The first instrument I learned to play was the guitar and while it is still the instrument I play most of the time, I can never put the mandolin down for long. There is a very special quality to what it can do.
My first mandolin was an old “A” style Gibson which I found at Richard Beck’s guitar shop in Tempe, Arizona. It made such a beautiful sound, one that captured my imagination. I was already intrigued by the sound of the instrument through the recordings and music of David Grisman. During my first year in college I was fortunate to play with mandolinist Tom Rozum, who was a generous source of information and already a very accomplished musician, so I felt that when the time was right, I would be playing one.
At first I seldom had much time for the mandolin, but it was spark waiting to catch and the fire caught when I went to Europe in 1990. The mandolin is very portable, it fits in with many musical situations and it’s a joy to play. The streets of Bologna, Italy, with its many porticos were my favorites. By the time I arrived there I was getting a hang of the fret board and the right hand tremolo technique. In a sense, my playing was coming together at the same time I was in this incredible acoustic and scenic environment.
Returning to San Francisco a year later I began to play mandolin in an acoustic group called “The Vidalias”. The music crossed several genres and it was a unique band in that each member wrote music or songs for the band.
After we went our own ways, I soon found myself participating in Basque events throughout California and elsewhere in the West. I performed with the women’s choir “Eskual Giroa”, with Jean Flesher and his groups, as well with visiting groups from the Basque region.
Since moving to the East Coast I have played mandolin with several singer-songwriters including Scott E. Moore, Jessica Owen, Meryl McCusker and Myrna Marcarian Mincey, as well as performing mandola with the Bloomfield Mandolin Orchestra and a special concert with the Orchestra Dell’Accademia Internazionale di Mandolino featuring Carlo Aonzo.
I’ve been fortunate to participate in Karl Berger’s Improvisers Orchestra since July of 2011. He is a brilliant improviser, conductor, composer and arranger. The mandolin adds a very unique color to this community of instrumentalists.
I have conducted workshops at the Maiden Creek Old Time Music Festival in Pennsylvania and performed at the Claremont Folk Festival in California, at the Jai Aldi Festival in Boise, Idaho and at the New York City Museum’s Basque Cultural Event.
John Ehlis – mandolin
Thomas Heberer – cornet
Mikko Innanen – alto sax
Yasuno Katsuki – euphonium
Scott E. Moore – guitar
Benny Koonyevksy – xylophone
Glen Fittin – riqq
Wax cylinder recording at the
Thomas Edison Museum – June 2013