The real deal”, was how Pizza Express Jazz Club manager Ross Dines put it introducing Fred Wesley and the JBs to the Pizza Express Jazz Club audience for the first time in his tenure as club manager. “Tuck in”, he added addressing the punters thronging the front tables of the tiny club many of whom would queue patiently in the break between sets to have their photographs taken with their idol, the legendary James Brown trombone player and musical arranger. “A little bit more of me, Luc,” Wesley, who turned 70 last month, asked the club’s sound engineer before he and the New JBs got straight down to business. “We’ve been called a lot of things”, the trombonist with a deliciously wry sense of humour quipped before launching into a run down of the band's monikers over the years, and then crucially tore into a ridiculously infectious funk groove. You could have listened to any one of the band one at a time isolated playing a cappella and the room would still have got busy, but together they were a funk dynamo. A six-piece anchored by the formidable Bruce Cox on drums, with Reggie Ward on rhythm guitar and Peter Madsen on keyboards and piano, Wesley told me later during the interval as he signed CDs and posed for pictures the band has been together for 20 years. “The arrangements have evolved and they’re written by myself and the band.” Commenting on the keyboards sound, which was down and dirty for the funk to really reign, he said he liked “the Rhodes sound: but no organ.” Ernie Fields Jr on tenor saxophone and later flute, and his front line partner of trumpeter/flugelhornist Gary Winters had easy command in the funkier passages in the early set but into the second when the mood changed to bossa and swing at the outset they held the jazz line in a more orthodox vein as Wesley showed his command. It’s extraordinary to think of the musical history this man has been witness to with James Brown and long associations with Maceo Parker and Pee Wee Ellis, the latter in town this week with Jimmy Cobb and the other Jazz Heads at Ronnie Scott's. To hear Wesley in a basement jazz club the calibre of the Pizza was a privilege. Jazz shows its roots in the funk of the New JBs and in the iconic figure of Fred Wesley. You better believe it. SG
Fred Wesley above left signing autographs during the interval