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Shrewsbury Jazz Club founder dies aged 90

The founding member of Shrewsbury Jazz Club and a leading light on the international music scene has died in Amsterdam at the age of 90.

Chris Ellis
Chris Ellis

Christopher Ellis was born in Shrewsbury on Christmas Day in 1928 and was educated at the Lancastrian School before going to the town’s Technical College.

He began a singing career, appearing at a number of venues including the Morris and Ward Ballrooms with bands led by Kath Connon, Nesta and Denys Bennet, and formed his own Magnolia Jazz Band which he co-led with Shrewsbury Chronicle reporter Mike Farren.

In 1958 he moved to London to work for EMI Records as assistant marketing manager for their British Pop department and when this merged with USA Pop assumed artistic control for EMI’s new Music for Pleasure label.

He also created World Records’ Golden Age of British Dance Bands series which prompted Britain’s nostalgia boom of the 60s as well as, later, award-winning TV series including Dennis Potter’s Singing Detective.

At EMI he was also a pioneer producer of jazz reissues and produced new recordings for stars including Ginger Rogers, Elaine Stritch, Dick Sudhalter, Keith Nichols, Keith Ingham and Susannah McCorkle.

Ellis presented nostalgia-based series for BBC Radio Two and also worked with Noel Gay Music Company.

There he contributed to the 1984 revival of Gay’s show ‘Me and my Girl’, which ran for eight years in Britain – winning two Lawrence Olivier awards before moving to Broadway.

At the same time – as one of Britain’s most highly-regarded classic jazz singers – Ellis performed at all of London’s principal venues for the music, also appearing on radio, TV and records with bands.

His one solo album – Vocal with Hot Accomp. – was issued in 1987 on Dormouse Records. In 1991 Ellis moved to Amsterdam where he co-founded Challenge Records with Anne de Jong.

He also added his Retrieval label to the company at the specific request of its former producer John RT Davies.

Ellis never completely retired from record production and his last CD, Johnny Mercer 1932-1942; Singin, Swinging Songwriter, will be issued later this year.

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