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Ellis Larkins

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Biography

Ellis Larkins (15 May 1923 – 30 September 2002) was a jazz pianist born in Baltimore, Maryland. Larkins is best known for his recordings with Ella Fitzgerald. The album Ella Sings Gershwin features Larkins as the sole accompanist.

Both his parents were classical musicians. His father, a violinist, started his young son on piano lessons at the age of four.

Ellis progressed quickly, eventually joining his father in performances with a local black orchestra in his hometown. In high school, Ellis became the first black student admitted to Baltimore’s prestigious Peabody Conservatory of Music.

From Peabody, Larkins would move on to The Juilliard School of Music in New York City. To meet expenses, he began playing evening studio sessions, drawing on his classical technique to play jazz and popular music.

Soon Larkins became a prominent fixture of the Manhattan nightclub scene, playing regularly at venues like Café Society, the Blue Angel, Gregory’s, and the Village Vanguard.

Sometimes Larkins led a trio, but most often he accompanied singers, including Herb Jeffries, Joe Williams, Anita Ellis and Mildred Bailey. His solo performances at the Carnegie Tavern below Carnegie Hall also became a New York institution.

Ellis Larkins’ playing style has been described as “a rainbow of interwoven musical textures.”

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