Pee Wee Ellis  

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Alfred James Ellis, known as Pee Wee Ellis (born April 21, 1941 – September 24, 2021), was an American musician, a saxophonist, composer, and arranger. With a background in jazz, he was an important member of James Brown's band in the 1960s, appearing on many of Brown's most notable recordings and co-writing hits like "Cold Sweat" (1967), "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud" (1968) and "The Chicken" (1969). He also worked closely with Van Morrison.

Contents

Biography

Ellis was born on April 21, 1941 in Bradenton, Florida to his mother Elizabeth and his father Garfield Devoe Rogers, Jr. In 1949 his mother married Ezell Ellis, and the family moved to Lubbock, Texas where Ellis was given his nickname "Pee Wee". He gave his first public performance in 1954 at Dunbar Junior High School. After Ezell Ellis was killed in 1955, the remaining members of the family moved to Rochester, New York. While attending Madison High School he played professionally with jazz musicians including Ron Carter and Chuck Mangione. In 1957 he moved to New York City, where he attended Manhattan School of Music and had regular lessons with Sonny Rollins. In 1960 he moved back to Florida working as a bandleader, musical director and writer.

Ellis played with the James Brown Revue from 1965 to 1969. While with Brown he arranged and co-wrote hits like "Cold Sweat" and "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud". In 1969 he returned to New York City. He worked as an arranger and musical director for CTI Records' Kudu label, collaborating with artists like George Benson, Hank Crawford and Esther Phillips. In the late 1970s he moved to San Francisco and formed a band with former Miles Davis sideman David Liebman, with whom he recorded "The Chicken", that was to become a favourite of Jaco Pastorius.

Between 1979 and 1986 he worked with Van Morrison's band as an arranger and musical director and then again from 1995 through 1999. He also gave occasional performances in 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2006 as guest appearances.

In the late 1980s Ellis regrouped with some musicians he worked with during his time with James Brown to form the JB Horns. With Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker he recorded a number of albums that defined a version of jazz-funk. The group also toured in Europe. In 1992 he resumed his solo recording career. Ellis also appeared alongside Bobby Byrd in the J.B. All Stars.

In 1995, showing the diversity of his musical interests and talents, Ellis played tenor sax and arranged the horns for the album Worotan, by Mali's Oumou Sangare, the so-called "Songbird of Wassoulou" and worked with many other artists on the World Circuit label including Ali Farka Toure, Cheikh Lo, Anga Diaz and renowned Cuban bassist Cachao.

His own group The Pee Wee Ellis Assembly have continued to work consistently since 1992, and Ellis was always busy guesting with multi various artists, arranging and recording both his own albums and as a respected session player and teaching.

Between 2009 and 2011 Ellis toured an African tribute to James Brown, "Still Black Still Proud", to much acclaim in both USA and Europe. Special guests in the project included Vusi Mahlasela, Maceo Parker, Cheikh Lo, Mahotella Queens and Ghanaian rapper Ty.

Since 2012 Ellis has been touring with the Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, a quartet comprising Ellis, drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Alec Dankworth and percussionist Abass Dodoo.

In later years, he became a resident of England, living in the town of Frome in the county of Somerset.

In July 2014 Pee Wee Ellis was honored with a doctorate by Bath Spa University, and he continued to support local music as patron (and a principal performer) of the Bristol International Blues and Jazz Festival. He died on September 24, 2021, at the age of 80.

Discography

Solo recordings

  • 1977 Home in the Country (Savoy)
  • 1992 Blues Mission (Gramavision)
  • 1993 Twelve and More Blues (Minor Music)
  • 1994 Sepia Tonality (Minor Music)
  • 1995 Yellin Blue
  • 1996 A New Shift (Minor Music)
  • 1997 What You Like (Minor Music)
  • 2000 Ridin Mighty High (Skip Records)
  • 2001 Live and Funky (Skip Records)
  • 2005 Different Rooms (Skip Records)
  • 2011 Tenoration (Art of Groove, MIG-Music)
  • 2013 The Spirit of Christmas (Minor Music GmbH)
  • 2015 The Cologne Concerts (Minor Music GmbH)

With James Brown

  • Star Time - a four-CD retrospective of James Brown's career

With Van Morrison

With The JB Horns

  • 1990 Finally Getting Paid (Minor Music)
  • 1991 Pee Wee, Fred and Maceo (Gramavision)
  • 1993 Funky Good Time - Live (Gramavision)
  • 1994 I Like It Like That

With Maceo Parker

Other contributions

With Ginger Baker

  • Why? (Motema Music, 2014)

With Brass Fever

With George Benson

With Hank Crawford

With Dave Liebman

With Jack McDuff

With the Rebirth Brass Band, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker and Lenny Kravitz

With Shirley Scott

With Sonny Stitt

With Leon Thomas

With Ali Farka Touré

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pee Wee Ellis" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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