“Pee Wee makes funk sound jazzy and jazz sound funky. Somehow he synthesizes the two into one great music.” – Peter Madsen
Pee Wee Ellis is ne of the funkiest horn players in jazz music history, a well known American musician who was an essential part of James Brown band in 1960s. He is a saxophonist, arranger and composer. He plays at the Blue Note with his current touring funk outfit, who add a burning energy to many of the stone-cold classics from his vast repertoire.
Pee Wee Ellis was born to play music. From his first piano lessons – “Miss Sharp hit my hands with a ruler and I never went back” laughs Pee Wee – to discovering a saxophone in his grandmother’s bureau at age 9 – he showed exceptional aptitude. “I didn’t come from a musical family, it just came naturally”.
After a stint playing the carnival circuit with Great American Shows and as a sideman in the hotels of Miami (once with Dinah Washington), Pee Wee got the offer to join the late, great James Brown in 1965. Pee Wee began writing with Mr. Brown as soon as he was promoted to Musical Director/Bandleader/Arranger after only 6 months, following the departure of Nat Jones. Their first collaboration was ‘Let Yourself Go’ quickly followed by ‘Cold Sweat’ universally considered the world’s first pure Funk hit. The years Pee Wee spent with James Brown were those of the classic line-up: Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Jimmy Nolen, Clyde Stubblefield were all in the band that Pee Wee led but he yearned to grow beyond the confines of the James Brown machine. By 1970 he had left the James Brown Revue to work in New York City as an arranger and musical director for CTI-Kudu records, the most popular jazz label of the 70s.
In 1979 Pee Wee’s neighbour Van Morrison (encouraged by Mark Isham) asked Pee Wee to do arrangements for his Into The Music album, which led to Pee Wee becoming Van’s musical director. “I was off on another whirlwind” says Pee Wee. It was a whirlwind that lasted for six years and five albums, some of the best of Van’s career, repeated for another five years and five more albums in the mid 90’s. In between, there was a reunion of the great James Brown horn section, The JB Horns: Pee Wee, Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker, with several albums and extensive touring.