Herb Ellis, a jazz guitarist whose polished, blues-inflected playing earned him critical acclaim as an outstanding soloist and worldwide recognition as a member of the pianist Oscar Peterson's trio, died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 88.
The cause was Alzheimer's disease, said his son, Mitch.
Mr. Ellis was an early disciple of Charlie Christian, whose deft improvisations, built on long single-note lines, established the template for modern jazz guitar in the 1940s. But he was always more than an imitator: his style mixed the harmonic sophistication of bebop with the earthy directness of the blues and seasoned the blend with a twang more typical of country music than jazz.
While never a major star, he was long a favorite of critics and musicians. In 1959 a fellow guitarist, Jim Hall, praised his fantastic fire and drive." In 1990 Gary Giddins of The Village Voice raved about the easy, loping quality of his playing, buoyed by familiar dissonances yet surprisingly free of cliché."