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Pee Wee Ellis

Fred Wesley

Still Black Still Proud
An African Tribute to James Brown
@ the Barbican Centre
14 June 2008

Featured artists include: Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley, Cheikh Lô
Tony Allen, Simphiwe Dana, Vieux Farka, Ty, Fred Ross
Wunmi, James Morton, Tony Remy, Vicky Edimo
Mamadou Sarr, Peter Madsen, Guido May

Click an image to enlarge.

Pee Wee Ellis biography

Pee Wee Ellis was born to play music. In Texas Pee Wee got to see blues greats like Bobby "Blue" Bland and Fats Domino. With clarinet and sax lessons in school, he was skilled on reeds as well as piano when his family moved to Rochester, New York at age 16.

In Rochester he met Sonny Rollins, who agreed to give him lessons.

Ellis joined James Brown in 1965 and soon came up with the first pure hardcore Funk hit, Cold Sweat, followed by 26 others that defined what we think of as Funk to this day. Ellis has been called The Man Who Invented Funk.

Ellis’ effect on music was huge, leading directly to George Clinton, Sly Stone and, in a circular twist, Miles Davis’ 70’s work.

By 1970 Ellis worked as arranger and musical director for CTI-Kudu records, the most popular jazz label of the 70s. He worked with Esther Phillips as well as George Benson, Hank Crawford and dozens of other CTI artists.

In 1979 Van Morrison asked Ellis to do arrangements for his Into The Music album, an association that lasted for six years and five albums then was repeated for another five years and five more albums in the last half of the 90’s.
In between, a reunited JB Horns – Ellis, Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker - made several albums and toured extensively.

Meanwhile, Ellis had found world music, or it had found him. He contributed arrangements for Malian singer Oumou Sangare’s album Worotan also for Senegalese singer Cheikh Lô. That led to arranging and playing for two Cuban legends: Cachaito and Miguel ŒAnga’ Diaz. He continues to arrange for World Circuit Records, including work on Ali Farka Toure's last album, Savane. Also on Cheikh Lô’s latest and funkiest CD “Lampfall”.

The Pee Wee Ellis Assembly regularly tours and he has worked with UK jazz singing sensation Clare Teal. In 2005 he visited Japan with the Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and in 2006 they played together again, in South Africa and at Yoshi¹s in Oakland.

Most recently he has performed with and arranged for the Miami-based Spam Allstars.

Fred Wesley biography

Fred Wesley was born on 4 July 1943 and grew up in Mobile Alabama. His musical career started at the age of three on the piano because his grandmother, with whom he spent a great many of his formative years, was a piano teacher. She had him playing scales and pieces such as the “Minute Waltz” and Rachmaninoff's Prelude in D-Minor. He never really wanted to play the piano because his musical aspirations were elsewhere. His father, Fred Wesley Sr., was a musician who ran his own big band that played tunes like “The Hucklebuck”, Open The Door, Richarc J”, “Little Red Top” and other tunes by Louis Jordan. Fred Sr. was also the chair of the music department in the Mobile Central High School where the young Wesley later attended. The horn players in the big band used to go to his father's house for rehearsal and it was the trombone player Harry Freeman that caught the attention of the young Fred Wesley.

“He was such a gregarious type of person, he always laughed and played with me, and I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. He played the trombone, so naturally I wanted to play the trombone to be like Mr Freeman.”

Wesley did not start playing horns until he went to Junior High School and then he started on the trumpet. His school band teacher E.B. Coleman, was also a local big band leader. He told Wesley that if he could sort out his chops on the trombone over the summer he could play in his group. In the following autumn Wesley became a featured band member.

It was not very long before Wesley was playing blues and rhythm and blues in
night-clubs but not exclusively on the trombone. He played drums in a group with his father who played the piano and with the help of a trumpeter they played pop-songs and easy listening music.

Wesley then attended Alabama State University where he gained an Associate Degree in Music. His career as a musician started to take off when he was 17. Ike Turner asked him to play in the Ike and Tina Turner hand. Wesley toured with them briefly before deciding to move on. After a bout of pneumonia Wesley was drafted into the Army where he played in the 55th Army Band at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama. There he became a featured soloist. He left the army as a Graduate of the Armed Forces School of Music and with a wife and daughter. The responsibility of having a new family caused Wesley to think about quitting the music business and funding a good day job that paid well.

“I had the chance to become the first black milk delivery man in Mobile and I was about to take the job when I got a call from Waymon Reed. Waymon Reed was now playing for James Brown and he told me that the band needed a trombone player...”

So in 1967 Wesley began playing with James Brown on a fixed salary rather than gig money and because he was playing virtually every night there was little chance to practise jazz.

The James Brown hits “Doin’ It To Death” and “Papa Don't Take No Mess” were Fred Wesley’s own tunes. He also got into writing film music co-writing scores for the movies “Black Caesar” and “Slaughter’s Big Rip-off”. Fred was with James Brown for 11 years and in 1978 he decided to move on. He then joined up with George Clinton, which seemed like a natural progression from James Brown.

In 1981 Wesley got the chance to get back into Jazz by working with Count Basie.
After leaving Count Basie, and for the rest of the Eighties, Wesley concentrated on producing and arranging. He lent his talents to such projects as the SOS Band's debut album “Take Your Time” and Cameo’s 1989 hit “The Skin I'm In”. Other artists that Wesley worked with during this time included Whitney Houston, The Meters, De La Soul, Curtis Mayfield and Dr. John. At the end of the Eighties Wesley decided to launch his solo career with the album “New Friends."

