October 17, 2014 | Posted in JAZZ, ORCHESTRAL MUSIC | By

Underrated Big Band Leader and Film Score Composer

Don Electric Heart DVD ReviewDonald Johnson Ellis was one of the most underrated musicians of the 20th Century. Don unfortunately passed away at the age of 44 during the year 1978.

His early death more than anything else, robbed him of being a household name as a band leader along the lines of Buddy Rich or Maynard Ferguson.  Don Has several albums that belong in every Jazz Collection.

When you listen to Don speak at his concerts, which is demonstrated on this DVD, Don’s jovial personality would have worked great on The Tonight Show or some other late night show, perhaps a push into the mainstream like that might have happened had Don lived?

Don ultimately may have had a vision too large to bring to forward, big bands were expensive to keep running, and record labels were about the bottom line, so perhaps Don wasn’t given the push he should have from those record labels?

I admit, I don’t personally know too many people who like large band orchestra music, so that element has a smaller interest to begin with.

Special Edition Don Ellis DVDDon was a fine trumpeter and a restless musical spirit, who drew inspiration from a range of interests, including but not limited to various word music styles, theirs, and his use of unusual time signatures, became his own signature attribute, and a driving force behind his music.

Don was also one of the first to use electronic instrumentation in a big band, his use of effects like echo on his trumpet in the late 60’s was also a brave move, Don was a real fusion pioneer.

The original 2009 DVD Electric Heart was a long time coming, and a real prize to own in its own right, because of extra bonus documentary footage, and 40 plus minutes of the Don Ellis Reunion Band are included. Personally I think you should just get both. I will concede the 2014 version pictured here is the definitive one to own because of the Ellis San Francisco concert and the new wide-screen transfer, if you can only afford one get the 2014 edition.

Don has a loyal cult following, and they have always believed Don was underrated as it was, but it seems Don is becoming less than even a mere footnote today, he’s almost known more for his work on “The French Connection” than anything else within the mainstream, and most wouldn’t even know that.

Those of you who enjoy band leader Maynard Ferguson will also like Electric Heart, as archival footage is used of Maynard offering some opinions and stories about Don during the time he was in the Ferguson band. Maynard died himself in 2006.

If you’re an Ellis fan, you will be very happy with the documentary, we owe Director John Visuzzi a debt of gratitude.

What you get in this new 2014 DVD

  • The Feature Documentary.
  • 57 minute bonus concert “Music Art San Francisco”, the 2009 edition only has “Turkish Bath” from this concert.
  • New widescreen 16:9 presentation. The original 2009 DVD is full screen.
  • New 16 page booklet, and Arthaus trailers.

Electric Heart DVD Trailer

Photo Credit: Via Amazon.com- Don Ellis Electric Heart 2014 DVD

Jason Sositko, a freelance writer and entrepreneur is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. I also use services such as Viglink and Skimlinks to earn income via links placed inside articles.


  1. J.E. Vizzusi
    June 25, 2015

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    per: Don Ellis – Electric Heart

    “It is of great sadness to report the passing of Gunther Schuller, the Pulitzer Winning Musical Artist, Composer-Arranger-Writer and creator of the term “The Third Stream” in Jazz.” If there is a single person responsible for the Discovery of Don Ellis it would be Schuller whom recognized Don’s talents when Ellis was at Boston University and got him to be hired for The Young Peoples Concerts and Schuller’s -Journey into Jazz-. In 2006 I interviewed Gunther for my Film Electric Heart. It was a amazing experience to see and hear first hand a true genius of jazz speaking in those same terms about Don Ellis. Schuller gave jazz the opportunity to expand itself into a new art form. He wrote compositions that merged Jazz-Classical and very odd metered arrangements. And it was Ellis that was able to learn from Schuller and adapt that same assignment to move ahead the genre. Gunther Schuller is the foundation of the music of Don Ellis. See my Tribute to Gunther Schuller of the entire sequence from Don Ellis – Electric Heart DVD from Arthaus Musik.
    John Vizzusi

    • Jason Sositko
      June 25, 2015

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      Thanks for the comment John: It was indeed sad news the passing of Gunther Schuller. Thank you for your Brilliant DVD, One of the few DVDs I return to on a regular basis.

  2. John Vizzusi
    January 24, 2017

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    Thanks Jason.. sorry for the long delay. Much great things happening with New Restorations of Don Ellis “Lost” Audio and Concert Footage. Read and see more at Official Facebook Page:

    All new Don Ellis Media materials available Official E-Bay Store

    Thanks for your support very much

    John V. & Sights and Sounds Films Team

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