Denny Ilett on Pee Wee Ellis with Strings ‘Ballads, Blues and Bossa’

At the Festival this year we will present a world premiere as legendary saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis realises a lifelong ambition to perform with a 12-piece string ensemble and jazz rhythm section. With brand new arrangements by Ilett you will see the “architect of funk” in a setting never heard before. We hear from Denny Ilett in advance of the show…

When James Brown’s Cold Sweat was released 50 years ago it represented a seismic shift in the musical world. Here was the first genuine funk track and served as inspiration for everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Miles Davis to Prince. It’s composer/arranger Pee Wee Ellis is still spreading the gospel to this day but, as Honorary Patron to Bristol Jazz and Blues festival, we always invite him to try something a little different each year to inspire him and bring something out of his saxophone that he rarely, if ever, would get a chance to express.

This years project sees him realising a lifetime ambition; to play his favourite selections from the Great American Songbook backed by a jazz rhythm section and string ensemble. This combination of the soulful Ellis tenor sax floating on a carpet of lush strings is a world premiere and very exciting for us to be producing! It was a thrill for me to be invited to write the backings for Pee Wee and we’ve had a lot of nice chats over the song selection and how the evening should be paced. I, for one, will look forward to this concert with an anticipation I’ve not felt in a long time and Pee Wee, our legend-in-residence, feels the same!

Denny Ilett

Pee Wee Ellis performs on Sunday 24 March at St George’s and will also be ‘In-Conversation’ at Anson Rooms (Pegg Theatre).