Ellington jazzing things up downtown

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 29, 2000

Jazz drummer Steve Ellington has performed all over the world as a member of the Hal Galper Trio. His band, Steve Ellington and the Chameleons, will be performing jazz, blues, R&B, and rock and roll during performances every Saturday night in February at the Front Street Pub in downtown Greenville.

Photo by Melissa Blankenship

When Steve Ellington and the Chameleons opened their performance in Greenville's Front Street Pub on Saturday, Jan. 22, most people did not know what to expect.

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"We wanted to play a variety of music to keep people interested," Ellington said. The grand-nephew of jazz legend Duke Ellington has performed with some of the world's greatest jazz musicians and received a Grammy nomination for his work on the recording "Maxine Sullivan and the Ike Isaacs Quartet," but he says jazz music is only part of what he and the Chameleons will bring to Greenville when they perform at Front Street Pub every Saturday night in February.

"We want to create a musical collage that will include everything from jazz and blues to R&B and old time rock and roll," he said.

With Montgomery musicians Ike Bell and Sam Williams, both well-known jazz musicians in their own right, Ellington formed the Chameleons because of the members' love for a variety of music.

"A chameleon can change his color according to his surroundings," Ellington said. "And, the Chameleons can change too, depending on what our audience wants to hear."

Ellington said the group will perform a variety of musical types in each set to try and find the right mix people in the Greenville area will enjoy.

"We want to be able to play a set of Marty Robbins tunes and then follow it up with a set of Miles Davis," he said. "We want to keep people guessing, and give them the kinds of music they want to hear."

Ellington got his professional start performing at the age of nine with R&B great Ray Charles.

At a club on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta during the 50s, Charles' regular drummer was ill, and the club date seemed in question. Ellington volunteered to help, so Charles asked him what songs he knew.

"What he didn't know was that I'd learned to play drums by playing along with his songs on the radio," Ellington said. "There wasn't a hit he had that I didn't know."

By the end of the night, Ellington says Charles offered him a job and the rest, he says, is history.

Many years later Ellington met up with Hal Galper at the Boston Conservatory and became a regular member of his band. Ellington has since performed with such jazz greats as Sam River, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, Hampton Hawes, Roland Kirk, Dave Holland, Chat Baker and Billy Eckstine.

Ellington's life has been that of a gypsy over the years, living and working almost everywhere from France and Italy to Atlanta and Cape Cod. the Atlanta native came to the South Alabama

area to get away from the hustle and bustle.

After purchasing a home in Fort Deposit he remembered from his childhood, Ellington began looking for ways to occupy his time between tours. He recently returned from a European tour. It was during the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery when Ellington met up with Bell, Williams and Mitchell and began performing around the area.

"I wanted to do something that would help me relax," Ellington said. "Touring is fun, but it tends to make a person very tired. The music we perform off the road helps us have fun and hopefully the audiences will have fun too."

Steve Ellington and the Chameleons will be performing every Saturday in February, starting at 9 p.m., at the Front Street Pub in downtown Greenville.