Grant Recipients Grants to Artists Performance Art/Theater 2022

JJJJJerome Ellis

A portrait of JJJJJerome Ellis wearing a gray wool coat, a light blue and white striped shirt, and a large gold hoop earring. He stands in front of a tree-lined street. His body is angled as he stares beyond the camera. He clasps his hands together.
Photo by Marc J. Franklin.
  • Composer, Poet, Performer
  • Born 1989, Groton, CT
  • Lives in Virginia Beach, VA
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  • Additional Information
  • jjjjjerome.com
  • This award is supported by the FCA Friends.

Biography

JJJJJerome Ellis describes himself as a “blk disabled animal, stutterer, and artist.” His work—down to the spelling of his name—participates in the lineage of Black artists who have approached orthography as a site of possibility. He self-defines as “blk” as well as “Black” to invite the continued evolution of the language used to describe people of African descent.

Ellis’s work is “an ongoing stutterance” from the intersection of disabled and Black political positioning. Through music, literature, performance, and video, he researches relationships among Blackness, disabled speech, divinity, nature, sound, and time. His work spans formats, including contemplative soundscapes of saxophone, flute, dulcimer, electronics, and vocals; scores for plays and podcasts; albums that combine spoken word with ambient and jazz textures; theatrical explorations involving live music and storytelling; and music-video-poems that seek to transfigure historical archives. Ellis’s The Clearing—published as a book (Wendy’s Subway, 2021) and as an LP (co-produced by the Poetry Project and Northern Spy/NNA Tapes, 2021)—highlights his interdisciplinary approach.

He also collaborates with James Harrison Monaco as the music-storytelling duo James & Jerome. (They also go by Jerome & James and use both names interchangeably.) Their work explores themes of border crossing and translation through music-driven narratives. The duo received a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant in 2019 to present the premiere of their “live movie” performance The Conversationalists at The Bushwick Starr in Brooklyn, NY.

Ellis’s solo and collaborative work has been presented at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York, NY (2021); REDCAT Los Angeles, CA (2021); ISSUE Project Room, Brooklyn, NY (2021); the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics, Pittsburgh, PA (2020); Arraymusic, Toronto, Canada (2019); and MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA (2018).

Ellis has received the United States Artists Fellowship (2022); a Creative Capital Award (2022); and a Fulbright Award (2015).

Ellis lectures on sound design at Yale University. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University.  

Artist Statement

I use music, performance, and text to critique, celebrate, and heal. I seek to open spaces for transcendence, communion, and deep listening. My practice is interdisciplinary and collaborative; I've created with choreographers, rappers, playwrights, booksellers, typographers, podcasters, toddlers, and filmmakers.

I create from my embodiment as a Black, disabled man. My disability is my stutter, and a big part of my work is exploring the poetics and politics of disabled speech.

Improvisation has been central to my work since I began studying jazz saxophone at the age of thirteen. I remain deeply influenced by Black improvisational practices.

My musical practice privileges time stretching, loops, drones, counterpoint, improvisation, and polymeter. Through these musical techniques, I imagine alternatives to linear time and invite listeners to inhabit these alternatives.

I’m deeply concerned with divinity and spirituality in my work. My grandfather was a Black Pentecostal minister. His preaching blurred the borders between speech and music. I follow in his footsteps through my use of music and text to approach the divine.  

- December 2021

A photograph of JJJJJerome Ellis performing, holding a natural reed close to him, closing his eyes and looking downwards. He stands in front of a brick wall and a black fence and wears a textured white shirt.
Performance still from Harriet Tubman (Brandon Ross, Melvin Gibbs, JT Lewis) / JJJJJerome Ellis & Holland Andrews, at Weeksville Heritage Center, Brooklyn, 2021. Performer: JJJJJerome Ellis. Photo by Cameron Kelly Mcleod, courtesy of ISSUE Project Room.
A photograph of JJJJJerome Ellis performing, closing his eyes and playing the tenor saxophone. He wears a textured white shirt and khaki pants. Around him, there is a microphone and other sound equipment.
Performance still from Harriet Tubman (Brandon Ross, Melvin Gibbs, JT Lewis) / JJJJJerome Ellis & Holland Andrews, at Weeksville Heritage Center, Brooklyn, 2021. Performer: JJJJJerome Ellis. Photo by Cameron Kelly Mcleod, courtesy of ISSUE Project Room.
A photograph of JJJJJerome Ellis performing, closing his eyes and holding a saxophone and natural reed above his head. He stands in front of a dark blue geometric-patterned wall.
Performance still from Harriet Tubman (Brandon Ross, Melvin Gibbs, JT Lewis) / JJJJJerome Ellis & Holland Andrews, at Weeksville Heritage Center, Brooklyn, 2021. Performer: JJJJJerome Ellis. Photo by Cameron Kelly Mcleod, courtesy of ISSUE Project Room.
A video still of JJJJJerome Ellis laying in a field of wheat, naked and curled in a fetal position. His eyes are closed. Behind him, some tan colored stone structures are visible.
Performance still from Impediment is Information, live-streamed, ISSUE Project Room, Brooklyn, 2021. Photo by JJJJJerome Ellis.