Jazz Saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis Dies at 80

    Pee Wee Ellis, the jazz saxophonist, bandleader, and arranger best known for working with James Brown and Van Morrison, has died. The news was announced on Ellis’ official Facebook page. “With great sadness we have to announce that Pee Wee passed away last night following complications with his heart,” the message reads. “We are working on plans to celebrate his wonderful life and hope you will all take time to listen to his music and continue his legacy.” He was 80.

    Born in Bradenton, Florida in 1941, Ellis was nicknamed “Pee Wee” when his family moved to Lubbock, Texas at the end of the 1940s.  While attending high school in Rochester, New York, he performed with jazz artists including Ron Carter and Chuck Mangione. His life was forever changed in 1957, when he moved to New York City and Sonny Rollins agreed to train him following a chance meeting in Broadway.

    In 1965, Ellis joined the James Brown Revue on the recommendation of trumpeter Waymon Reed, and within months would become Brown’s bandleader. He would go on to arrange and co-write several of Brown’s hits, including ‘Cold Sweat’ and ‘Say It Loud — I’m Black And I’m Proud’. After leaving Brown’s band in 1969, he joined the sessions for Van Morrison’s 1979 album Into The Music, beginning a decades-long partnership as his bandleader and arranger. Ellis was featured prominently on Morrison’s 1980 15-minute track ‘Summertime in England’ and played on records such as Days Like This and The Healing Game. He also led his own group, the Pee Wee Ellis Assembly, and joined Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion in 2012.

    Konstantinos Pappis
    Konstantinos Pappis
    Konstantinos Pappis is a writer, journalist, and music editor at Our Culture. His work has also appeared in Pitchfork, GIGsoup, and other publications. He currently lives in Athens, Greece.

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