ELECTRIC HEART don ellis Documentary Film page

ELECTRIC HEART don ellis Documentary Film page

Donald Johnson Ellis 1934-1978

"If you made it here then either you are a huge Don Ellis Fan, a big fan of Orchestrated Jazz, a recording Artist that is still trying to figure out Don's time signatures or one that is just wondering who exactly was Donald Johnson Ellis 1934-1978 and just how did he define and re-define Jazz, hopefully this page will answer that very question, so thank you for being here."
-John Vizzusi, Filmmaker


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Sights & Sounds Film / Sleepy Night Records 2008


Donald Johnson Ellis 1934-1978, the Man... his Times and most importantly his Music is explored in the Feature Length Documentary Film, ELECTRIC HEART -don ellis.

The Story of the one of the most innovative Composer, Arranger, Writer and Musicians' of all time, Ellis was the first to create a fusion between Jazz-Rock & Classical music.

Pultizer winning Composer Gunther Schuller appears explaining Ellis as the advent of his own coined phrase "The Third Stream".

Ellis took the genre to greater heights and not even the top 10 in New York City today can play his music.

Debuting his Orchestra in 1966 at The Monterey Jazz Festival, his "New Horizons" Band gave a performance that still stands as the greatest in the history of the oldest Jazz Festival. Restored footage with interviews from the band's members rounds out this segment.

Maynard Ferguson, Jazz Legend explains Ellis as a Composer was never satisfied with a certain sound and one that was content with "Experimintation before Entertainment."

Born in Los Angeles and raised in Minneapolis, the son of a Minister and Pianist Mother... he became known with his odd metered arrangements during his College years at  Boston University.  Schuller (New England Conservatory President at the time) introduced Ellis to Leonard Bernstein and a National Television audience viewed Ellis for the first time for The Young People's Concert's in 1964.

Preceding  a stint overseas in The Army, Ellis settled in New York City and quickly became the talk of the town. He had a Trumpet designed by Larry Ramirez (Interviewee) of The Stan Holton Company that had 4valves instead of 3 and was 1/4 tone. This had never been done and became the signature sound of Don Ellis.

Columbia Records signed Ellis for a long stint with Producer John Hammond.

Ellis then moved back to his native LA and during the late 1960's often headlined above and with Rock Groups such as The Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company. No other Jazz act for the exception of Miles Davis was marketed in such a way. Ellis and his "Tears of Joy" Band became known throughout the world as some of the best musicians ever assembled including (interviewed for the film) Milcho Leviev, Fred Selden, Sam Falzone, Jay Graydon and Ralph Humphrey. Ellis hired singer Patti Allen for his "Don Ellis goes Underground" and was his most commercial hit !

Although nominated several times The Grammy Award elluded him until 1972 when he won for Best Instrumental Arrangement for the Academy Award Winning Motion Picture "The French Connection" that he scored. Ellis also composed the music for the sequel Film as well as seven other major Films in his career. Note: The French Connection Soundtrack was re-released by in 2005.

There was simply nothing like Ellis, not Mingus, not Miles.... and Ellis took Jazz to greater heights and never bothered to look back. He mixed complex Indian rhythms with his fantastic "Hindustani Sextet", turned heads at Tanglewood, Concord and Montreux and was generally considered one of the true purist's of this Art form... Jazz.

Where Ken Burns (Jazz, PBS) stops Filmmaker John Vizzusi's Electric Heart begins, explaining that Jazz did not not die in the 60's as Burn's defends Miles Davis's statement, but Vizzusi argues it was actually Jazz's most exciting times!

Ellis died (heart attack) in Los Angeles at the young age of 44.

-Jazz had to Invent a New Term when it came to Don Ellis-

Maynard Ferguson

-The Most Innovative Jazz Musician of all time

Leonard Feather

-One of the Greatest Musicians of the 20th Century, Don Ellis-



Electric Heart -don ellis  Credits:

Sights & Sounds Films / Sleepy Night Records 2008

Executive Producer: Anthony Czarnik

Producer: Robert Usher

Associate Producer & Assistant Director: Leah Farrar

A Documentary Film by: John Vizzusi

Adapted from a Story by:  John Killoch

Narration by: Mary C. Mckitrick

Additional Camera: Pat Doran

Editor:  Bonnie Schandling

Music by:  Don Ellis

Additional Music:  Milcho Leviev, Sam Falzone & FREEBOP 

Research: John Kiloch (UK), Paul Karting (Netherlands), Ken Orton (France), Fred Selden (USA), & Emilie Robertson (UCLA)

Featuring the late Jazz Legend Maynard Ferguson, Jazz Pianist Milcho Leviev and many stars of Contemporay Jazz with a very rare and Special appearance by Pulitizer Winning Composer Gunther Schuller

Locations: Los Angeles, Ojai, Minneapolis, Buffalo, Elkhorn WS, Boston, Philadelphia & Miami

Public Relations: B. Schandling  (e-mail: centralhsd@earthlink.net)

Official Website: www.DonEllisFilm.com

Contact address:

Sights & Sounds Films / The Don Ellis Story

1409 Oak Place ste#K

Apopka, Florida 32712-2084


USA Ellis Film Hotline: 407-310-2774

E-Mail: centralstateproductions@earthlink.net


Filmmaker's Statement
"Jazz had to invent a new term when it came to Don Ellis" says Maynard Ferguson." The most Innovative Jazz Musician of all time wrote the famous music critic Leonard Feather. One of the greatest musicians in the last 100 years, the former Tonight Show Drummer states. These are unbelievable statements to make so I decided to write, produce and direct a Documentary Feature Length Film on the life, times and most importantly the music of one of Jazz's all time greats but least known, Don Ellis.
 -John Vizzusi, Filmmaker


All Archived photos courtesy of Sights & Sounds Films, copyright 2009



Ellis and his horn, circa 1960 NYC

Ellis with Producer John Hammond

Ellis with his famous 4Valve

A turning point in Orchestrated Jazz forever!

Jam'in at "The Cave" photo courtesy of Gabe Villani

The late 1960's and early 1970's, the years of progressive change for Don Ellis

Don Ellis "Connection"

(1969 Concord Jazz) captured Still


Ellis in Rotterdam 1968 photo by: Paul Karting (All Rights Reserved)


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