Fred Wesley is a highly respected jazz and funk trombonist with a deep soulful sound, known for his work as the bandleader and arranger for James Brown in the 1960s and 1970s. His contributions as a musician and bandleader practically helped define the sound of funk music.
Wesley was born the son of a high school teacher and big band leader in Columbus, Georgia, and raised in Mobile, Alabama. As a child he took piano and later trumpet lessons. He played baritone horn and trombone in school, and at around age 12 his father brought a trombone home, whereupon he switched (eventually permanently) to trombone. During the 1960s and 1970s, he was a pivotal member of James Brown’s bands, playing on many hit recordings including “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” “Mother Popcorn” and co-writing tunes such as “Hot Pants.” His slippery riffs and pungent, precise solos, complementing those of saxophonist Maceo Parker, gave Brown’s R&B, soul, and funk tunes their instrumental punch. Wesley’s arrangements are notable for their tight, precise horn parts, which provide a powerful foundation for the band’s grooves and riffs.
In the 1970s he also served as band leader and musical director of Brown’s band the J.B.’s and did much of the composing and arranging for the group. His name was credited on ‘Fred Wesley & the J.B.’s’ recording of “Doing It to Death,” which sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in July 1973.
He left Brown’s band in 1975 and spent several years playing with George Clinton’s various Parliament-Funkadelic projects, even recording a couple of albums as the leader of a spin-off group, The Horny Horns.
In addition to his work as a musician, Wesley has also been a respected music educator. He has taught music at various universities and has given clinics and workshops on funk and jazz music around the world.
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