“His creativity is so obvious, that it is at once both startling and inspiring ...”
-Steve Kinigstein, Just Jazz Guitar
“Monday's Dream is an unapologetically beautiful record, one of subtle delicacy and elegance, and alluring grace and finesse.”
John Kelman, All About Jazz
Guitarist and composer Roddy Ellias combines a deep relationship with both classical music and jazz in his composition, improvisations and interpretations of jazz standards. He’s performed and/or recorded with numerous jazz giants including Lee Konitz, Tom Harrel, Joel Frahm, and David Liebman, and has toured with his own projects throughout Canada and the United States.
His latest CDs, Sticks and Stones and Monday’s Dream have both received glowing reviews from highly respected publications Including Downbeat Magazine, Just Jazz Guitar, All About Jazz, Sound/Stage Xperience, the CBC, and The Ottawa Citizen.
In 2013, Roddy was the only Canadian recipient of the Jazz Journalists of America Jazz Hero Award.
FULL BIO: Roddy Ellias’ early experiences with music were at church services, where he heard both traditional Arabic chanting and western Bach harmony from the organ playing and choir led by director Fredrick Karam. He also discovered the piano at his grandmother’s house, where he would sit and improvise intuitively for hours.
He began playing the guitar at the age of 12 , with a little help from his guitar playing neighbors, but he basically taught himself, playing pop, country and jazz tunes. He then went on to some classical guitar lessons, first at the local music store, then briefly with a few classical masters but he found their approach too dogmatic for his improvising nature and love of jazz. That love was nurtured after hearing a young and vibrant Lenny Breau when he performed in town, and by frequent weekend trips to Montreal, two hours down the road, to hear his mentors Nelson Symonds on the guitar and Charlie Biddle on bass.
After (barely) completing high school, he auditioned for a successful Canadian pop group, the Sceptres, and toured with them for a year at the age of 19, where he both sang and played the guitar. On his return to his home town of Ottawa, he received a call to join another pop group, this one in LA, the Jacks and Jills. He found himself on a plane two days later, and toured with them for a full year, maintaining a gruelling schedule.
Returning again to his home town of Ottawa, he began doing jazz gigs with world-class musicians twice his age, people who mentored him and his burning desire to play jazz as well as they did. He worked regularly, playing with local jazz musicians as well as accompanying visiting Americans like Nat Adderley, Pepper Adams, Tom Harrel and brief out-of-town excursions with Lee Konitz, Red Norvo, Kenny Wheeler, Ray Anderson and Vera Lynn. He also pursued his own projects, including a long- standing duo with pianist Dave Hildinger and with his own quartet, which included Hugh Marsh, Kevin MacKenzie and Scott Alexander. The quartet recorded its first and only vinyl in 1979, titled A Night For Stars on the Posterity label, and licenced on the popular American jazz label, Inner City. Roddy loved the traditional repertoire and approach of jazz but his drive to combine his love of classical music with jazz and to play and write in his own unique way was already clear on this recording.
Friend and colleague, Dave Hildinger, (also a guest along with Robin Moir and Joe Turner on A Night For Stars) was a professor at the University of Ottawa and brought Roddy to hear a concert of the music of Canadian composer Steven Gellman, who also taught there. That did it! Roddy wanted to learn how to write like that, so he began formal studies at the age of 30 while still maintaining a busy performance schedule. As part of his studies in composition, he also became very influenced by the ethnomusic courses taught by Jocelyn Guilbault and continued his studies on the classical guitar with Ed Honeywell. Upon graduation he went on to study composition further at the Universite de Montreal, learning from the great Canadian composer Andre Prevost and lesser known but probably more influential to Ellias, Massimo Rossi.
Roddy had intended to go back to his life as a full-time performer and composer upon graduation, but a few days after getting his degree, received a phone call from the music department at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, offering him a full-time teaching position. Newly married, Ellias thought this to be a smart pragmatic move. He loved teaching and the job offer would give him some financial security. After three years, he left and went on to teach at Montreal’s Concordia University.
For the twenty years he taught full-time, he focused his creative energy mosty on writing chamber and orchestral music, receiving regular commissions to do so. His driving intention was still to find a musical expression that brought out the best elements of both “classical” music and jazz. His first significant leaps forward with this since his early recording of A Night For Stars were two long pieces he wrote in his first year at Concordia: Whale Spirit Rising, a 26-minute piece for string orchestra and baritone saxophone with I Musici de Montreal and David Mott (released on the prestigous Chandos label) and a suite titled Songs and Dances, for the same string orchestra and soloist Charles Ellison.
But the next development for Ellias was to bring those ideas and techniques of expression to his own playing, improvising and writing for small jazz groups. The first example of this was Oasis, a solo guitar recording made in 1999, while he was still teaching at Concordia.
After 17 years teaching at Concordia, he once again returned to his home town, this time to resume playing, touring and writing fult-time, his music and personal language constantly growing. He recorded Monday’s Dream with Montreal bassist, Adrian Vedady and Montreal drummer Tom Gossaage in 2014, and in 2017, Sticks and Stones, again with Adrian Vedady and the addition of New York pianist Marc Copland. In 2019 he wrote a powerful and successful “opera” titled Sleeping Rough, with libretto by Sandra Nicholls, enacted by puppets (Noreen Young) and featuring two jazz singers, Kellylee Evans and Felicity Williams, two classical opera singers, Helene Brunet and Gary Dahl, and a 13-piece ensemble made up of mostly classical musicians as well as three improvising musicians.
Roddy’s current projects include the Roddy Ellias Free Spirit Group, featuring Kellylee Evans (voice), Chris Pond (bass) and Jose Garcia (drums and percussion); a duo recording project with pianist Marc Copland; and the composition of a suite reflecting the emotions and spiritual impact of the current Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on all our lives. This work, featuring Kellylee Evans and large ensemble (Roddy’s augmented ensemble), is slated for its first performance at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival in 2021.