“Learning jazz in those days was different than it is now. Basically, you listened to a lot of records and tried to figure out what was going on, first by learning the tunes and chords, then by trying to understand how to develop melodic improvised lines. I’m still working on that one!”Roddy Ellias
I first heard about Roddy Ellias when I was studying Jazz Performance at Montreal’s Concordia University back in the very early 2000’s. While I only studied there for two years, I did not have the opportunity to seek him out for private instruction but I did have a few Guitar playing friends who did and they had nothing but wonderful things to say about the man. Twenty years later I decided to reach out to Roddy to learn more about him and was very pleased when he accepted my offer for a featured Jazz Guitar Life interview. I was also pleased that he agreed to do a 5 Desert Island Album Picks feature whch you can check out here.
In this interview, Roddy shares his musical background with us, what he’s been up to lately, talks about his main influences which include Montreal’s own Nelson Symonds and he lets us in on a relatviely unknown side of himself that just may surprise you. A very insightful, informative and entertaining read. Enjoy 🙂
As a one-man operation, if you would like to support all the work I do on Jazz Guitar Life, please consider buying me a coffee or two. Your support helps me to focus on Jazz Guitar Life so that I can continue to bring you great interviews, reviews, podcasts and other related Jazz Guitar content. Thank you and your patronage is greatly appreciated regardless if you buy me a coffee or not 🙂 – Lyle Robinson
JGL: Thank you Roddy for taking the time to talk to Jazz Guitar Life. First off, if we can get into a little background about you that would be great. How old are you?
RE: Thanks Lyle, I’m 72.
JGL: And what geographical area do you reside in?
RE: About 20 years ago I moved back to my home town, Ottawa, Canada.
JGL: For those who may not know you, could you give us an elevator pitch of who Roddy Ellias is and then we’ll get into more detail as this interview unfolds.
RE: I like to play the guitar and I like to write music. I’ve been fortunate enough to have done this for a living since I left high school.
JGL: Sounds like a great life! At what age did you first start playing the guitar and were you interested in jazz from the beginning or were there other musical interests before jazz? As well…how did you find your way to this particular music and instrument?
RE: I started at age 12, mostly playing simple country and pop tunes of the day. An older guitarist I met when I was 13 played me a Nancy Wilson record, Broadway My Way. I was hooked. I would say that much of what shaped my approach to phrasing a melody came from listening to her. I didn’t hear Charlie Parker for another couple of years but when I did, that took over my life for a good while!
JGL: Wow! Nice introduction to this music. When coming up as a young player, did you attend a formal educational institution or are you self-taught? Was there one – or more – particular moments that opened the flood gates so to speak as you went about learning this music?
RE: I’m self-taught, although I did take some classical guitar lessons in my early teens. We’re talking about the 1960s so there weren’t really any jazz schools other than Berklee at the time. That was cost-prohibitive. Although my parents were willing to support me, I knew they couldn’t really afford it. Also, I never really thought that that was the right way for me. Learning jazz in those days was different than it is now. Basically, you listened to a lot of records and tried to figure out what was going on, first by learning the tunes and chords, then by trying to understand how to develop melodic improvised lines. I’m still working on that one!
I toured with pop bands for two years when I got out of high school and was very fortunate to land a steady (6-night a week) jazz gig when I got back to town. I was 20 and everyone else in the band was in their forties. They were all incredible players. As good as you get. I would leave the gig every night, grab a quick bite, usually a small pizza, on the way home and then practice my butt off every night, often until the sun came up! I didn’t know what to practice, so I practiced a lot of scales and arpeggios. It was not helping.
One day I mentioned to one of the older players, saxophonist Norm Clarke, that it seemed like the more I practiced, the worse I got. His advice was “so stop practicing” Haha! What I realized and what I think he was trying to tell me was, that it’s not about technique (well, at least not about scales and arpeggios) but about playing melodies and nice harmonies and grooving when comping.
