Abbass Dodoo, left, Pee Wee Ellis, Ginger Baker, Alec Dankworth make up Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion. (Ginger Baker)
The four men who make up Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion — Ginger Baker on drums, Pee Wee Ellis on tenor saxophone, bassist Alec Dankworth and Abbass Dodoo on hand percussions — are like a ball team, says founding band member Ellis.
“It’s a team effort,” the legendary saxophonist says over the phone from Oakland, Calif. “We play off each other, we play with each other, and we play for each other.”
On Saturday, the band will play songs from their new album, “Why,” for concertgoers at the Magic Bag in Ferndale.
Ellis, who holds the title of “the man who invented funk” with arrangements for such classic James Brown tunes as “Cold Sweat” and “Lickin’ Stick,” says his venture with Baker started nearly two years ago.
Baker had returned to England from South Africa with a strong desire to start a new band. Dodoo, a mutual friend, brought them together to form the Jazz Confusion.
Ellis had known of Baker, now 74, as the dynamic drummer for the popular British rock band Cream. Founded by Baker in 1966, Cream included guitarist Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce. Baker gained widespread notice with his five-minute drum solo on the song “Toad,” from the band’s 1966 debut album, “Fresh Cream.”
Five more albums followed, and the third in that lineup, “Wheels of Fire,” released in 1968, became the world’s first platinum-selling double album. It reached No. 3 in the United Kingdom and No. 1 in the United States. Cream was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
“It’s easy to see why he was very popular,” the 73-year-old Ellis says. “He’s flashy, hard working and dynamic, so people pay attention to him. He was an integral part of Cream.”
Baker’s extensive muscial background dates back to the early 1960s playing London’s jazz circuit. He entered the R&B scene in 1962 with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Several months later, he and two band members, organist Graham Bond and bassist Jack Bruce, left to form the Graham Bond Organization, adding jazz guitarist John McLaughlin to the mix. The group toured with the Who, the Troggs, the Moody Blues and Chuck Berry.
Later, Baker formed Blind Faith with Clapton, Steve Winwood and Rick Grech. The band’s only album, “Blind Faith,” was released in 1969. Other bands followed.
Despite his busy career — forming bands, recording group and solo albums, and touring — Baker found time in the ’70s to form strong musical friendships, including with Nigerian Afrobeat composer Fela Kuti during a trip to Africa. Their collaboration, under the name Fela Ransome-Kuti and his Africa ’70 with Ginger Baker, produced three albums: “Fela’s London Scene,” “Why Black Men Dey Suffer” and “Live,” recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London.
Baker’s new creation, with its varied players, has been touring since forming in 2012, playing in Europe, the U.K. and the U.S. Their brand of jazz confusion (Baker’s humorous play on the jazz fusion genre) is a mix of Thelonius Monk, Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins.
Ellis, whose arranging can also be heard on the title track to Van Morrison’s 1995 “Days Like This,” contributed to the Jazz Confusion’s new CD with the song “Twelve and More Blues.” It is a hybrid swinging, high-stepping, almost-Dixieland Jazz-kind-of track.
Of the band, Ellis says the group is evolving.
“We’re learning something about each other every show,” he says. “We get tighter and we develop from there.”
Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion
8 p.m. Saturday
22920 Woodward, Ferndale
Andrea Daniel is a freelance reporter.