New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) blew the roof off the rafters Friday, November 18th with the TD Bank/James Moody Jazz Festival James Brown Celebration "Get on Up."

Bassist and bandleader Christian McBride, whose early sideman days were spent with Bobby Watson, Freddie Hubbard, Joshua Redman and Bennie Green, assembled a band oF Brown alumni who, coincidentally, are former jazz and blues players. The band included Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis (sax), Fred Wesley (trombone), drummer Robert "Mousey" Thompson. Ellis worked in jazz before and after his four-plus years with Brown. Wesley worked with Count Basie in addition to Brown and George Clinton. They fit nicely into the ensemble, which as Linda Moody remarked before the concert "jazz should be placed in concert halls and opera houses."

McBride introduced each band member and let each have a solo. The ensemble included Sherrod Barnes (guitar), Freddie Hendrix (trumpet), Lee Hogans (trumpet), Rodney Jones (guitar), Terrace Martin (alto saxophone), TRoy Roberts (saxophone) and James "Biscuit" Rouse (drums). Each seemed to be having fun especially Hendrix and Hogans who brought some dance moves to their playing.

  1. 800 songs in his catalogue, Brown notably influenced every type of music - jazz, funk, hip-hop, rock. And this short concert touched on some of the hits with each individual singer's distinct tribute. Singers and Brown band alum Bettye Lavette, Nona Hendryx, Lee Fields, and Ryan Shaw took spins through the Brown catalogue. Highlights included Hendryx's turn on "Please, Please, Please" which soared and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag". Her vocals had the Brown bite. She also demonstraTEd Brown's dance moves. Hendryx was pure joy. Fields successfully wrought the soul and style oF Brown. Ryan Shaw's brought bark to "Hot Pants."

Lavette noted, "no one worked as hard as this man (Brown). It was a unique experience and privilege to work with him and I stole something from him while on the road." She then launched into a decisive beautiful "Try Me."

The night didn't just celebrate the Godfather of Soul James Brown but singer ShaRon Jones who passed during the concert. And there was a powerful tribute to her from Lavette with an indelible take on "This is a Man's World" that was potent and raw.

The reason Brown's music resonates with audiences today, said Pee Wee Ellis in an interview on the James Brown web site is it "hits people in the right places. It's from the heart through the heart. It's long lasting. It will last forever because it's real." This was a very real, vital evening with unique takes on several Brown songs and muscular musicianship from every performer.

The band was tight, clearly enjoying themselves, and let the musicality breathe nicely in balance with one another and the singers. In a supremely nice touch Brown's MC Danny "Capeman" Ray introduced each singer with his singular enthusiasm.

The festival continues the Sarah Vaughn International Jazz Vocal Competition on Sunday, November 20th. Other jazz offerings at NJPAC this season include April's Wayne Shorter weekend and Dorthaan Kirk, Newark's "First Lady of Jazz" brunches. More information and tickets are available at

Photo Credit: Courtesy of NJPAC

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