Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis is an acclaimed saxophonist and composer who was the architect of James Brown’s era-defining soul classics of the late 1960s, introducing the dynamic arrangements and rhythm that would define the emerging language of funk. Ellis is considered the inventor of “funk jazz” and together with Brown is credited with giving birth to funk, melding together his jazz influence with Brown’s R&B roots. Born in Florida, Ellis’s family moved when he was a teenager to Rochester, N.Y., where he studied at Madison High School and collaborated with fellow fledgling jazz musicians (and past RMHF inductees) Chuck Mangione and Ron Carter. He was given the nickname “Pee Wee” by older jazz musicians with whom he used to jam.
At age 24, he began working with James Brown and was his bandleader from 1965 to 1969. He co-wrote and arranged several songs with the Godfather of Soul, including “Cold Sweat,” “Licking Stick,” “Mother Popcorn,” and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and he also performs on many of Brown’s most notable recordings. Other artists Ellis has worked with and composed and arranged for include George Benson, Dave Liebman, Aerosmith, and Van Morrison. Today Ellis lives in the UK where he leads his band The Pee Wee Ellis Assembly, is writing his autobiography, and is developing a project chronicling the history and impact of funk on popular music and culture.