JGL: That’s a great revelation! And speaking of revelations, did you know early on that music was something you wanted to do as a career choice? And if so, what were some of the things you did back then to make this choice work for you?
RE: I never thought about it for one second. It was just what I did. I was lucky to play in good bands all through high school, playing almost every weekend. Then I won an audition to tour with the Sceptres, a popular band in Canada in the sixties. Then I got a phone call from LA to join a band down there. We toured for a year non-stop. When I got back to town, I was offered that steady gig which lasted three years. And that just continued.
JGL: Digging a little further, who were your influences on jazz guitar when you were beginning and have they stayed the same or have they changed over the years? Who are you listening to today (guitarists or non-guitarists)?
RE: The first record I studied was one by Howard Roberts. He’s a lesser-known jazz player but I really liked that record and wore it out. Like everyone else, I loved and listened to a lot of Wes Montgomery. I was also mentored by and listened to the great Nelson Symmons, a Montreal bebop guitarist, for whom Wes had infinite respect. I went through a long Jim Hall phase. I basically stopped listening to a lot of guitarists after that and started listening more to piano players like Bill Evans, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett. I also listened to horn players and to classical music, both “classic” and contemporary. And I listened to Indian and African music as well as other music from different cultures. I still try to keep my ears open and continue to listen to a very wide variety of music.
JGL: Nice! In the same vein, who has been most influential in your life as a Jazz Guitarist and why?
RE: I would have to say that there are about four jazz guitarists who have been most influential. The first is Nelson Symmons. Nelson was magical. When you heard him play live, always in a small club. the feeling he played with was like a tidal wave. When I first heard him as a young teenager, I had no idea what he was doing but I knew it was deep and I knew that I loved it and that I wanted to be able to do that one day.
JGL: Before you continue with your other influences, can you talk a little more about Nelson? More players should know of him.
RE: I first heard Nelson Symonds in the mid 1960’s at a little club in downtown Montreal called La Boheme. He was playing with the great Charlie Biddle (bass) and Norman Villeneuve (drums). Charlie, by the way was playing with no amp – pure old school, beautiful bass sound. I was in my mid teens. I had no idea what they were playing but I knew it was deep and I knew instantly that I needed to learn how to do whatever it was! I loved it. The feel the vibe, the energy, the spiritual uplifting.
I made a few more trips from Ottawa to hear them again and it was always an incredible experience. After barely graduating from high school, I went on the road for two years with two different pop bands and so was unable to hear them during that time. When I returned to Canada in 1971 I made it a mission to track down Nelson and Charlie. It turns out they were playing on weekends up in the Laurentians, near Val David. Charlie had a huge old house in the country and from there ran Uncle Charlie’s Jazz, Chicken and Ribs Joint – or something like that. They were just playing duo. Again, it was an incredible experience hearing them play.
There was a small audience so it was natural and easy to start talking with them both. They were warm friendly, down to earth. Long story short, I would go there any weekend I wasn’t playing myself. We became very goods friends. I would spend the weekend, hanging out. One day Nelson called me a brother. Charlie also made me feel like I was part of the family. That beautiful place only lasted a few years, then they were back playing in the city.
The music was like something I’d never heard before or since. I really can’t explain it. It was like hearing John Coltrane or something – very deep, very intense. Speaking of Coltrane, he and people like Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Art Farmer, whoever was playing in Montreal, would make a point of going to hear and often sit in with Nelson and Charlie. There’s an interview with Wes on YouTube where Wes basically said “There’s this cat in Canada, Nelson Symonds, and if he ever came to the States, it’d be game over for me”
Nelson and Charlie eventually had a bit of a falling out. I think this was in the mid-eighties, I could be wrong. It was about two years before the club Biddles opened in Montreal. After their falling out, Charlie would call me to do various gigs in and around town with him. (I would commute from Ottawa). It was incredible playing with him but I had a problem. Both he and Nelson had been probably the most influential mentors for me, when I heard Charlie’s bass lines and feel, I would hear Nelson in my head. I eventually had to tell Charlie I couldn’t work with him anymore, at least not for a while. I was still developing my own sound and approach and I felt that if I continued playing with Charlie, I would have been a bad copy of Nelson for the rest of my life!
