Many times SmoothViews has mentioned how the Berks Jazz Festival introduces us to new artists and side musicians. As soon as a band takes the stage, we are scanning the members to see who we haven’t seen or heard before. This is most prevalent at the midnight jam sessions held every Friday and Saturday night of both weekends during the festival. This year, during a Brian Culbertson show, we saw a young bass player that blew us away. We then saw him again at the midnight jam session. Surprisingly, not many of the other artists at the jam knew who he was. He said he was Brian’s bassist, Maurice Ellis. Maurice settled in with the likes of Gerald Veasley, Nick Colionne, Andrew Neu, and others. At that moment, I knew we needed to learn more, and now we can. SmoothViews is pleased to bring you our September On The Side column featuring Maurice Ellis.
Maurice Ellis hails from Fairfield, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati and began his journey into music at just three years old. His musical education began while listening to his father and grandmother playing piano, and his cousins that played sax and trumpet. The piano was the instrument he started on. “I started playing music when I was 3 years old. My dad would sit me on his lap at the piano and teach me to play. I got my first bass for Christmas in 6th grade and have been playing ever since.”
It’s amazing when you see the caliber of musicians on the circuit who started out teaching themselves how to play their instrument of choice. Maurice is one of them. “In the beginning, I was largely self-taught with help from my father. I started my formal lessons in 9th grade and then I went on to graduate from the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (CCM) with a degree in Jazz Studies.” In addition to playing bass, his instrument of choice, Maurice also jumped around on various brass instruments while in his high school band, and still dabbles on the piano, but his musical yellow brick road began as a kid in Ohio. “I started playing with my dad in my cousin’s band when I was 11 and then started in school band in 6th grade. I was very active in the music department all throughout high school and went on to college at CCM. During my time there, I was playing local gigs in all genres of music. I soon realized I wanted to move to Los Angeles. I was awarded the sole bass chair 2012 Disney All American College Band which gave me the opportunity to move to California. During my time with the AACB, the band worked with many different artists (including Brian Culbertson). After the AACB I was planning on going to graduate school at the University of Southern California and at the last minute decided I should take my chances in the industry. So far it’s been working out!”
Like all musicians, Maurice had some heavy hitters as influences while he was coming up through the ranks. “My biggest influences are Marcus Miller, Christian McBride, Ray Brown, Derrick Hodge, Janek Gwizdala, and Robert Glasper, but the list goes on and on.” Even more impressive are the names of those folks that this twenty-three year old has already played with. “I’ve played with L. Young, Noel Gourdin, Kim Pensyl, Eric Darius, Michael Lington, Nick Colionne, and am currently touring with Brian Culbertson. I have also played with the touring Broadway shows “Dreamgirls,” “Shrek the Musical,” “Wicked,” and “Addams Family the Musical.” And there are always those artists that every musician longs to play alongside. For Maurice Ellis, some of those dream gigs would be the John Mayer Trio, Bruno Mars, and Justin Timberlake.
In his spare time, Maurice is a car enthusiast, so you might spot him at various car shows in the Los Angeles area. And living in L.A., he has also garnered appreciation for nice homes, and become somewhat of a foodie! So keep your eyes open around town and your ears tuned to the bass on the road. You hopefully will get to partake of this young, but experienced beyond his years, bassist. Thank you, Maurice Ellis, for allowing SmoothViews and our readers to get to know more about you.