Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis
Pee Wee Ellis
Ellis in Milan, 2007.
|Birth name||Alfred James Ellis|
|Also known as||Pee Wee Ellis|
|Born||April 21, 1941|
Bradenton, Florida, United States
|Genres||Funk, soul, jazz|
|Occupation(s)||Saxophonist, composer, arranger|
|Instruments||tenor, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones, keyboards and flute|
|Labels||Skip Records, Minor Music, Gramavision|
|Associated acts||James Brown, Van Morrison, Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion, The Dapps|
Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis (Alfred James Ellis, born April 21, 1941) is an American 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" and "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud". He also worked closely with Van Morrison.
Ellis was born Alfred James Ellis 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 is always busy guesting with multivarious 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 guest in the project included Vusi Mahlasela, Maceo Parker, Cheikh Lo, Mahotella Queens and Ghanaian rapper Ty.
In July 2014 Pee Wee Ellis was honored with a doctorate by Bath Spa University, and he continues to support local music as patron (and a principal performer) of the Bristol International Blues and Jazz Festival
- 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
- 1979 Into the Music (Polydor)
- 1980 Common One (Polydor)
- 1982 Beautiful Vision (Polydor)
- 1983 Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (Polydor)
- 1984 Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast (Polydor)
- 1985 A Sense of Wonder (Polydor)
- 1995 Days Like This (Polydor)
- 1996 How Long Has This Been Going On (Mercury) - Top Jazz Album - #1
- 1996 Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison (Verve) - Top Jazz Album - #1
- 1997 The Healing Game (Mercury)
- 1998 The Philosopher's Stone (Polydor)
- 1999 Back on Top (Polydor)
- 2006 Live at Montreux 1980/1974 DVD (Exile) - (Pee Wee Ellis is featured prominently in the 1980 performance with solos, especially standing out as the "twin brother" to Morrison's vocals on "Troubadours".)
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
- 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 Ginger Baker
- Why? (Motema Music, 2014)
With Brass Fever
- Time Is Running Out (Impulse!, 1976)
With George Benson
- Body Talk (CTI Records|CTI, 1973)
With Hank Crawford
- It's a Funky Thing to Do (Cotillion, 1971)
With Dave Liebman
- Light'n Up, Please! (Horizon, 1975)
With Jack McDuff
With Shirley Scott
- Mystical Lady (Cadet, 1971)
With Sonny Stitt
- Dumpy Mama (Flying Dutchman, 1975)
With Leon Thomas
With Ali Farka Touré
- Savane (World Circuit, 2006)
- "Pee Wee Ellis credits". allmusic.com. Retrieved 2009-07-22.
- "Frome Festival's community spirit". news.bbc.co.uk. 2009-07-03. Retrieved 2009-09-25.
- McBride, James (2016). Kill 'Em and Leave. New York: Spiegel & Grau. p. 139. ISBN 9780812993509.
- "Pee Wee Ellis biography". peewee-ellis.com. Archived from the original on February 11, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-22.
- "Van Morrison song database". ivan.vanomatic.de. Retrieved 2009-07-22.
6 Pee Wee Ellis interview in Independent https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/pee-wee-ellis-jazz-musician-saxophonist-slavery-james-brown-van-morrison-a9567176.html 17 June 2020