Trumpet honours

Hornsman Bobby Ellis to receive national award

Sunday, August 24, 2014

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TRUMPETER Bobby Ellis is one of those revered Jamaican musicians who never made a lot of money from music. But he yearned recognition for his work.

Ellis' wish came true early this month when he got a telephone call from the Government informing him that he is the recipient of the Order of Distinction (Officer Class) for his contribution to the development of Jamaican music.

"I always think of it yuh nuh...if I can get an award or something like that for music. So I thank God for it," Ellis told the Sunday Observer.

The 82-year-old Ellis is one of Jamaican music's unsung heroes. Born in Kingston, he is a past student of Alpha Boys School, which nurtured the careers of many leading musicians.

Some of them were at Alpha with him, including saxophonist Tommy McCook and trombonist Don Drummond. One of his tutors was the respected saxophonist Raymond Harper.

Like most Alpha 'hornsmen', Ellis went on to a prolific career as a session musician and arranger. During the 1960s, he played on songs like Higgs and Wilson's There's a Reward for Me and I Wanna Go Back Home by Bob Andy.

His skills as an arranger served producer Jack Ruby well. In 1974, Ruby assembled an all-star band called the Black Disciple to record Burning Spear's seminal Marcus Garvey album.

Ellis was a senior member of the 'Disciples' who did the sessions at Randy's studio in downtown Kingston. He arranged the horns on the title track as well as Slavery Days and was an integral part of Spear's recording and touring setup for the next 12 years.

He and McCook also played and arranged the horns for Bunny Wailer's Blackheart Man, another classic roots-reggae set.

With the advent of multi-faceted keyboards in the 1980s, producers moved away from elaborate horn sections. That trend stands today as most contemporary producers consider horns old hat, which Ellis says is unfortunate.

"Synthesisers an' things like that alright, but it can never replace horns or live music. It's just not authentic."

Ellis splits his time living in Jamaica and the United States.

In 2013, he recorded songs for Rent a Tile, his second album, which will be released this year.

— Howard Campbell

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