Pee Wee Ellis & The NDR Big Band – What You Like (1997)

FrontCover1.jpgAlfred “Pee Wee” 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.

In the 2014 biographical movie Get on Up about James Brown, Ellis is played by Tariq Trotter (Black Thought, MC from the Roots).

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

Ellis was born Alfred Bryant 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.[5]

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.

Since 2012 Ellis has been touring with the Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, a quartet comprising Ellis, drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Alec Dankworth and percussionist Abass Dodoo.

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 (by wikipedia)


Leading the German NDR Big Band, saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis turns in a competent, occasionally stilted collection of soul-jazz and classic funk. The production and the playing is a bit too mannered for the music to actually catch fire, but there are moments — such as Fred Wesley’s cameo on “Tune with a View” or Van Morrison’s vocal spotlight on “I Will Be There” — that make the disc a worthwhile listen. (by Stephen Thomas Erlewine)


Pee Wee Ellis is a versatile cat. He claims that he doesn’t like pigeonholes, and yet he’s mastered all of them. Ellis’ stylistic diversity can be heard on What You Like (Minor Music), an album he recorded in ’97 that is finally hitting the streets. It’s Ellis’ first in a big-band setting since taking over the ensemble behind James Brown in 1967 at age 26, which came after he studied with Sonny Rollins and established solid jazz credentials. Then later it was on to Brother Jack McDuff and arranging for George Benson, Hank Crawford and Sonny Stitt.


All the above influences can be heard on What You Like, from the boogaloo of “The Prophet” to the down-home groove of “Far From Home.” Jenni Evans contributes three fine vocals, but Van Morrison’s guest shot could have been phoned in. Ellis shows his balladic purity on “I Get Along Without You Very Well” and shows off a screaming flat five to end “2 Dock C” (based on Rollins’ “Doxy”). Add to that the excellent backing of the Hamburg-based NDR Big Band, the keyboard work of Steve Hamilton, the guitaristry of Tony Remy, the drumming of Michael Mondesir and the arrangements of Jorg Achim Keller and What You Like should please any demographic. (by Harvey Siders)


Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone)
The NDR Big Band directed by Jörg Achim Keller:
Wolfgang Ahlers (trombone)
Lennart Axelsson (trumpet)
Detlef Beier (bass)
Peter Bolte (saxophone)
Lutz Büchner (saxophone)
Ingolf Burkhardt (trumpet)
Egon Christmann (trombone)
Fiete Felsch (reeds)
Joe Gallardo (trombone)
Edgar Herzog (reeds)
Mark Mondesir (drums)
Michael Mondesir (bass)
Tony Remy (guitar)
Lucas Schmid (trombone)
Steffen Schorn (reeds)
Claus Stötter (trumpet)
Jon Welch (trombone on 05., 08. + 11)
Reiner Winterschladen (trumpet)
Jenni Evans (vocals on 02., 07. + 10.)
Van Morrison (vocals on 04.)
Fred Wesley (trombone on 09.)


01. The Prophet (Ellis) 5.00
02. Take Me To The River (Green) 5.24
03. Soul Pride (Ellis/Brown) 4.56
04. I Will Be There (Morroson) 2.45
05. I Get Along Without You Very Well (Carmichael) 5.12
06. Dock “C” (Ellis/Rollins) 6.02
07. (Your Love Is) So Doggone Good (Ervine/Love)
08. Far From Home (Ellis/Payne) 6.52
09. Tune With A View (Ellis) 6.12
10. Step (Ellis/Roper) 3.48
11. What You Like (Ellis/Brown) 6.05



Pee Wee Ellis – Yellin´ Blue (1995)

FrontCover1.jpgAlfred “Pee Wee” Ellis was a basic member of the most influential reed-section of the global funk history, the James Brown band besides Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley. He blew his sax for ten years in the probably most important era of James Brown playing in their unimaginably tough way, while was also the co-author and co-orchestrator in such legendary hits, as I Feel Good, Cold Sweat or I’m Black and I’m Proud.

Of course he played besides with other legendary names: orchestrated six albums for Van Morrison, founded a group with David Liebman, then reformed the Jamesd Brown reed-line trio under the name JB Horns.

“Pee Wee” has been working on his solo career lately, and the guest on his latest European tour is noone else, but the legendary old friend, Fred Wesley. (

A versatile composer, arranger, saxophonist and keyboard player, a musician whose repertoire encompasses all manner of music from jazz through soul and funk to stadium rock, Alfred Pee Wee Ellis stands distinctive in any company…
A second trio album from Koln was recorded live during a Pee Wee Ellis Assembly Trio tour of Europe in the spring of ’94. Called “Yellin’ Blue,” it attracted much critical acclaim in Europe. (All About

Such a great album … saxophone – bass – drums only … I guess this album was only released in Germany and it´s one of his finest albums …. because you can hear him and his side musicians as a pure Jazz player … no funk, but as a high class trio !

Recorded live at the “Schmuckkästchen”, Cologne/Germany on March 21 and 22, 1994.


