Renowned saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis tells us more about Funk: A Music Revolution and working with James Brown...
Can you tell us a bit more about the project Funk: A Music Revolution who’s involved and the inspiration behind it?
Well the project is curated by myself and China Moses, and I am leading a fantastic band and guests, Omar, China of course, Daru Jones on drums, Dan Moore on keys, the ubiquitous Tony Remy on guitar, MBE Dennis Rollins playing trombone and bright young star of the London jazz scene Camilla George on alto sax, plus dancers and all kinds of funky stuff.
We feel it’s really important that a wider audience understands the fundamental influence of funk music in the history and development of popular music - and what more fun way to show that than with a show chronicling the great music that tells its own story.
Tell us about your time working with James Brown and co-writing Say it loud! I'm black and I'm proud
It was a very exciting time, a real pleasure and watching Mr. Brown work every night was a constant lesson in the art of live entertainment. It was hard work and a gruelling schedule, criss crossing the USA on a tour bus, recording, rehearsing every day, playing constantly, even travelling overseas. I had my own seat at the back of the bus where I wrote a lot of music and arrangements. I would rehearse the band on the way to the next gig so they had the next tune ready for Mr Brown when we got to the venue. A lot of iconic songs came out of those times, notably Say It Loud ......
In your opinion in what way has funk influenced popular music over the past 60 years?
From a technical perspective, you can follow it through the use of rhythmic horn lines, repetitive phrases and bass led focal points. For most listeners, it’s a feel, an energy, the way the that bass bounce makes you feel like moving. There are the obvious heirs - George Clinton and Parliament, Average White Band, The Ohio Players, Fred Wesley and the New JB’s to name a few – but then its influence has permeated way beyond that. We hear it in Prince, Kool and the Gang, Salt n Pepa, Tribe Called Quest, Arrested Development, Digable Planets along with so many other hip hop artists of the 80s and 90s. Sampling of funk riffs became such an intrinsic part of the sound of early hip hop and even pop, and we still hear and feel its presence now with songs like Uptown Funk. But alongside those musical structures that create an identifiable funky feel, it was a music that heralded a new attitude; a new and distinctive black culture, of street culture finding confidence and popularity outside and alongside the establishment. Sweeping into mainstream consciousness during the Civil Rights movement was unlike anything people had heard and its positive energy united a new generation making them proud of their musical, fashion and political tastes
At the shows the audience should expect to be reminded of some of their favourite music and will be surprised how present it still is in the music they love today.