Simphiwe Dana biography

Simphiwe Dana was born in rural Gcuwa, Transkei (before the family moved to Lusikisiki) in 1980, where she and her three siblings and parents shared what she describes as a warm home.

Dana’s father was a preacher who also had a profound love for church choral music, which his eldest daughter also grew up singing. Religion and gospel music have played a pivotal role in both Dana’s spiritual life and the secular one. The only way to be closer to God is through music, she says.

Dana got her break when she moved to Johannesburg in 2002 and was spotted by music promoters during her playing stints in small clubs around.

It may sound clichéd, because it has been said of so many female vocalists that come on to the scene these days, that they sound so much like the young Miriam Makebas and Dorothy Masukus, but Dana’s voice does transport you to that golden era in South African history.

Cheikh Lô biography

Cheikh Lô was born in 1955, to Senegalese parents in the small town of Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso not far from the border with Mali, where he grew up speaking Bambara (language of Mali), Wolof (language of Senegal) and French. His father was from a long line of marabouts. From an early age Cheikh Lô was only interested in music, running away from school to teach himself drums and guitar on borrowed instruments.

During his teens Lô listened to all kinds of music, especially the Congolese Rumba which was popular throughout Africa. Cuban music was all the rage in West Africa in the Fifties, so when his older brothers started up their 78 singles and danced to “El Pancho Bravo”, Lô, without understanding a word, would mime exactly to the Spanish lyrics.

At 21 Lô started playing percussion with Orchestra Volta Jazz in Bobo Dioulasso. They played all kinds of music and cover versions of other African tunes, like Ernesto Djedje’s hits from Côte d’Ivoire.

Lô moved to Dakar in 1970. He started out playing a drum-kit for the renowned and progressive singer, Ouza, and then in 1984 he joined the house band at the Hotel Savana, drumming and singing an international repertoire.

In 1985 Lô moved to France, where he was immersed as a session drummer in the Parisian recording scene. Cheikh recalls:

“Studio - sleep - studio for two years. I love Congolese and Cameroonian music and I absorbed a lot of it during this period. Maybe you can hear a bit of Papa Wemba in my singing.”

On his return to Senegal he tried to return to his former job at the Savana but found that with his (now very long) dreadlocks he was no longer entirely welcome; so he started looking for someone to produce his own music.

Youssou N’Dour first encountered Cheikh Lô as a session musician in 1989 when he was doing the chorus and drums on an album N’Dour was producing by N’diaga M’baye (a traditional Wolof griot singer). N’Dour explains;

“…I found something in his voice that’s like a voyage through Burkina, Niger, Mali.”

Cheikh Lô’s first cassette “Doxandeme” (Immigrants) came out in 1990, where he sang about the experience of being Senegalese abroad. The cassette sold well and got his name around but Lô was not happy with the albums’ production values. Despite his reservations Lô won the ‘Nouveau Talent’ award in Dakar. The following year he started to work on the compositions for “Ne La Thiass”.

Lô dedicates both his music and his life to Baye Fall, a specifically Senegalese form of Islam and part of the larger Islamic brotherhood of Mouridism which was established by Bamba (Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba M’Becke) at the end of the 19th century.

In 2002 Cheikh Lô played various festivals across America followed by dates in the UK. At the beginning of 2003 Cheikh played several Spanish dates and appeared at WOMAD in Australia and New Zealand to much acclaim. He also contributed 2 tracks to the “Red Hot and Riot” album, which featured many influential world music artists covering Fela Kuti songs.

Ty biography

Ty is one of UK Black music’s true innovators and popularisers. He has been making music and pushing boundaries for the last 10 years. With 3 albums, a Mercury Music nomination and countless guest appearances under his belt with the likes of Tony Allen, De La Soul, Damon Albarn, Terri Walker, Scratch Perverts, Pee Wee Ellis, Afro Reggae and Estelle.

Ty has long been involved in the spoken word/poetry scene, as well as running workshops in schools and beyond since his pivotal involvement in the mid-90s Ghetto Grammar organisation. Recently holding a series of production and creative writing master classes in Australia with The Red Bull Music Academy.

Probably best known for his live shows, Ty has toured the world, from New York to New Zealand and has established a strong fan base.

Tony Allen

Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley & James Morton Pee Wee Ellis and band

Mamadou Sarr

Mamadou Sarr Mamadou Sarr

Pee Wee Ellis

Fred Wesley

Pee Wee Ellis

Pee Wee Ellis

Pee Wee Ellis

Pee Wee Ellis

Pee Wee Ellis

Pee Wee Ellis

Simphiwe Dana

Simphiwe Dana

Simphiwe Dana

Simphiwe Dana

Wunmi & Peter Madsen

Wunmi

Wunmi & Pee Wee Ellis

Fred Ross

Fred Ross

Cheikh Lô

Cheikh Lô

Ty

Ty

Ty and band

Pee Wee Ellis & band


Recommended
Listening

 

Pee Wee Ellis - A New Shift Fred Wesley - Damn  Right  I am Somebody Simphiwe Dana - The one love Movement Ty - Closer

 

Further
Recommended
Viewing

Click Fred Wesley's image to view his photographs @ the PizzaExpress Jazz Club...
Click The Payback album read James Brown's tribute...
Click Maceo Parker's image to view his photographs...
Click Tony Allen's image to view more photographs...

Fred  Wesley @ the PizzaExpress Jazz Club (click to go to his page) James Brown Tribute (click to go to his page) Maceo Parker @ the St. Lucia Jazz Festival (click to go to his page) Tony Allen @ the Barbican (click to go to his page)

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