PPlease don’t finish JJJJJerome Ellis’s sentences. The stuttering New York songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist and writer – hence the repetition of Js in his name – asks whoever is conversing for patience. “Sometimes people just walk away,” he says. “Maybe because I didn’t stick to tt, the tt choreography, which we are used to.” These kinds of experiences have left him feeling extremely vulnerable, he candidly tells me during a video call. “Much of the pain comes from not feeling fully human. I don’t feel smart. People think he might be dodging a question. “This reality is more apparent to Ellis every time the police stop him.” I don’t want my blackness to look like a threat and I don’t want my stuttering to look like evidence of a lie. “
Ellis is interested in raising awareness about this intersection of stuttering (which he also calls disfluency) and blackness. His latest project The Clearing is a deep and richly textured 12-track album with an accompanying book, combining spoken word and storytelling with ambient jazz and experimental electronics to create a soundscape that is both meditative and theatrical.
He weaves personal narratives, such as the audio of a bookseller hanging up the phone after he cannot pronounce his words, with historical accounts such as a story of enslaved Africans who overcome their captors through music. It began as an essay in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies and later transformed into a musical journey. “I was interested in the role clocks and clocks played on plantations in the south before the war. How Slave Masters Deliberately Did Not Allow Enslaved People To Own [them], as a form of domination and control, “says Ellis, who wanted to find the connective tissue between this story and how capacitism disadvantages people with speech impairments because they do not adhere to certain time streams. In Ellis’s poetic but political artwork, disfluency instead becomes a means of existing outside of ordinary time, as defined by a white-dominated world.
After rehearsal was over, he began to experiment musically. “It had some sounds that he had been making at Ableton with piano, saxophone, flutes and drums influenced by the trap.” Ellis has a glottal block: his stuttering is not in stuttered syllables, but in silences trapped in the throat (try saying “uh oh” but unable to get past the “uh”). The album captures these blocks in a way that turns them into its own artistic instrument or material; She is not ashamed of her lack of fluency and asked for her stuttering to be acknowledged in these interview quotes. “On the album, I feel safe stuttering because it’s just me. I have the opportunity to mark my own stutter. That felt very liberating. “
Ellis was born in Connecticut, but grew up in Virginia Beach. His mother is Jamaican and his father is from Granada. “I grew up in a very Christian home,” he says. His earliest memories are of playing music in church with his late grandfather. “He was a reverend and he had a church in Brooklyn,” he says. “When he preached, it was very intensely musical. Sometimes he would sing explicitly, and the peaks and valleys of his speech were so dramatic. On the album, I wanted to embrace that kind of interweaving of speech and music. “His grandfather also introduced him to opera and classical music, while his father taught him” reggae, calypso, and soca. “At the age of 13, Ellis began to play the saxophone.
In 2011, he earned a BA in Music Theory and Ethnomusicology from Columbia University and in 2015, he received a Fulbright Fellowship to research samba in Salvador, Brazil. He has presented papers at Lincoln Center and has been the subject of a This american life episode. “I started teaching at Yale this fall. I love it, ”says Ellis, who now works in the sound design program. “One of my goals as a teacher is to create a space in which we feel as free as possible. We are capable of experimenting, of being vulnerable, of improvising together. Both musically, but also how we are learning. “
The concept of “cleanliness” for Ellis is a way of encouraging “experiments with freedom,” as Saidiya Hartman wrote in her historical study of early 20th century black women, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. “His combination of academic rigor and lyrical language” is something Ellis aspires to. Other inspirations include composers Steve Reich, Bach and John Coltrane: “All three have that vision and are not afraid of extension.”
The album has been a source of healing for Ellis by depathologizing his disfluency, but it has also been a channel for him to connect with something much greater than himself. There is a line on the track titled Stepney, where speaker Milta Vega-Cardona, speaking of Ellis’s stutter, says:
You create a non-linear time continuum,
and access to ancestors,
Both for you and the listener.
You are a conduit
“I am very grateful to [Vega-Cardona] for offering that, ”Ellis says. “It is something that I have felt for a long time but never had the words; that stuttering has a ss-spiritual dimension. “
Ellis was made to talk. Even in our brief encounter, his narrative is deeply absorbing; and as shown in the album it opens portals to stories and sensibilities that are impossible to forget. “Thinking of my grandfather. He would be telling a story about Moses and it would take him 30 minutes to read those five verses because he would linger and linger and turn inside the verses and say them over and over and sometimes he would only say one. [phrase] like ‘saw, saw, saw’. For me, in the congregation, it opened this window to something else. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism