Ellman, Liberty (Dean), guitarist, composer, and bandleader; b. London, England, 17 July 1971. Mostly grew up in New York City and went to high school and college in San Francisco, CA. He received a Bachelors Degree in Jazz Studies from California State University, Sonoma, and studied with guitarist Randy Vincent from 1991-1994. His mother, Jenni Dean, was a singer and a songwriter. His father, Kevin Ellman, was a drummer who worked with Cab Calloway, Richie Havens and Todd Rundrgren. His sister Samantha Ellman was born October 15, 1977 in Queens, NY.
The product of a musical family, Liberty had a guitar in his hands by age 5, and had developed an early fascination with the drums due to his fathers practicing in their Greene St. loft. By age 13 Liberty had realized the treasures of the family’s LP collection, discovering John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ravi Shankar, and Robert Johnson, further expanding his passion for music and improvisation, which led to dedicated listening, studying and then ultimately, performing professionally by age 17.
While earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in Jazz Studies from the California State University at Sonoma, Liberty gigged steadily in the Bay-Area, choosing to commute from Oakland in order to be near the work and his musical colleagues. During this period Liberty began his association with pianist Vijay Iyer, and started developing an individual style of composing for his own groups. After finishing school, Liberty joined up with the Tony award winning musical theater company the San Francisco Mime Troupe, touring internationally as a multi-instrumentalist and collaborating/composing for 10 original productions of edgy musical, political satire.
Before succumbing to the native gravity of New York in 1998, Liberty had recorded on 3 albums with Mr. Iyer, toured with Hip-Hop groups Midnight Voices and the Coup, performed and recorded with innovative koto artist Miya Masaoka, scored the 30th anniversary production of Sam Sheppard’s “True West” at the Magic Theater, and had the privilege of performing with alto saxophonist Steve Coleman in his first incarnation of the Mystic Rhythm Society.
Returning to New York, Liberty quickly put together a working trio with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Derrek Phillips, who also relocated from the Bay-Area. In April 2000 Liberty had the honor of briefly backing up Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie in a celebration of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He became involved in projects with alto saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Greg Osby, including Osby’s “Special Project” featuring Oliver Lake and Bob Stewart. And in October 2001 Liberty contributed to the first of many exciting performances with the pioneer of Conduction, Lawrence “Butch” Morris. Liberty can also be seen with downtown notables such as Steven Bernstein and Joshua Roseman.
As a player, Liberty is influenced by an array of guitar greats: Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Jimi Hendrix, Ali Farka Toure, and BB King among others. Simply as a musician, Liberty’s greatest musical inspiration comes from conceptual innovators like Ellington, Monk, Miles, Andrew Hill, Bartok, Bjork, Squarepusher - artists who relentlessly search for new textures and find imaginative ways to work with a group. Ultimately, Liberty seeks to bridge the deep musical and social history of his instrument with an evocation of the creative streams of his generation.