I just like the city,” Ellis said recently. “And I have a little more of an attachment. Most people in any city were born in hospitals. I never made it. I was born in a house right here in Milwaukee on North 5th Street. And I can go back there every day of my life and I can sit in front of that front window where I was born. That house has all kinds of memories when I go back over there.” These memories include the first musician Ellis heard: his father, Grover Edwin Ellis, a pianist with a strong interest in Louis Armstrong. “I started going to the piano as soon as I could to emulate what he was doing.” Ellis said. “He saw this and started directing me a little bit. Pretty soon he started teaching. I knew more about music than the ABC’s for some time because that’s how I was taught. Just basic theories of how scales are constructed, I learned that before I started school.” Under his father’s tutelage, Ellis became accomplished enough – at age 9, no less – to be a sideman in bands around Milwaukee.
Open the album cover and you enter the Jazz Estate, a Milwaukee club that exemplifies a venue that nurtures modern straight-ahead jazz and makes money at it. This recording was made there one night, even if the program has the well-considered sense of purpose of a studio recording.
The melody of the opening “Gig Shirt” has a slightly skewed trumpet-saxophone harmony, recalling Ornette Coleman’s classic/radical quartet, which certainly influenced the album’s piano-less instrumentation. The theme bodes well for a musical departure, especially in its expansive rising last notes.
“At first, in music, there are open fields, oceans, forests. Later they build structures, edifices of harmonic and melodic materials, walls. Rhythm is solid, inflexible, stone. Oceans freeze, forests are razed for lumber and paper is filled with arcana, math, absolutes are found. Much later, time, duress, the elements and conflicts erode these structures. Cities become ruins, melting oceans create rivers which create new forests of fresh sound from the black soil of The Tradition. The harmonic walls that once stood here are now as lines on the road. Harmonies and melodies go where they will, unimpeded but informed by the past. This is where the Breiwick / Velleman Duo roams. These musicians have passed through evolutions as musicians, personal epochs of musical development. Both are deeply rooted in the holy language of American music. Some call it jazz. Both can hit the changes, any changes at damn near any tempo. Jamie is a master musician who has attained at a very young age for this art. There is nowhere he cannot move in the physics of this world, the world of Music. He will modestly dispute this, but his work causes involuntary profanities to come from otherwise puritanical conversationalists. ‘Holy S***’. Barry is an architect. Barry is an intergalactic musical traveller. He has been there, done that, done there, been that. Barry can turn an uninterested, boisterous mob into a congregation of hungry listeners, accepting his phrases and inventions eagerly. Jamie will tell you that Barry is the Master. Jamie is right.”