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Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis is an American saxophonist, composer and arranger. He was an important member of James Brown's band in the 1960s and appeared on many of Brown's most notable recordings. He also worked closely with Van Morrison.
In later years, he became a resident of England, living in the town of Frome in the county of Somerset.
Born in Bradenton, Florida, Ellis moved with his family to Lubbock, Texas in 1949, where he was given his nickname "Pee Wee". He gave his first public performance in 1954 at Dunbar Junior High School. In 1955 he moved with his family 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. 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 Pee Wee 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 distinctive brand of jazz-funk. The group also toured in Europe.
In 1992 Pee Wee resumed his solo recording career.
Ellis's composition "The Chicken" was made famous by the electric bass player Jaco Pastorius, who recorded it on his album The Birthday Concert, as well as Invitation.
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".
In 2009 Pee Wee toured a tribute to James Brown called "Still Black Still Proud". He performed this with special guests Mahotella Queens and Ghanaian born rapper Ty at the Frome Festival on July 12, 2009, and again in a series of concerts in Europe during April and May 2010.
In July 2010 Pee Wee participated in Brass: Durham International Festival 2010. This involved Ellis working with a selection of local youth ensembles and culminated in a concert at Bishop Auckland Town Hall on Monday 5 July. Later that week, on Thursday 8 July, Pee Wee took to the stage as a special guest of Maceo Parker and his band. The concert was held at the Gala Theatre Durham and Ellis linked up with his old band friend Maceo to perform 2 songs, playing his signature baritone sax next to Maceo's tenor sax. In August 2010 he played at the 27th Brecon Jazz Festival. Pee Wee is scheduled to join Maceo and Fred Wesley on Jam Cruise in January 2011.
In 2013 Ellis toured with the Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, a quartet comprising Ellis, drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Alec Dankworth and percussionist Abass Dodoo. ClearartWide ThumbFanartBanner User Comments