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Interviews

Jeff "Tain" Watts: Moods and Melodies of a Drummer

By Published: March 13, 2004
AAJ: So even as a drummer, it's not necessarily rhythm at the center. You're thinking of melodies.

JW: Yeah. Melodies and moods. I worked on some things on my instrument and I want to play and feature that stuff, but also I just want to use music to make people feel a certain way, also.

AAJ: Do you feel you captured what you wanted to capture?

JW: This record, as far as my own playing consistently throughout the record, it's coming from a lot of different places. So stylistically, there are some things I would have liked to have been more prepared to play, but I think I played the different vibes well enough for the songs to come to life. But I wish that I had more time to work on all these things individually. But then that gives me some place to go. Because all these tunes, when I play them live, I'll really find out what I want to play on them as a drummer.

AAJ: Are you touring in support of it, or playing with other groups this summer?

JW: In the proper summer festival season, I'll tend to be home. But whenever the record comes out, I'll be in Chicago and on the west coast and east coast. I'll just be trying to do all those clubs that I've done many times as a sideman. I'll be trying to go into those markets as a leader.

I've been doing a certain amount of low-key gigs with my group I various forms since my first record Citizen Tain came out. I haven't toured a lot, but there's a lot of music from both records in the band's book, and a whole lot of other music too the people haven't heard. It'll be good for me and think people will definitely dig it.

AAJ: Is it difficult being a drummer, a sideman, albeit with a lot of great players, then saying "OK, I want to be out front"? I got my own group and I want to play my own music."

JW: I guess so. It's an opportunity. On the financial end, it's going to be something different. I'm prepared for the prospect of doing sideman gigs to subsidize my leader stuff, at least at the outset. It's all an investment in myself. So it's not that bad.

AAJ: You're from Pittsburgh, where a few great drummers came from. You started playing in the fourth grade, but did you pick up sticks before that?

JW: Not at all. Never even thought about the concept of music. My parents didn't have a record player. Didn't collect music. My older brothers did collect music, mostly what was on the radio—Motown, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Aretha Franklin. Stuff like that, which is all great.

AAJ: You took it up I school

JW: Yeah. They give you general music classes for the first few years of elementary school, and then you get to a certain age and they ask people if you want to play an instrument. Off the top of my head, the thing that came to mind was to be a trumpet player, because it looked fun and cool. You could play some "legit" music on it, but you could also jam around and have fun with it. I think what happened is the instructor told me my teeth were incorrect to play the trumpet. Since then I've talked to trumpet players and they said my teeth weren't that bad. So what I suspect was, they ran out of trumpets. So I wouldn't cry, they said my teeth were completely wrong.

So I played one drum for a couple years. Did the school band thing, the orchestral thing for awhile.

AAJ: The music of the day wasn't jazz. Were you listening to jazz or other stuff?

JW: In fourth grade I just played band music. In sixth grade I got a little drum set, playing stuff that was on the radio. Growing up in Pittsburgh at hat time it was very easy for a young musician to not get a clear view of what jazz was. So on the high school level, I was still pretty much unaware of classic jazz figures, other than certain Big Band people because the Big Band thing is easily marketed to schools, because they can interest young people and interest a larger amount of young people. The stuff that was jazz based, that I would be aware of, would be if the Woody Herman band was coming to town or Buddy Rich or Louie Bellson. I met Louie Bellson once when I was 17, and he was nice. Those were the things I was aware of. I'd see Buddy Rich on the "Tonight Show."

So, I was kind of aware of straight-ahead type jazz, only in that capacity. Then when I got to be about 15 or 16, my brothers started to get me jazz fusion records, like the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and Herbie Hancock's Headhunters and things like that. I kind of back tracked from there.

AAJ: Moving on in school you stayed in Pittsburgh.

JW: Yeah. I went to Duquesne University as a classical major, played tympani on a number of things; did operas and musicals and new music and stuff like that. I started my collegiate training to be a symphonic percussionist. But then as I started to play more drum set, I adjusted my thing. I wanted to be able to perform authentically and accurately on the classical percussion, but also plays different styles on the drum set. So I heard about Harvey Mason, and how he studied at the New England Conservatory, and how he was capable of all these different things in a studio setting. So I started trying to be versatile. My thirst to explore jazz was pretty much out of that, out of a wanting to be versatile and sound decent in a jazz setting if anyone asked me to do that.


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