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Pee Wee Ellis

PEE WEE ELLIS was born to play music. He began studying piano as a young boy in Bradenton, Florida and after a family move to Lubbock, Texas he started playing clarinet and sax in Junior High, under Band Director Roy Roberts. He showed exceptional aptitude and was already a skilled musician when his family moved to Rochester, New York in 1955, after the tragic racial murder of his stepfather, Ezell Ellis. Pee Wee began performing to the public very early: at 11 he sat in on piano with the bands his stepfather booked for the local dance hall in Lubbock; and by 13 he was playing saxophone with Dunbar High School Jazz Combo in local towns like Amarillo and also performing on clarinet with the high school marching band in State competitions.

But it was in Rochester that he began gigging in earnest at the renowned Pythodd, in a scene that included Ron Carter, Chuck Mangione and Roy McCurdy. In the summer of 1957 he studied with Sonny Rollins in New York, flying down to the city for his weekly Wednesday lesson! Pee Wee joined the James Brown Revue in 1965 and began arranging with James Brown almost right away, becoming band leader within six months. He soon began co-writing with the Godfather of Soul and Funk’s first hit Cold Sweat, was co-written with James Brown in 1967. This defines what we think of as Funk to this day and was followed by many other songs (26), including Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud, Mother Popcorn, Lickin’ Stick and The Chicken (later made famous by Jaco Pastorius). Thus, Pee Wee Ellis has been called ‚ The Man Who Invented Funk’. Using his jazz influences, he distilled R&B and wrote complex, polyrhythmic arrangements that created a dialogue with Mr. Brown’s singing rather than simply being a backing track.

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