It was the right thing to do I think but sad to not play with Charlie again and I also missed out on opening Biddles with him. He had told me about a steady gig and it turned out to be Biddles. Well, it worked out well for him too and for the club because he got Oliver Jones to do the gig! I still think of those days and the music that came from Nelson and Charlie as some of the deepest music I have ever heard or experienced. I also learned other things from them, love and loyalty and more.
JGL: Beautiful! Thank you so much for that Roddy…now please continue…
RE: Another early and long-lasting influence is Jim Hall. I wore out a lot of his records, particularly an early one called Where Would I Be.
Canadian guitarist Sonny Greenwich also had a positive effect on my playing. His playing is totally spiritual and I connect with that feeling very much.
Last but definitely not least is Ralph Towner. For the past few decades, my main instrument has been a nylon string guitar. Ralph was and still is an inspiration, not only for his playing but mostly for his writing, and for his conception of what music is and can be.
There were many others, Egberto Gismonti, Wes of course, Lionel Loueke. I like Peter Bernstein a lot. Hmmm, did I say I didn’t listen much to guitar players?
JGL: Taking a cue from you mentioning Ralph Towner, what I have heard and seen you are extremely adept at playing Classical music as you are playing Jazz. What came first or were both disciplines overlapping?
RE: Both definitely overlapped. In my teens, I decided to make a choice and I went with jazz although I did keep the classical playing up. To this day, I start just about every morning playing Bach. After a good ten years of playing jazz six nights a week for the most part, I decided to go to school and study contemporary classical composition. I was teaching jazz part-time at the University of Ottawa and one day I went to hear the music of Steven Gellman, a world-class composer teaching at U of O. From a young age, I had an interest in classical composition and after hearing Gellman’s music, the time and opportunity was right. I ended up continuing on to the Université de Montréal to do a Masters in Composition. Even before doing this, the music I was writing was strongly influenced by both the jazz and contemporary classical traditions.
JGL: Sounds like the best of both worlds. Apart from the aforementioned players, has there been a major influence in your life who was not a guitarist and why?
RE: Yup, lots. I learn from just about everyone I know and meet and from books, as well as other arts like visual arts, drama and dance, and from nature itself. I’ve also had some pretty amazing teachers in the martial arts that have dramatically affected how I see the world. I think my father was a wonderful influence on how I approach the art of living and music. He was loving, kind, strong, and selfless. My wife Sandra is also a great influence for the same reasons. And my daughter Ellie has been a great source of inspiration. She’s a constant reminder to follow your heart, to be fearless and positive. I also find animals to be great teachers – especially our late dog Mickky and now our daughter’s dog, Laila who has been visiting us for a few months now while Ellie is traveling. Dogs, birds, all animals live in the moment and they flow. These are two major goals for me.
JGL: Beautifully stated Roddy!! Now…as a long standing and popular member of the Canadian and International Jazz Guitar community, what are you most grateful for and on the other side of the coin, what irks you?
RE: I’m grateful for all the wonderful musicians I’ve played and recorded with, the audiences, my awesome students who teach me as much or maybe more than I teach them and I’m grateful to have been able to do something I love as a profession. I think the main thing that irks me is the need to do social media, self-promotion and so on. Even famous people seem to have to do it. I come from a time when all a musician had to do was practice, eat, think and sleep music and play gigs. The internet is a two-sided sword. It’s full of lots of information, some great, some not so great (like “you can play jazz guitar without having to do this or that”) so, at best, it’s a great resource. At its worst, it’s a distraction and encourages egotism – and that’s not what getting deeply into music is about.
