Pee Wee Ellis, often credited as ‘The Man Who Invented Funk’, introduced the dynamic arrangements and driving rhythms that would define the emerging language of funk in James Brown’s band in the late 1960’s. He went on to co-write and arrange a series of smashes, including “Cold Sweat” and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”, as well as issuing a handful of solo singles on Brown’s label King.
Here Pee Wee shares his top tips for performing saxophonists…
1. Getting dressed goes a long way towards preparing you for a performance. When you have a show at night, a large part of the day is used up gathering your thoughts about the show, checking that everything you need is ready for purpose (reeds, shoes, valve oil, drum sticks, music, medication etc.).
2. “Keeping your word” when you have agreed to a part you’ll play. You must own it and not change it without prior notice to the relevant players that would be directly affected by the change. That’s group dynamics. Often a glance in the direction of the right party, with the right expression will suffice. It can be the source of tension or release, both are powerful musical magic and gives the music depth and variation, not to mention pleasure and satisfaction.
3. Always be aware of the other players as often as possible when playing a solo. Try to include something that another player has done as an answer or a continuation and it will be the rare moment of exciting interplay the audience will also love. It says that this is live love at this moment and brings everyone together as one for that instant.
4. It’s always a good idea to name check: the band, the venue, and it won’t hurt to mention the servers and staff in general. Acknowledge the audience and don’t be afraid to accept applause – a nice bow and a smile goes a long way with an audience.
5. Preparation is the key to success – so don’t short change your personal practice schedule, rehearsal and attention to detail. It’s often the little things and quirky touches that will make the big difference and set you apart from the crowd. Don’t over do it, but don’t be shy about it.
AND if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong!