Jeff "Tain" Watts
United States
Breaking into the global jazz scene as a member of the ground-breaking Wynton Marsalis Band, Jeff "Tain" Watts brought to the scene a hip and contemporary attitude that would later pay of when, as a member of Branford Marsalis’s stellar Tonight Show house band he would tackle a repertoire that let him cut loose on funk, rock and jazz material covering everything from John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix to James Brown.

Jeff "Tain" Watts comes from Pittsburgh, a steel town known for fire, grit, and smoke. Those qualities also well describe Jeff Watts’ acerbic drumming style and changeable temperament.

Trained in the classics, with an eye toward timpani mastery, this true percussionist was sidelined by the fabulous rhythms and fiery fusillades of fusion—of drummers Harvey Mason and Narada Michael Walden, of the smooth funk of Earth, Wind & Fire, and of the turbulent inroads of The Mahavishnu Orchestra.

But for his next awakening, Jeff Watts met Wynton and Branford Marsalis, who found him discovering the great pantheon of Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Ed Blackwell. To this Watts brought his own superfunk and superfire, his own special touch, and that mad “Chambers of Tain” wit and wonder—the sound of rhythms being tucked, teased, scratched, and stretched into a highly personal statement, one that any knowledgeable musician can spot at fifty paces. Watts’ drumming at any given moment can be prickly, explosive, demonstrative, daring, demure, intense, loud, swinging, and yes, stunning.

Success with Wynton’s band brought opportunities to play with such greats as George Benson, McCoy Tyner, Stanley Jordan, Larry Coryell, and Kevin Eubanks, while moviegoers heard him on the soundtracks of Do the Right Thing, When Harry Met Sally, and Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues and Love Supreme.

Jeff Watts has never been the sort of musician to take just any gig that came his way. In fact, most of his work can be narrowed down to a handful of leaders: Wynton and Branford Marsalis, pianist Geri Allen, saxophonists Michael Brecker, Kenny Garrett, and Courtney Pine, and the late Kenny Kirkland.

But on all of their recordings Watts is quickly identifiable. From “Phryzzinian Man” on Wynton Marsalis’s Black Codes From The Underground, to his hard-bop numbers-crunching on “Up Behind The Beat” from Courtney Pine’s Within The Realms Of Our Dreams, Watts brings a unique blend of conversational interplay and muscular power extraction. Okay, not everyone is up to playing with such a powerhouse. Is everyone ready to skydive or bungee jump? Are most musicians ready to be driven somewhere new, perhaps pushing themselves past their own preconceptions? Even late night audiences had to wonder when Jeff manned the drum throne for The Tonight Show With Jay Leno for three “action packed” years in the early ’90s. (It speaks volumes of the man that he would eventually give up such a high-profile gig to pursue the music he truly wanted to make.)

With the release of his first album as a leader, Citizen Tain, Watts pushes us past our preconceptions of who he is. Who would have guessed that this heavy power merchant, full of octane, spit, and spirit, could also pen a tune as lovely as the simmering “Blutain, Jr.”? Watts’ galvanic fervor is on call here both as drummer and composer, and though it took him ages to complete, Citizen Tain is a killer. A quick study, Watts takes from his tenure with the Marsalis clan an ability to shake, rattle, and boil. The tune “The Impaler” cuts loose, marrying Afro-Cuban spice with charring straight-ahead (à la Miles’ Four And More). The Monkish “Muphkin Man” follows, a barn burner, on which Watts’ chunky pulse and snare ruffs recall Philly Joe. “Attainment” reminds of Elvin: Blustery sizzle cymbals and mallets storming on toms build to a crescendo. “Wry Koln” is a fun combination of funky drumming, Third Stream jazz, and swing. Citizen Tain closes with “Bigtain’s Blue Adventure,” an expedition through full-bodied swing and crackling drum sounds.

Currently residing comfortably in Brooklyn, New York, Jeff Watts continues to work hard and take gigs as he hears fit. Look for him on releases by guitarist Paul Bollenbeck, Kenny Garrett, Michael Brecker, organist Barbara Dennerlein, pianist Jason Robello, The Joey Calderazzo Trio (with John Patitucci), and Roy Haynes’ pianist, Dave Kikoski.

With his rich musical knowledge and inspired playing Jeff Watts continues to grow as one of the jazz world’s most vital and inspiring players.
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