JGL: Speaking of communities, you tend to stick to Ottawa as a home base. Have you ever considered moving to a larger city like Vancouver or even New York? You certainly could do well in such locations. What – if any – are the advantages in staying where you are?
RE: I worked out of Montreal when I was 18 and out of LA when I was 19. I lived in Montreal for a few years and in Nova Scotia for a few years but I always come back to Ottawa. I love it here. In 1979, I took a few lessons from Pat Martino in New York and Philadelphia. After my second lesson he picked up the phone and said to me “You’re not going back to Ottawa. I’m going to make some calls for you”. I declined for a number of reasons. I was actually working a lot in Ottawa in those days, playing with some creative musicians, also backing a lot of the “greats” as they played in town on a regular basis. And frankly, I didn’t want to live in a large American city.
JGL: Wow…what an opportunity but I can definitely understand your reluctance to leave and your desire to stay put. Sadly we lost Mr. Martino a while back which brings me to the next question: Is there anyone alive or dead who you’d love to play and/or record with and why?
RE: You bet. Anyone that listens and flows, interacts, dialogues, who takes chances and has a good sense of time – open people who are true to themselves and the music. That’s a lot of people – some are famous, some not. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is the connection. I get that with a lot of people – Jean-Michel Pilc, Marc Copland, Toronto singer Felicity Williams, Ottawa’s Kellylee Evans and saxophone player Petr Cancura to name a few. I’ve been listening lately to Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein and Bill Stewart, their new album. What a group and what players – so musical and so deep. I absolutely love the way Goldings plays the organ and so that would be a dream to play music with an organ player like that! There’s something so special about how organ and guitar blend.
JGL: Agreed! Going back a bit, what was your practice routine like when you were beginning and what is it like now? Are there specific areas that you work on or do you just play through tunes? When improvising, are you thinking chord/scale relationships or is there something else going on?
RE: When I was starting out it was a combination of learning tunes from the vinyl records and practicing scales and chords to know the fretboard well. I transcribed a ton of tunes, not so much the solos but the tunes. That’s how we learned tunes in the ’60s and ’70s. I was never drawn to the chord/scale thing. It has always been playing off the melody and the chords for me.
I like to keep it simple, focus on melodic development and when you just focus on the melody and knowing the chords really well, then the chromatic scale becomes the only chord/scale that makes sense. It’s all context and where the line is going.
Currently, I practice a lot of things. I have a pretty good ear but am working on expanding it all the time – I’m working on trying to hear two and three-part counterpoint in my head that I can translate to improvising. I start my days playing Bach, right now the two-part inventions (both parts together) – this is challenging on the guitar but I love how it opens up my ears and hands! I work on harmony a lot – maybe concoct a scale or mode or take one of the Messaien modes and see what harmonies can be generated.
For repertoire, I write and so I work on playing what I write and I work on arranging standards in what is hopefully a personal way. I study the works of different composers, right now I’m back to trying to learn something from Ligeti’s piano studies. The list goes on. Also rhythm of course. Sometimes I wish I had a few lifetimes to try to figure music out even a quarter as much as Bach did!
JGL: Well now, speaking of learning…you are highly regarded as an educator. What would you advise students of Jazz Guitar to work on if you could only choose two components and why?
RE: Their ears and their time feel. A third would be accompaniment. Eveybody wants to solo but there’s a lot of value and meaning in accompanying well. All three of these areas facilitate playing music with others. In my view, the most important thing is to listen and to know how to respond and flow with who you are playing with, to learn how to say “yes’ to your bandmates.
JGL: Was becoming an educator part of your original career plan or did you fall into it somewhat unexpectedly? How different do you think your musical life would now be had you not gotten into the world of academia?
RE: It was pretty unexpected. Doing a Master’s degree in Composition was totally for my own interest and growth. It wasn’t to get a teaching job. About a week after getting the degree, I got a phone call from Gene Smith, who was the Chair of the Music Department at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, asking me if I wanted a job – a tenure track university teaching job. I hadn’t planned on teaching but was newly married and thought that it might be a little more stable than playing for a living, and I thought it would be fun because I always loved teaching. It was great working with so many talented young guitarists but it was a little isolated. After three years there, I saw that Concordia University in Montreal was looking for someone so I applied and spent the next 17 years there!
