Guitarist, composer, performer, improviser — Roddy Ellias draws from so many musical influences his work defies labels. As each piece unfolds it tells its own unique story — eclectic, intense, rhythmic, powerful, and ultimately human.
One of Canada's most respected guitarists, Roddy is equally at home with contemporary new music, jazz, or classical repertoire. His dynamism as an artist and his consistent pursuit of harmonic and melodic adventure have made him a consummate musician. Known for his energetic performances and his thoughtful renditions of both new and existing works, he continues to surprise and delight his audiences. Last year he set the stage on fire in a series of duets with other guitarists, including Vic Juris, Gene Bertoncini, Lorne Lofsky, and David Occhipinti, showcasing his versatility and his generosity as a performer.
Roddy's eclectic tastes in music and his wildly varied musical influences are reflected in the scope of his compositions. Roddy has written some of the most complex work ever created for guitar: his sonata "Emptying" remains one of the most beautiful and technically taxing pieces to enter the solo guitar repertoire. But he has also written for voice, marimba, clarinet, flute, harp, string quartet, kanun, oud, and the French horn. Whale Spirit Rising for string orchestra and baritone saxophone, recorded by I Musici and David Mott on the Chandos label, is a mystical and stirring rendition of whale song, featuring both notated score and space for improvisation. When the American virtuoso violinist Anne Akiko Meyers heard one of his pieces she was so moved she commissioned him to write "Acts of Light" for violin and piano, which she performed at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. Both his jazz and new music compositions are heard on radio around the world. Current projects include the recording of a new song cycle with soprano Donna Brown, a CD of original compositions with flautist Guy Pelletier for the True North record label, and a new solo guitar album in the works.
It is impossible to listen to Roddy Ellias perform and sit still. Reviewers have described Roddy as "genius (Bud Freeman), "positively brilliant" (Bill McBirnie) and "exquisite …the kind of subtlety you don't often hear…anywhere."(Mark Miller). Whichever way you describe it, Roddy is a compelling performer, whether on solo guitar, grooving with the band, or collaborating with other performers in a two-way musical conversation. He has been an active performer since 1969, touring both Canada and the United States as well as Europe and Mexico. Roddy has shared the stage with artists as wide ranging as Lee Konitz, Kenny Wheeler, Tom Harrel, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Nat Adderley, Slide Hampton, Cleo Laine, Pepper Adams, Lew Tabakin, Michel Donato, Mel Torme, Bud Freeman, PJ Perry, Rob McConnell, the Montreal Symphony, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and Michel Legrand.
As an improviser, Roddy is one hot player, known for taking the music to unexpected places. The American guitarist and writer Matthew Warnock describes him this way: "as close to being a Zen master on the guitar as he can be." Soulful, melodic, and compositional solos are his trademark, as well as a generous and sometimes mischievous spirit that brings out the best in the musicians he performs with.