Ernie's Story (Part 5 of 5)
Mr. Ernie Elly has been playing drums for audiences for nearly 59 years. He has had the privilege to perform numerous styles of music, most of which are close to his heart, the type of music he also enjoys to listen to, from Rhythm and Blues, to Country and Western, Gospel, Modern Jazz, Rock N' Roll, Big Band Swing and Traditional Jazz. "I remember one day I played about four gigs and each gig was a different type of music. I was proud of that," Mr. Elly recalls. Still, whichever genre he happens to be performing, Elly's dragging of downbeats and bending of time carries a heavy blues aesthetic, a signature sound that is unmistakably "Elly."
Throughout his close to 6 decades of performing and recording various styles of of music, Mr. Elly has had the pleasure to perform with a bevy of renowned musicians. Among Elly’s favorite work to date are the songs he recorded with trumpeter and bandleader Doc Cheatham on Cheatham’s Grammy-winning 1997 collaborative album with Nicholas Payton. “Doc was a 88 or 89 years old when I met him, a gentleman, a top-notch musician,” Elly recalls. “Even at that age, he was still playing better than most.”
When Eve Abrams interviewed Mr. Ernie Elly for the book, Preservation Hall, she asked Mr. Elly to describe the feeling he gets from playing the genre of traditional New Orleans jazz. "Enjoyable...A really good feeling...I really like playing this music...It's just happiness." Mr. Elly described that playing music can cure him. "A lot of times I can be sick as a dog, but you know, when you start playing, you forget all about it." When Ms. Abrams asked about what it is like to play at Preservation Hall, Mr. Elly remarked, "It's good to see a line of people waiting outside to hear you play. That's a good feeling especially when there's nobody else on the streets and everything. If there's nobody in Preservation Hall nobody's in town...This club has a good atmosphere."
From performing with Ray Charles big band to his current role as an active member of the Preservation Hall musical collective, performing numerous nights a week, Mr. Elly thrills fellow musicians and audiences alike with his distinct rhythmic prowess. While careful to protect and continue traditional repertoire, Elly has a progressive attitude toward change, seeing little conflict between the traditional and the modern. “I don’t believe New Orleans drumming has changed over time. The brass bands have changed some, it’s evolved, but it’s still New Orleans. It’s not the older type brass band, but it’s New Orleans. I don’t see anything wrong with it. Everything must change. Louis Armstrong changed. It’s 2016. The older style brass band is still good, the younger style is still good. Why not?”
You can catch Mr. Elly performing at Preservation Hall every Thursday at 8, 9 & 10 PM with The Preservation Hall All-Stars, Fridays at 6 PM with The Preservation Hall Legacy Band and Saturdays at 6 PM with The Joint Chiefs of Jazz.