JGL: Do you give private lessons and if so, how does one go about studying with you? Is there a particular level of student you are looking for?
RE: Yes, I do teach privately. I love it. It’s obviously mostly online – I have students from all over the US and Europe and have had a few from China and even Australia. If someone wants a single lesson or a number of lessons, they can simply go to my website www.roddyellias.com and all the info is there. You can sign up online or just email me. I think an email is a better way to start but either works. I enjoy teaching all levels and any age from teens and up.
JGL: You mentioned that there’s “something so special about how organ and guitar blend. I know that you have recorded and performed in a variety of musical situations (ie: trio, quartet, duo, solo, etc.). Is there one that you prefer over the other and conversely is there a particular situation you have yet to play in but would like to?
RE: I do like smaller groups – trio, duo and I like playing solo. But I enjoy larger ensembles too. The latest recording, Not This Room, has nine players and that was totally fun. I really like interplay and so working with people who listen and respond is the best fit for me. I’m currently working on a few projects – my fist solo guitar record in over 20 years, a duo project with Marc Copland, and a trio with saxophone player Petr Cancura and hopefully a wonderful harpist, Michelle Gott, who is moving back to Ottawa after teaching in Arizona this past year. She’s absolutely amazing – you can hear her play in a puppet opera I wrote a few years ago called Sleeping Rough (It’s on my YouTube Channel). Petr and I have a special musical connection, and he is someone who really understands interplay, so I know this will be a great trio!
JGL: Is there a particular style of music that touches your heart more than others?
RE: Yes, good music! Seriously, anything that is from the heart, that tells a story.
JGL: As a sideman you have performed with the likes of Lee Konitz, David Liebman, Joel Frahm and Dr. Lonny Johnston. How did these associations come about and what experiences did you walk away with?
RE: Lee Konitz was playing in town in the ’80s. I was playing across the river in what was then known as Hull (Gatineau today) and I was subbing in on Dave Young’s band. Their piano player wasn’t available and so Dave asked me to do the gig. Kirk MacDonald was on the gig and Kirk had studied earlier with Lee in New York. So Lee came over to hear the band. Apparently, Lee was asking who the guitar player was. Two weeks later, I got a call to play a week with Lee and bass player Skip Beckwith in Halfax. On opening night, Skip called in and was unable to make the gig because his cat scratched him and he had a pretty serious case of blood poisoning. Lee suggested we just play duo rather than fly someone in from Toronto. So we played duo all week. It was great!! I was hired by the jazz camp at Carleton University to play with both Liebman and Joel Frahm on separate editions of the festival. As for Dr. Lonnie Smith, I got a call from him late one afternoon, literally about two hours before his concert here at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival. His guitarist, Peter Bernstein, was turned back at the border for some reason. It would have been wonderful to hear Peter play but I had a blast.
JGL: Wow! Sorry Mr. Bernstein but thank you Canadian Border…lol 🙂 Switching topics for a sec, you have recorded quite a few original tunes, what is the process used for composing your own tunes? Do you sit down with your guitar and come up with ideas or is it more cerebral? In the same vein, do you compose on the spot or do you need inspiration of some kind?
RE: Yeah, I usually just sit around and improvise stuff. When I come across an idea I like, I explore it but I don’t write it down right away. I basically leave it until the next day. If I remember the idea then I go with it and develop it. I have a core belief that if I don’t remember it, it wasn’t a strong enough idea. If I remember it, then there’s something that I think is worthwhile developing. Other times, I might be fascinated with an idea – maybe the harmony that comes out of some unusual scale or mode, or a rhythmic idea – often mixing rhythmic patterns at the same time – and I see where that wants to go. And then there are times when I just start with a melody. I do this mostly when I’m setting a text. For the opera, for example, I wrote 75 minutes of melody – no harmony – just the melody that the characters would sing, from beginning to the end of the opera. Then I harmonized it and finally I orchestrated it. I did this with the songs on the new album, Not This Room, too. The lyrics for both of these projects were written by Canadian poet and novelist Sandra Nicholls.
