No history, no future.

No history, no future.

*an edited version of this essay will appear as the introduction the forthcoming book “Images of America, Milwaukee Jazz” by Joey Grihalva on Arcadia Publishing Co. (preorder the book here: mkejazzbook.com)

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Many have proclaimed  the “death of jazz” since the musical art form began over a century ago. In response to such proclamations, Milwaukee Jazz guitarist Manty Ellis says, “You can’t kill a cultural art form. They try to kill the music, but when they stomp it out here, it grows up over there. They kill it over there, it comes up over here.” It is a disgraceful if unsurprising fact that the music born out of the oppression and suffering of Black Americans has not been fully embraced in the country in which it was created.   

Several years ago I began documenting the history of the under-appreciated, if not completely unrecognized jazz scene in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The impetus for the project was that I had found very little online or print evidence of Milwaukee’s rich and storied jazz history, and little mention of particular notable individuals. Important Milwaukee musicians such as Berkeley Fudge, Hattush Alexander, Manty Ellis, Penny Goodwin, Tony King, Will Green, Jessie Hauck, Bob Hobbs, and Dick Smith, to name just a few, influenced and inspired generations of Milwaukee jazz artists. Speaking of guitarist Manty Ellis, alto saxophone legend Frank Morgan said, “I can’t say enough. There are some bright stars on the horizon who owe their life to him. He’s a legend in his own time. I love him and there should be a monument erected to him in Milwaukee.” Continue reading “No history, no future.”

Manty Ellis, Midwest Jazz Master

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.

Continue reading “Manty Ellis, Midwest Jazz Master”