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Fred Wesley

Peter Madsen By

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It ain't easy being a trombone player in today's music world. They seem to have gotten a bad reputation over the years. You know, strange looking instrument, blatty sound, slow and clunky. There's an awful lot of jokes about them out there none of which will be repeated here for I myself love the trombone and have had the fortunate opportunity to have played with some of the greatest trombone players around, from Conrad Herwig to Robin Eubanks, from Dave Taylor to Ku-uma Frank Lacy and from Ray Anderson to Steve Turre. But the one that has knocked me out the most is the incredible and versatile funky Fred Wesley.

Most people know Fred Wesley merely as James Brown's funky trombonist from the 1970's. But Fred was and is much more than that. Fred is one of the greatest writers and arrangers of funk music on planet earth and from the very beginning he has been an integral part in defining the funk sound. His horn arrangements have been and still are the guiding light to other soul and funk horn sections. Along with Pee Wee Ellis and Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley was a member of the original JB's, one of the most incredible funky horn sections of all time. For those of you who haven't heard them play together don't walk, run to the nearest CD shop to hear what I'm talking about.

After leaving James Brown, Fred went on to play with the post-modern president of the funk world and "captain of the mothership" himself George Clinton. Clinton combined theater, science fiction and funk to develop a unique brand of black music in the 70's and 80's. Many bands evolved out of George Clinton including Parliament, P. Funk, Funkadelic, and Bootsy's Rubber Band all of which Fred was a major part of as well as his own Horny-horns. Talk about a funky mouthful. But a lot of people don't know that in 1978 Fred decided to join the Count Basie Orchestra. Yes, Fred can play jazz. I mean he can really play jazz. He's got the most beautiful sound and he loves bebop to death. After playing with Fred for the past eight years or so I've discovered that a lot of musicians in the funk world can play jazz. I've recorded with Maceo Parker who can play some seriously soulful jazz as well as Pee Wee Ellis who was studying with Sonny Rollins in the 70's when he wrote one of the most famous James Brown tunes of all time, "Cold Sweat". (Check it out, the main lick is really just from "So What").

For the past ten years Fred has been working again with Maceo and Pee Wee but also has formed his own band, which I feel, honored to be a member of. We have recorded four albums and tour Europe once or twice every year. This last summer we played many of the large festivals in Europe including the world famous Montreux Jazz Festival. The first three CD's we recorded are on the German record label, Minor Music and the most recent is on the NY/Eagle Records label and is called Full Circle. It's a cool CD that shows Fred's interest in the full scope of American popular music from funk to jazz to blues to hip-hop to R&B. It's really great, go check it out! You'll be glad you did. See you next month.


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