Reflections with ZaDell: Zoe & Dave Ellis

One of the most noteworthy recordings of the past few years is Zoe Ellis LIVE at ANNA’S JAZZ ISLAND, an intricate blend of Jazzy melodies and funky grooves which not only captures the smoldering  passion of Zoe’s soul stirring vocals, but also marks the producing debut of Dave Ellis, renowned saxophonist and Zoe’s big brother.

While Zoe and Dave have each established tremendous careers individually, Zoe as a member of the remarkable a capella groups SoVoSo and Slammin All Body Band; Dave with the groundbreaking Charlie Hunter Trio, The Greatful Dead, Donny Osmond, and as an award winning  Jazz recording artist and band leader, LIVE AT ANNA’S JAZZ ISLAND gives great opportunity for the siblings to continue and expand on musical conversations and ideas that they established with each other while both were very young (you gotta check out the cd to really know what I mean :-))

I recently had the pleasure to talk with Zoe and Dave Ellis (ZaDell) about LIVE AT ANNA’S JAZZ ISLAND and more while sharing plenty of laughs and great music…

G1: Congratulations on the release of Live At Anna’s Jazz Island. Everybody that I’m talking to that’s heard it  seems like they’ve found new candy, they can’t get enough of it.

Zoe: Thanks, that’s great news. That’s a great description, I love it… that’s good!

G1: Your big brother also had a whole lot to do with this recording… and I’ve got to give a tip of the hat to his role as producer. Every time I listen to it I’m more and more enraptured…

Dave: Ah, perfect! Thank you, I appreciate that. It’s been my long standing desire to produce and I got a lot  of training under Orrin Keepnews (famed Jazz producer of Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans and others), and since this is my first opportunity, who better to produce than my little sister…

G1: For folks who have the cd and have listened to the inserts between songs, they can hear that you’ve been producing Zoe for some time now.

Dave: Ah, we got the blackmail tapes. Our dad had archived some recordings of Zoe and I from our single digit years, and it’s pretty clear that I had some ideas about what Zoe should be doing. I was pretty much bossing her around from there…

Zoe: (laughing) It worked out…

Dave: …so we’re doing the same thing we always have.

G1: This recording is a great highlight of showing your skills as a producer Dave, and your wonderful skills as a vocalist Zoe, and also your skills as a lyricist and songwriter. Let’s look at that aspect for a moment… I was talking with a friend of mine who’d heard the cd and he was saying that he doesn’t hear songs like this anymore. Where does the inspiration come from for you?

Zoe: I think I’m not sure I would immediately reach for the word “inspiration”. I think some of it’s luck. I hooked up with a song writing partner in England, Chris Nicholas, and he and I have the same basic theory which is “I just want the story.” I just want a simple story… I also forgive myself any mistakes; I figure you can’t write anything stupid, you just keep going. And if you can’t sing it well change the words, that’s the basic logic. Stick with the theory and the subject of love, good, bad or ugly…safe bet.

G1: And there are many stories that can be told around that one subject…

Zoe: Um hum, and I’m brutally honest and so is Chris, really honest. It’s like I’ve got nothing to hide…

G1: Both of you started in music really young; talk about the importance of somebody picking up an instrument at a young age.

Dave: Oh well, you know we had a real advantage here in Berkeley because of Phil Hardiman, Dick Whittington and Herb Wong who put together the music program in the Berkeley schools at the time, so you’re talking 40 – 45 years ago now. They took a program where from  the 4th, 5th grades if you wanted to or had an interest or a passion for a particular instrument you’d have an instrument in your hands and be learning about improvisation and Jazz. There’s so many people out here, Josh Jones, Benny Green, Peter Apflebaum, Jessica Jones and so many other good musicians, and such good musicianship came out of the Berkeley area. It had a lot to do with the school system; it continues with Charles Hamilton at Berkeley High, and it’s been a tradition here for a long time. So, also, Cazadero Arts Camp…, Salsa de Berkeley used to play in our back yard. It was a cultural, musical thing that involved people of all ages. So we were just lucky enough to be around at the right time growing up.

Zoe: I think the importance is really clear when you listen to someone like Maya Kronfeld (ZaDell’s pianist/keyboardist); Maya started very, very young, and she’s only 21 now and she’s just a monster on the keyboards. I think there’s a huge advantage the earlier you start. Dave just finished doing a bunch of gigs with Patrice Rushen who, I think, by the time she was 16 was playing with really heavy hitters because she started so young. You just get it in your muscles’ memory, makes for a very different kind of player… as you can hear on the cd when Dave plays sax at the age of eight.

Well, the eight year old saxophonist has grown to be one of the “heavy hitters” as an adult with several outstanding recordings as a leader and remaining in high demand with other world class musicians and performers. More information about Dave Ellis can be found at “L’il Sis” Zoe has blossomed into a dynamic artist whose emotion filled vocals make her a favorite of many whether she’s singing background, blending into an ensemble, or front and center under the spotlight. More information about Zoe can be found at  LIVE AT ANNA’S JAZZ ISLAND showcases the natural chemistry between brother and sister as performers and  spotlights their stellar band ZaDell. Find out more and become a fan at

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