Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis

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For the Major League Baseball player, see Alfred Ellis (baseball).
Pee Wee Ellis
Pee Wee Ellis.jpg
Ellis in Milan, 2007.
Background information
Birth name Alfred Ellis
Also known as Pee Wee Ellis
Born (1941-04-21) April 21, 1941 (age 73)
Bradenton, Florida, U.S.
Genres Funk, soul, jazz
Occupations Saxophonist, composer, arranger
Instruments tenor, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones, keyboards and flute[1]
Years active 1954–present
Labels Skip Records, Minor Music, Gramavision
Associated acts James Brown, Van Morrison
Pee Wee Ellis 2012 - Photo by David Weimann
Pee Wee Ellis, 1996 in Paris (Jazz Club: New Morning) with his band Assembley

Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis (born April 21, 1941) 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 the 2014 biographical movie Get on Up about James Brown, Ellis is played by Tariq Trotter.

In later years, he became a resident of England, living in the town of Frome in the county of Somerset.[2]


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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

On 7th June 2014 Pee Wee Ellis will be appearing as a special guest of local funk band The Blunter Brothers at Clair Hall, Haywards Heath, West Sussex.

Pee Wee Ellis is due to appear at the Woolley Festival as part of the Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion on 7th September 2014

Selected discography[edit]

Solo recordings[edit]

  • 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)

With James Brown[edit]

  • Star Time - a 4 CD retrospective of James Brown's career

With Van Morrison[edit]

With The JB Horns[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  • 1990 Roots Revisited (Minor Music)
  • 1991 Mo Roots (Minor Music)
  • 1992 Life On Planet Groove (Minor Music)
  • 1993 Southern Exposure (Minor Music)
  • 1994 Maceo (Minor Music)


With Brass Fever

With Jack McDuff

With Shirley Scott

With Various Artists

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pee Wee Ellis credits". Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  2. ^ "Frome Festival's community spirit". 2009-07-03. Retrieved 2009-09-25. 
  3. ^ "Pee Wee Ellis biography". Retrieved 2009-07-22. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Van Morrison song database". Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  5. ^ "Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion". The Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  6. ^ On "Whole Lotta Lovin'", playing with the Rebirth Brass Band, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker and Lenny Kravitz

External links[edit]