JGL: Do you use any music software to get your ideas out there or are you a pen and paper man?
RE: Pencil or pen. If it’s a large ensemble or group then I put it on Finale afterwards.
JGL: Speaking of composing, your latest Free Spirit Ensemble group CD “…Not This Room, features nine original songs about the experience of the pandemic, sung by Juno award-winning vocalist Kellyee Evans. A stirring testament to the power of creativity in the face of isolation, Not This Room combines uniquely beautiful melodies with a jazz-infused message of hope and renewal.” In “normal times” this stirring project would be a tricky task to pull off. How did the original idea come about and how were you able to make it work during the pandemic.
RE: It was a struggle for both Sandra and me. Being isolated, not getting energy from life experiences that involve contact with people was one challenge. And then writing about something that you’re experiencing at the time, that you don’t have a little distance from in order to process, was also a challenge. I can safely say that I’ve never had such a difficult time getting music out and I think it was the same for Sandra but we just kept at it and I think we created something that is deeper than if it had come about easily.
JGL: I would tend to agree. Can you talk a little about your Free Spirit Ensemble group? The how and why it came to be?
RE: I wanted to start a group with younger local musicians rather using folks from out of town. So bassist Chris Pond and drummer Jose Garcia fit the bill. The idea was partly to give something to the community here. I don’t mean to sound egotistical – I’ve just been at it a long time and have a lot of experience that I think would be helpful to pass on to the young folks here. I also learn from them, the energy, the fresh ideas and the enthusiasm is inspiring. I wanted to form a group with a singer because I think words and voice add another beautiful dimension to the music. Kellylee is one of my favorite singers anywhere and she happens to live in Ottawa too. We had worked together for some time and she was in my opera as well, so asking her to be part of the group made perfect sense to me. For the recording, I augmented the group with some of my favourite musicians – Marc Copland, Petr Cancura, Pierre-Yves Martel, Guy Pelletier, Justin Orok and Richard Page.
JGL: With your more recent endeavors, it sounds to me like you favor the acoustic guitar ala Oregon and other related groups. Is this a conscious choice or is it more of a “mood thing”? Or maybe you’ve been playing acoustic instruments all along and I just haven’t noticed?
RE: I played an L7 archtop for decades then gradually switched to nylon string so that by the early 80s that’s all I was playing. I remember being called to do gigs with Charlie Biddle (Bassist) and Oliver Jones (Pianist) when Biddles (Montreal Jazz Club) first opened or to Halifax to play with Peter Appleyard and I would show up with my nylon string guitar. I think they thought I was nuts. Maybe I was, because it’s not the best instrument for that type of jazz. It worked much better with the music I was writing, and went beautifully in a duo I was involved in for ten years with a beautiful pianist/composer by the name of Dave Hildinger.
JGL: Nice! And speaking of wonderful projects, I was very surprised – in a good way – to have read this on your website’s Bio page: “Roddy also wrote a chamber opera…Sleeping Rough… a full-length puppet opera about a homeless man, which was performed to sold-out crowds at the Music and Beyond Festival in Ottawa in the summer of 2018. There was such a demand for those who couldn’t get tickets it was performed again in 2019.” I know you already mentioned this but first off…WOW!! and secondly…how did this idea come about and were the logistics in getting something like this off the ground?
RE: The opera is about a homeless man. I lived across the street from the Men’s Mission, a homeless shelter, when I was younger. I got to talk to some of the folks there and I saw them every day for about three years. I knew that someday I would write music that related to that experience. And the puppets, well I have always been fascinated with puppets and how they are used in different cultures around the world. Again, I knew that one day I would incorporate puppets somehow.
