Veteran saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis dies aged 80

The jazz musician led bands for James Brown, Van Morrison and more

Pee Wee Ellis, jazz saxophonist and bandleader for James Brown, Van Morrison and more, has died at the age of 80.

The news was revealed on the musician’s official Facebook page, where a message read: “With great sadness we have to announce that Pee Wee passed away last night following complications with his heart.

“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.”

Posted by Pee Wee Ellis on Friday, September 24, 2021

Leading tributes to Ellis was Bootsy Collins, who wrote on Twitter: “We just lost another bandmate & legend, Mr. Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis. He was a member of James Brown’s band in the 60s, recording many of Brown’s recordings “Cold Sweat”, “Say It Loud “. He also worked with Van Morrison. A silent genius & brilliant arrangements. Prayers to Family!”

Others to pay tribute include George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, who shared:

Born Alfred Ellis in Bradenton, Florida in 1941, the musician gained the nickname ‘Pee Wee’ when he moved to Texas at the end of the 1940s.

His big break in music came when he moved to New York City in 1957 and met Sonny Rollins by chance, who then agreed to train Ellis. By 1965, he was a member of James Brown’s Revue, before becoming his bandleader soon after.

Ellis is credited with helping Brown write some of his most famous songs, including ‘Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud’ and ‘Cold Sweat’.

In 1979, he was part of the band that recorded Van Morrison’s ‘Into The Music’ album, and also appeared on the iconic track ‘Summertime In England’.

Later in his career, he started his own group, called the Pee Wee Ellis Assembly, and was a member of Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion from 2012.