Pee Wee Ellis

Get to know: Saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis


Pee Wee Ellis is heading on tour this spring with a new show that tells the story of funk. FUNK: A Music Revolution kicks off at Brighton Dome on Sat 29 Feb. Pee Wee leads the show, with co-curator China Moses and a line-up including world-renowned musicians, Brighton local Omar MBE, rapper Lady Sanity and dance group The Locksmiths.

In advance of the show, we wanted to introduce James Brown’s MD Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis, so you can get to know the man behind the sax.

o His remarkable story spans six decades. In the 50s he went to New York City to find his heroes Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and the great Sonny Rollins. Rollins then became his teacher and mentor, helping Pee Wee kick start a promising career leading jazz bands in Florida.

o In 1965, he joined James Brown and within six months he was promoted to bandleader and musical director as well as regular co-writer with Brown himself. 

On writing Cold Sweat from James Brown’s grunts:

Cold Sweat is widely acknowledged as the first true funk record.

o Following a period of time producing and directing in New York, he caught the ear of Van Morrison in 1979 and began a five year spell as Van’s musical director and bandleader, arranging the horns on albums such as Into the Music and Common One.

o In the 90s Pee Wee moved to Europe to focus on his solo career, releasing jazz albums including the acclaimed 12 and More Blues.

o Pee Wee joined Van Morrison again for five years as bandleader and arranger. Musicians from all over the world worked with him on recordings during this time, including Oumou Sangaré, Cheikh Lô, Ali Farka Touré and Buena Vista Social Club stars Orlando ‘Cachaíto’ López and Miguel Angá Díaz. Most recently he has arranged for and recorded with Boy George, Joss Stone, George Clinton and Paul Carrack.

o He is a regular contributor to educational programmes in schools, communities and universities – a fact recognised when he received an honorary doctorate in 2014, from Bath Spa University in the UK. He is also a Patron of and Artist in Residence at the Bristol Blues and Jazz Festival.

o In 2016, Pee Wee launched FUNK: Evolution of a Revolution, at NYU Performing Arts Center in Abu Dhabi, including the innovative masterclass FUNK 101.

Don’t miss Pee Wee at Brighton Dome as FUNK: A Music Revolution will be a night to remember! Click here to buy tickets and to find out more