Two-time Grammy Award winner Ernie Watts is one of the most versatile & prolific saxophone players in music. It has been more than 50 years since he first picked up a saxophone, and from age 16 on he has been playing professionally, initially while still attending school. Mr. Watts has been featured on over 500 recordings by artists ranging from Cannonball Adderley to Frank Zappa, always exhibiting his unforgettable trademark sound. During the 1970s & ’80s, he was immersed in the busy production scene of Los Angeles. His signature sound was heard on countless TV shows and movie scores, almost all the early West Coast Motown sessions, and with pop stars such as Aretha Franklin and Steely Dan. Though the pop music genre placed narrow confines on his performance, the studio sessions allowed for the chance to constantly hone and refine his tone. After years in the studios, the passion for acoustic jazz never left him. At the end of a long day of sessions, he could frequently be heard playing fiery jazz in late-night clubs around Los Angeles. The eclectic mix of career activities has included work with vocalist Kurt Elling in a tribute to Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane, “Dedicated To You”, which won Elling his first Grammy Award, and concerts with the WDR Big Band Cologne in Germany, the Croatian Radio Television Jazz Orchestra in Zagreb and the National Radio Band of Slovenia. There’s also some fantastic evidence of him making great rock-N-roll grooves with The Rolling Stones. A typical year can find him touring Europe with his own European Quartet in spring and fall, and working as a feature artist with other artists he admires. One of these has been iconic South Indian violinist Dr. L Subramaniam, fusing Western classical music, jazz, Middle Eastern and Asian themes with Carnatic Indian tradition. He appears on the artist’s recording project “Beyond Borders,” which also features Herbie Hancock. Mr. Watts also starting to play with Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues, an amazing amalgam of blues harmonica, a tabla player, and a string quartet. The evocative voice of the Watts saxophone fits right in!
I had the honor of catching up with Mr. Watts ahead of the 2/22 event at the North Street Cabaret where he is featured artist in the Corky Siegel Trio along with tabla world percussion virtuoso, Kalyan Pathak. We talk about the energy that will be shared in at this event, the musical languages that connect us all and how he and Corky got to become fast friends. Mr. Watts is one of those artists that as you keep on digging, the amazements he has been a part of are overwhelming. Take a listen.