Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Pee Wee Ellis

19th March 2017

Bristol Colston Hall

I knew Pee Wee Ellis initially from those 1980s Van Morrison albums - Common One, A Sense of Wonder, and the like - on which he not only played tenor sax, but acted as musical arranger.  Although he was long gone from The Man's touring band by the time I began going to see Morrison live.

What I only learned sometime later, was that this period acted as little more than a footnote to Ellis' career; he having been Band-leader for many years in James Brown's backing group; arranging many of the singer's best known songs, and co-writing amongst others Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud.  Anyone with JB on his CV is someone to be respected, in my opinion.

This afternoon's session (we kicked off at 3:15pm) was a late addition to the Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival schedule, an event for which Ellis is a patron.  He was performing alongside the Bordeaux-based Roger Biwandu Trio – although, whilst there were clearly just three of 'em up there at the start, my ticket, somewhat puzzlingly, referred to the Roger Biwandu Quartet.

Bristol Colston Hall.

Well, Roger and his guitarist and organist pals opened proceedings with a pleasingly complex sounding instrumental, before Pee Wee ambled, (shuffled really) on-stage to make up the quartet.  A big chap, in more ways than one, he did rather look both his age (75 now), and not in perhaps the best of health.  Just a very heavy cold, maybe - he did have to amble side-stage early-on to beg a tissue to wipe a streaming nose, during his opening number.

Not that is appeared to hinder his playing in the slightest – at least to my ears, anyway.

Then followed a pair of Sonny Rollins' standards, and I began to notice a bit a of a pattern emerging with the way these renditions appeared to go.  For in all of these tunes, we were presented with a few bars of the main theme before Ellis wandered off, musically speaking, into what I took to be a few minutes of improv.  

The guitarist, the organ player and occasionally drummer Roger, would also each enjoy do a spot of noodling in turn, before we returned to the main theme, prior to completion.  Perhaps this was what jazz entailed, I have no idea.

Stevie Wonder's Isn't She Lovely – the only composition I recognised this afternoon, was also given the same treatment.

During the show Ellis had on a couple of occasions unsuccessfully attempted to entice two female members of the front row out of their seats and up on to the stage to dance.  But bashfulness had clearly got the better of them.  

When a rather anxious-looking lady appeared at the front of the hall, pointing to her watch, it became apparent Ellis' persistent, but light-hearted, continued entreatments during My Neighborhood threatened to run the show beyond its scheduled slot.  Eventually the time-keeper expedited things by dragging the two ladies up onto the stage, whereupon they and Pee Wee indulged in a bout of slightly self-conscious jigging before the dancers were unceremoniously hoiked off once more.

But just to show who was boss here Ellis, to the delight of all (well nearly all, there was one exception) led the band through a further, admittedly short 'n' sweet, tune before leaving us.

Set list

? - Roger Biwandu Trio only
St Thomas
Sonnymoon for Two
Isn't She Lovely
Chicken Soup
My Neighborhood

Pee Wee Ellis - Bristol 2017.

Pee Wee Ellis - Bristol 2017.

Organ player - cannot read my notes on his name.  Help anyone?

Roger Biwandu

Pee Wee Ellis - Bristol 2017.

Pee Wee and The Reluctant Dancing Ladies.

Pee Wee Ellis & Roger Biwandu Trio

Pee Wee Ellis & Roger Biwandu Trio

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