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Published: 1998/12/15
by Rob Turner

Dave Ellis Talks About Everything

Rob: What band did you have for that?

Dave: I had the quartet that I’ve been playing with, including Jeff Chimenti and Deszon Claiborne on drums and Pete Barshay. And they’re also guys that, like Jeff, I sort of got to know when I left the Charlie Hunter Trio, and I went back and tried to find a group to play with. I played with any number of people in the Bay Area, and combinations of people in the making of my first record. I was trying to play gigs around the area, and survive really, because Charlie Hunter Trio was a great gig for the area. San Francisco is a very fertile place as a jazz scene, especially ’92, ’93 and ’94. ’95 kind of tapered off a little bit, but it’s very fruitful, but it’s still hard to make money as a jazz saxophonist it’s a night job only (laughs). At the same time I had been a leader for a long time, I mean ever since high school. Then I was a member of The Charlie Hunter Trio with Jay Lane. That was what my focus was about in ’96 when I started doing my own thing, it took me a while to get my feet under me and find the players that I really enjoyed. It showed on the first record in the sense that it was a little bit splayed. It was a good effort but I maybe bit off a little bit more than I could chew but I really actually liked the record, this thing now is rawer, more slimmed down (Jeff Chimenti walks in) and this is Jeff Chimenti, who you need to talk to right now, is spectacular, as you know. This is Rob.

Jeff Chimenti walks in the room as he is answering this question.

Jeff: Hi Rob.

Rob: Nice to meet you, I like your compositions on here (holding In The Long Run).

Jeff: Oh, cool.

Dave: We’ve been at it for hours, he’s got tape deluxe!!

Jeff: So, how are you guys doin’?

Dave: (pointing to me) He’ll ask the questions, I’m sorry (laughter). No, wait a minute one question for Jeff, for the record. You got one for Jeff?

Rob: Is that all right with you?

Jeff: Sure.

Rob: How do you feel about gradually incorporating material that you’ve written into Ratdog, and how have you been influenced by the Ratdog musicians in writing that material

Jeff: I see it as a basic sketch, as far as like what I might interpret how Bob feels about something or how he might look at something, but it’s not just me, I mean we’re all, I think, doin’ it together, although it might start from one person or another. It’s been a great thing for me, I’ve learned quite a bit since I’ve joined this band, I just really never imagined it would be as much fun as it is. As far as new material, I guess I just try to keep in mind the sound of what’s going on, and try to say “Hey, I think I understand maybe what’s happening over here,” and I just try to bring it out, I don’t know how to explain it.

Rob: You seemed to work yourself in gradually really well, you were real low-key that first tour.

Jeff: Well, I was just trying to find the space, ya know, you have to kind of role play and kind of be a support and find little pockets to get your voice in there, hopefully, but just try and be as supportive as possible, ‘cause to me if the groove’s happenin’ then that’s it, you know, and you go from there.

Rob: You’re getting more and more solos, and playing more aggressively with Ratdog.

Jeff: We’re trying, it takes time. It’s building and everybody’s trying to feel each other out, and I think we’re really starting to learn each other now. For me it’s been about a year and a half and I’m just finally starting to understand what’s happening.

Rob: What jazz bands did you play in before you came onboard with Ratdog?

Jeff: Wow (laughs)

Dave: Everything in the Bay area. He was absolutely the first call piano player for every single gig. If there was anyone who came through the Bay area, or anyone who was playing regularly in the Bay area, Jeff played with ‘em. Human Flavor, Alphabet Soup…whoooo shoot! I don’t even know where to start! That’s where I started ‘cause I’m from the South of Market scene. Man, who else Jeff? Everybody at Pearl’s , everybody at Pender’s club when he was there, man ah…Storyville…everybody, man everybody. Jeff’s the man.

Rob: Did you guys know Kenny Kirkland? (author note: Kenny, who had passed away days before this interview, was an amazing jazz pianist who worked with many artist, performing incredible music, particularly with Branford Marsalis)

Jeff: Yeah, I didn’t actually know him, but I was very appreciative of him and I admired what he did.

Dave: He’s a big influence on us!

Jeff: I heard early on today that he had passed away.

Rob: He was an influence you say?

Jeff: Oh yeah, he was a brilliant player, he’s an influence on everybody!

Rob: (To Dave) You were 10 when you started playing, (to Jeff) How old were you when you first started playing?

Jeff: My mother’s got pictures of me back to eighteen months on the piano, but actually consciously probably started at about 4. I started by ear. We had a piano at our house and it was just there and I was just started playing. Then we’d go to church and I would start mimicking _

Dave: Here’s what I know, his Mom , Mary, told me that he was listening to the songs while he was sitting in church, and then he would go home and start playing them, you’re talking about like four years old though, and he goes home and starts playing them, his parents were like “Whoa, we gotta keyboard player here!” So, it was kind of, ah perhaps delivered before consciousness.

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