lot of people associate Pee Wee Ellis with the legendary James Brown. But Ellis is one of the most in-demand arrangers and bandleaders of the last 30 years. In fact, hes been associated and hailed as the Father of Funk Music. Many critics and music fans dont realize hes a dynamic tenor saxophonist as well as writer. Last week Pee Wee celebrated his 69th birthday in New York City playing the famed Iridium Jazz Club with the legendary Jimmy Cobb, Mulgrew Miller, and Ron Carter. Its been his dream to play jazz music all his life and continues to play better than ever.
Alfred Pee Wee Ellis was born on April 21st, 1941 in Bradenton, Florida. He was given the nickname Pee Wee due to his tiny stature as a kid. His family moved a couple of times before they settled in Rochester, New York. Upon graduation from high school, Ellis attended the Manhattan School of Music where he studied band arranging and composing. He moved to Florida during the early 1960s where he honed in on has gift as a band arranger and composer.
In 1965 Ellis joined the James Brown Revue and six months later became his bandleader and co-author of some of his songs. Hits like The Chicken, Lickin Stick, Mother Popcorn, and the legendary Say It Loud, Im Black and Im Proud. Hes earned the moniker Father of Funk Music because of the more aggressive syncopated funk grooves with extremely complicated horn and drum riffs. Pee Wee was to James as Nelson Riddle was to Frank Sinatra.
Some of the bands famous alumni included saxophonist Maceo Parker, bassist William Bootsie Collins, and trombonist Fred Wesley.
He eventually left the James Brown Revue because he wanted to pursue other musical interests that werent related to him. Pee Wee was appointed as the new arranger and musical director for producer Creed Taylors label CTI Records until 1975. It was while at the label he recorded with a stable of great artists like Esther Phillips, Hank Crawford, Jack McDuff, Ron Carter, and George Benson.
Over the years Pee Wee has often reunited and recorded with some of the famous James Brown horns and toured extensively.
Rock singer Van Morrison also hired Ellis as his band director and arranger from 1979 through 1986 and1995 through 1999. The two met while he lived in Mill Valley, California. His first record collaboration was on Morrisons Into The Music album, both a critical and bona fide hit.
Currently, hes on the road and will be subject for an upcoming documentary featuring bandmate Fred Wesley on their African tour of Still Black, Still Proud: a Tribute to James Brown. The tribute show focuses on the two of them touring Africa performing Jamess music with some the top African artists featuring Manu Dibango, Vieux Faka Toure, and Tony Allen.
For more information and to check out his upcoming tour dates; visit him on the web at myspace.com/peeweeellis
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