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Fred Wesley

Fred Wesley will always be best known for his funky trombone playing with James Brown, but he has also loved playing jazz whenever the opportunity arose. Born in Columbus, Georgia in 1943, he was raised in Mobile, Alabama and the son of a high school music teacher. He began studying classical piano when he was 3, switching to trumpet in junior high school before settling on the trombone. As a teenager Wesley played at local clubs. He studied music at Alabama State University and played briefly with Ike & Tina Turner and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. Wesley played with an Army band, and graduated from the Armed Forces School of Music. After his discharge in 1967, he led the Mastersound for a year, a group that mixed together R&B with jazz. He was an important part of James Brown’s band during 1967-69. He worked with Sam and the Goodtimers but rejoined Brown in 1971, this time as the musical director and arranger. Wesley was a major help in keeping Brown’s music relevant and funky. In 1975 he permanently departed, working with George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. Wesley recorded albums during that era under the name Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns. In 1979 he left Clinton to join the Count Basie Orchestra for two years. In 1981 he settled in Los Angeles and became a session musician and arranger for such artists as with Earth, Wind and Fire, Barry White and Curtis Mayfield. In the 1990s Wesley cut straight-ahead jazz albums, playing in a style inspired by J.J. Johnson. He also toured with other former James Brown sidemen Maceo Parker and Pee Wee Ellis as the JB Horns. In addition to his playing career, Fred Wesley was an adjunct professor of jazz studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro during 2004-2006.