A reminder is in order, since it has been a little while since I posted one of these bits up here.
What is tenacity? The quality or fact of being very determined; determination
Tenacity is a series of short blog posts about my favorite players, musicians, athletes, artists, songwriters, entrepreneurs, writers, excellent people, etc. The (short, sweet and practical) posts will explore how they got to be so damn good and what made a difference for them as they were learning and doing. No edits. Just their words.
Now, I’ve been meaning to introduce you folks to Mr. John Ellis for a while now. But maybe you don’t need any introduction because you already know about him from my records or from his own very impressive and very soulful records.
Either way, let’s get on with it. John is a favorite friend. Full stop. Besides being a wonderful musician, he and I can talk for hours about things close to our hearts. For example, what’s growing in your garden, when did you plant that and why, what are the sounds you hear in an old wooden church in the South (besides singing, of course), what did you see when you were out turkey hunting, and other important, real-life musings.
His "official" bio puts it nicely: John grew up with a love of baseball, dewberry cobbler, and turkey and stuffing. Raised in rural tobacco country in North Carolina, he was more familiar with the sounds of hunting rifles and the dangers of snapping turtles than he was with the sounds and dangers of jazz.
He is a dangerous saxophonist. No doubt. Check out the titles of his songs and you'll see what I mean. Dangerously funky, too. Consider yourself warned. Listen, watch or buy right here.
Below are John’s answers to my questions. Unedited.
What one or two things made a difference for you along the way.
1) I had a deep connection to southern folk music through congregational singing, the camp songs of my grandparents, and the songs for children that were sung to me as a baby.
2) My parents weren't overly afraid to let me pursue a career so likely to be financially unstable.
3) I had really great mentors/teachers: my grandfather, my parents, my first saxophone teacher James Houlik, Ellis Marsalis, Harold Battiste, Nicholas Payton, Robert Sadin.
4) I've always been committed to practice - I think I need it for my sanity actually.
5) I have amazing peers in New Orleans and New York who have inspired me by showing me what's possible and who continue to challenge me to be more than I am.
To whom would you like to ask this question? Living or dead.
Fred Rogers, Temple Grandin, Desmond Tutu, Aung San Suu Kyi