The Exotic Rhythms of Don Ellis
In May 2002, I completed and submitted The Exotic Rhythms Of Don Ellis, a dissertation submitted to The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA).
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This dissertation examines the rhythmic innovations of jazz musician and composer Don Ellis (1934-1978), both in Ellis’s theory and in his musical practice. It begins with a brief biographical overview of Ellis and his musical development. It then explores the historical development of jazz rhythms and meters, with special attention to Dave Brubeck and Stan Kenton, Ellis’s predecessors in the use of “exotic” rhythms. Three documents that Ellis wrote about his rhythmic theories are analyzed: “An Introduction to Indian Music for the Jazz Musician” (1965), The New Rhythm Book (1972), and Rhythm (c. 1973). Based on these sources a general framework is proposed that encompasses Ellis’s important concepts and innovations in rhythms. This framework is applied in a narrative analysis of “Strawberry Soup” (1971), one of Don Ellis’s most rhythmically-complex and also most-popular compositions. The dissertation is dedicated to Hank Levy (1928-2001).