One day, I got a call from Julian Armour, the artistic director of Music and Beyond. He said something like “We haven’t had any Roddy music for a few years. What would you like to do?” The words just flew out of my mouth, “How about a puppet opera?” He loved the idea and was super supportive. He applied for commissioning and project funding from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and the Ottawa Arts Council and received generous support from all three, so that allowed us to make it happen!
JGL: Sweet! Given all these wonerful musical adventures, it usually never fails that nearly every musician, no matter their level and professional stature, has their own insecurities to deal with when it comes to music and playing their instrument. What, if any, insecurities do you face on your instrument and how do you work at getting over them?
RE: I’ve never been one to have a lot of confidence. Obviously, there’s so much in music to learn and there’s so much that I for one can’t do. But I try not to look at it anymore as a shortcoming but rather as an opportunity for growth. I feel grateful and blessed to wake up every morning with the enthusiasm and curiosity to work at improving every aspect of my playing and to learn more about how music – harmony, melody, rhythm – works. It can be overwhelming to go on YouTube and hear all the fabulous musicians but I remember Barney Kessel saying in his book that you can’t do everything. Just focus on what you need to do, to do what you do. I try to keep that advice in mind and not get too hard on myself when I hear a twenty-something musician tearing up the guitar! I just allow it to be inspiring and to enjoy it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot to keep working at!
JGL: As do we all Roddy. Speaking of working, do you find the business side of being a Jazz musician distracting or should the playing be left to the player and the business side of things be left to the managers and agents? Do you have a manager or agent or is it all a one-man operation?
RE: Good question! Someone has been wanting me to sign with them as an agent/manager. I’m thinking about it. Right now, it’s just me. I’m not very good at self-promotion nor am I good at setting up tours (well, I’m okay at it. I just hate doing it).
JGL: LOL…join the club 🙂 So…any advice for the younger guy or gal who is thinking about playing jazz guitar?
RE: Work hard, don’t get discouraged. Keep at it. Do musical things that enrich you but also have a balance in your life – that is take care of your body and your mind and have some curiosity outside of music. It’s all related, whether it’s an interest in another art form or sports or whatever, it will relate to and enrich your music.
JGL: Have you ever had second thoughts about your choice to have music as a career and if so, what other career path do you think you would have followed had you not been a guitar player.
RE: I never really chose to have music as a career. It just was. Yes, I’ve been discouraged but in the end all I’ve ever done is music – well with the exception of working in a warehouse for one month when I was sixteen! Teaching university full-time for 20 years definitely sidelined my performance activity but I did a lot of writing – mostly chamber music but I think that really helped my personality in jazz and improvised music.
JGL: If you had to do one thing over again, what would it be and why?
RE: I don’t know. That’s a tough question. Maybe it would be to move to New York. It didn’t seem like the right thing at the time but in retrospect I think it might have been a good career choice. Anyway, I have no complaints. My life is good, musically and otherwise.
JGL: What is one thing that people would be surprised finding out about you?
RE: Maybe that I’m a long-time martial artist. I’m a second-degree black belt in karate, studied judo when I was young and am currently studying Wing Chun (Gong Fu), Tai Chi, and QiGong (Chinese energy work). I used to show up to gigs (sometimes with the symphony) with cracked knuckles or ribs but managed to get through it without anyone knowing!
JGL: Holy crap!! I had no idea. That’s pretty awesome! So…what does the future hold for Roddy Ellias?
RE: I’m just thankful to wake up every morning and to be able to work on music and be healthy, so the future for me just holds more of the same, but hopefully with growth from continuing to be curious, experimenting, and taking lots of musical chances.
JGL: Thank you Roddy for taking the time to chat with Jazz Guitar Life. All the best in all that you do!
RE: Thanks Lyle for asking me to do this. All the best to you and to your readers.
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