James Brown’s Funk partner Pee Wee Ellis dies at age 80

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But the incessant tours and recordings with James Brown’s band were grueling, and in the late 1960s, Mr. Ellis decided to return to jazz. In the 1970s he arranged and conducted the music for complete albums by George Benson and Johnny Hammond; he has also recorded with Esther Phillips, Leon Thomas, Hank Crawford, Shirley Scott, Sonny Stitt and Dave Liebman. He released his first full album as a frontman, “Home in the Country”, in 1977.

Mr. Ellis was invited to make horn arrangements for Van Morrison’s 1979 album “Into the Music”, starting a lasting relationship. He appeared on Mr. Morrison’s albums for the next 20 years and served as Mr. Morrison’s musical director in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Mr. Ellis joined saxophonist Maceo Parker and trombonist Fred Wesley, band mates of his years with Mr. Brown, to perform and make albums under various names, including the JB Horns and the JB’s Reunion.

He has led his own group, the Pee Wee Ellis Assembly, and has produced over a dozen jazz albums as a leader. His touring plans included a stint in the 2010s with a quartet conducted by Mr. Baker, the drummer of Cream, and “Still Black Still Proud”, a tribute to James Brown featuring African musicians.

He has also performed sessions for, among others, De La Soul, 10,000 Maniacs, Walter Wolfman Washington, Poncho Sanchez, Oumou Sangaré, Toumani Diabaté, Cheikh Lo and Ali Farka Touré. (Information on his survivors was not immediately available.)

Mr Ellis told The American he was most happy to collaborate. “Part of the magic,” he said, “is joining forces and making something happen out of nowhere.”


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