Acclaimed jazz and funk trombonist Fred Wesley, former musical director and band leader for James Brown’s band the J.B.’s, performs in concert with the Berklee Music of James Brown Ensemble
If there’s a trombone player better traveled through the trenches of both jazz and funk than Fred Wesley, here’s wondering if that trombonist also embraced – and helped shape – both idioms with the same irrefutable gusto.
Best known for his roles as sideman, musical director and bandleader with the James Brown ensembles of the 1960s and 1970s, Wesley’s long, decorated career has also taken him from the Count Basie Orchestra and Parliament/Funkadelic to his own bands, those led by fellow James Brown alumni Maceo Parker and Pee Wee Ellis, work with Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, Vanessa Williams and De La Soul, and samples, one-offs, collaborations, and sit-in gigs too numerous to quantify.
The man’s been around. And he’s sampled everywhere in pop music.
Wesley, 65, returns to Boston the week as an artist-in-residence at Berklee College of Music. No stranger to a classroom environment – he was an adjunct professor of jazz studies at the School of Music of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro from 2004 to 2006 – Wesley will lead a few master classes and seminars and also perform Thursday with the Berklee Music of James Brown Ensemble, a 10-piece student group led by drummer and Berklee associate professor Kenwood Dennard.
So what will you be doing with your Berklee residency?
I’m going to do a brass master class, for sure. And then some kind of talk – not sure on exactly what, but it’ll bring in being a professional musician and life on the road and stuff like that. I’m also going to do a James Brown seminar, show how James Brown put tunes and groups together, and maybe a jam session, too.
The brass class will be teaching young players how I play. I’m not like a lot of trombonists in that I don’t (articulate by) double- and triple-tongue – I do a real fast single-tongue.
What are you most often asked about your years with James Brown?
If he actually fined us! (laughs) That’s a pretty mundane question, though. People just want to know what he was really like, and it’s true, he was a difficult man. But he wanted to get his point across and he didn’t have the musical background to explain things sometimes. Yeah, he was difficult.
It’s been a year and then some (Dec. 25, 2006) since he left us. What are your fondest memories of the man?
Oh, just sitting down with him and talking about music, you know? Trying to make something work that had never been done before, and actually making it work.
You’ve always got a lot going on. What’s coming up on the immediate horizon?
Various things, various things. I’ve got a new CD coming out this year, and it’s pure, unadulterated funk stuff. I’ve also got a jazz album with (trombonist) Teddy Adams under the name Bone Brothers. I hope to get to Japan, and do some other things, too. But I’m also glad to come to Boston. It’ll be good.
Fred Wesley performing with the Berklee Music of James Brown Ensemble. At Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, 8:15 p.m. Thursday. Tickets $10 at the box office and Ticketmaster. Show is all ages; head to www.berkleepc.com for more information.