Dwayne Dolphin (bass)
Bruce Cox (drums)
Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone)

01. Lazy Bird (Coltrane) 4.18
02. Do Dee Dum Diddy (Ellis) 8.31
03. Sophisticated Lady (Ellington/Mills) 9.52
04. Like Sonny (Coltrane) 6.58
05. Yellin’ Blue (Pee Wee Ellis) 9:42
06. Groovin’ High (Gillespie) 6.10
07. In A Mellow Tone (Ellington/Gabler) 11.24
08. Tag Alone (Pee Wee Ellis) 8.03




Pee Wee Ellis – Live and Funky (2001)

FrontCover1 Pee Wee Ellis must have played with James Brown for 100 years, and when James called for a sax solo it was always, to the best of my knowledge, “Maceo”, and when the horn section finally decided to do something on their own it was “Fred Wesley, Maceo, and the J.B.’s”. And yet, if you listen to the tenor solo on “Chicken” on Maceo’s “Mo Roots”, the player takes Maceo and Fred out, way badder, in my opinion then these very bad dudes. The tenor man was James’ shadow man, Pee Wee Ellis. “Chicken” is a tune he wrote, he plays it again on this cd with the same results. He also plays a solo that is the essence of funk, the thing, dirty as you wanna be, down in the dirt, the stone cold funk, on “Pass the Peas”. His style is funky, black as James Brown, but, at the same time, with chromatic post bop extensions that distinguishes him from the more traditional players (including Fred and Maceo). So you’re funking along with the usual hard riffs, and then comes a flat nine and a sharp 13, and you’re over the top, doin it, briefly in the grey area between harmony and dissonance, pleasure and pain, the real deal, and then, back to the funk. Here’s the thing, it’s jazz and it’s funky and the setting is pure funk – this is the man to listen to to hear great funk sax. (by Will Flannery)

High quality funk and jazz, as ever, by Pee Wee and the band. Great choices of tracks, usual phenomenal musicality and technique displayed.

Recorded live during the US Tour in spring 2001

Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone, vocals)
Mick Gaffney (guitar)
Mike Hogan (guitar)
John Mader (drums)
Curtis Ohlson (bass)
Fred Ross (vocals)
Jimmy Smith (keyboards)
Fred Wesley (trombone, vocals)

01. Chicken (Ellis) 8.25
02. How I Depend On You (Williams) 4.09
03. Grandma’s Hands (Withers) 5.45
04. Pass The Peas (Brown/Starks/Bobbitt) 5.28
05. House Party (Wesley) 8.36
06. What’s Up With That (Ellis) 6.26
07. Cherry Red (Johnson/Turner) 5.58
08. Cold Sweat/Licking Stick Licking (Brown/Byrd/Ellis) 6.45
09. I Got The Feeling (Brown) 4.06
10. I Got You (I Feel Good) (Brown) 5.08


Pee Wee, Fred & Maceo – The J.B. Horns (1990)

FrontCover1This album was done around the time of the Great Re-emergence of Fred & Maceo, along with their former James Brown bandmate Pee Wee Ellis. After playing with other bands or taking time off since the demise of their former bands, or leaving them altogether, they reunited with a purpose. They unleashed a torrent of records, and their live shows are now legendary. By taking the name ‘JB Horns’, it shows their purpose here was to carry on the funky name of their leader.

The feel of this album is halfway between rockin’ funky party and mellow jazz club show. While the funkier cuts are reminiscient of their groovingest days with JB and Bootsy’s Rubber Band, most of the tracks are closer to the jazz that Fred and Maceo would play throughout the 90’s, particularly Fred. Fans of these horn players should definitely get this and the other JB Horns albums, as they tend to get a little funkier here than on their own later solo stuff. But be aware: this is not a hardcore funk album like their 60’s and 70’s stuff. If you’re not a fan of jazz, there may be huge sections of the album that you won’t like. But definitely check out the first four tracks–those are the funkiest.

PeeWee01“Sweet & Tangy” is a superfunky tune, with a funked-up guitar and bass driving along the groove. There are several great guitar solos and a horn line that hooks you immediately and takes you for a ride. The song’s title is quite apt. “Bumpin'” has a cool doubled-up guitar/bass intro that goes into the background but keep driving the song. The horns then rip shit up, that’s the best way to describe it. “Step On Your Watch” is a hilarious dance song with inspired singing from Fred. It also has those great Rubber Band-ish horn bursts. “Mother’s Kitchen” has some compelling chord progressions, pushing along a sense of urgency. Pee Wee is dominant and aggressive here, with Maceo & Fred taking mellower solos. “Everywhere Is…” is a mellow piece, going straight to a horn solo focus. “Strut” has some very ordinary rhythms but nice horn interaction. “We’re Rolling” is most notable for the interesting use of dissonance towards the end by the horns. “Let’s Play House” is a slow, hot funker with some doubled-up horn lines that create some excellent tension. “Blues A La LS” is a blues/jazz sax showcase for Pee Wee. “Frontal System” and “Slipstream” are both mellow, jazzy tunes. (Robert Clough)

Bryan Bassett (guitar)
Bob Greenlee (bass)
Dwight Champagne (vocals)
Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone, vocals)
Yvonne Jackson (vocals)
Ernie Lancaster (guitar)
Maceo Parker (saxophone, vocals)
Jim Payne (drums)
Mark Puricelli (keyboards)
Fred Wesley (trombone, vocals)
01. Sweet And Tangy (Ellis/Parker/Wesley/Payne/Greenlee) 4.55
02. Bumpin’ )Wesley) 3.14
03. Step On Your Watch, Part II (Payne/Wesley/Jaffe/Anderson) 3.25
04. Mother’s Kitchen (Ellis/Parker/Wesley/Payne/Greenlee) 5.56
05. Everywhere Is Out Of Town (Ellis/Parker/Wesley/Payne/Greenlee) 4.58
06. Strut (Ellis) 4.07
07. We’re Rollin’ (Wesley) 4.30
08. Let’s Play House (Ellis/Parker/Wesley/Payne/Greenlee) 3.55
09. Blues A’ La L.S. (Ellis/Parker/Wesley/Payne/Greenlee) 5.15
10. Frontal System (Ellis/Parker/Wesley/Payne/Greenlee) 5.21
11. Slipstream (Puricelli) 5.05