Jeff "Tain" Watts: Moods and Melodies of a Drummer
But, a lot of the way people tell you to study that stuff is based on learning what these people did and learning vocabulary and stuff like that. But then later on, I started to listen to Monk's music. It was less vocabulary based and more about the arrangement, helping the song to move forward and stuff like that. So, while I learned from these other cats, my approach, even though it might not sound like it, is more out of a simpler, broader thing that's really just from music; listening to Monk's music and also Papa Jo Jones. He was a virtuoso, but he didn't really have a lot of signature licks, he just could really play the instrument well, and it kind of opened things up for me. It may not be a classic jazz lick, but my criteria became: as long as it's swinging, and things are in service to the music, then it's valid.
AAJ: You were with Wynton Marsalis for quite a long time. He's become this lightning rod for the debate about the conservative approach. Is he too conservative? He says jazz has to be in a certain bag. Is he wrong? Why do you think that is and what is your take on it?
JW: I think his thing is some kind of template that maybe he feels needs to be implemented so that there's a very classical architecture that's somewhat etched in stone. My impression over the time I played with him is sort of like: He was trying to establish a criteria, really concrete thing, that makes jazz what it is, with a similar architecture to classical music. But the music is so esoteric and comes from so many places that to qualify deeply, it seems like it takes away from it.
I'm not completely into codifying the music and saying that it should be a certain way, the bottom line, I guess, would be that by presenting it in such a fashionin nice, neat little chunks, neat little biteshe was able to make a very focused point for jazz education and have music become accredited, like it about five years ago or something like that. Which opens things up for government funding for the arts and things like that, which creates opportunities for musicians to have more instruments in certain schools and things like that. And ultimately, it helps the music.
Philosophically, point-to-point, I'm not completely on board. But, the result is good. It just gives the appearance of more structure within the music. So it's easy to involve young people and gets things done.
AAJ: You're more into stretching more where it's possible, or incorporating other elements into the music?
JW: I guess I am. But there's always a kind of a balance. When do you kind of let go of tradition and speak your own mind? I think maybe a few years ago I would look at things and look at certain musicians, even myself, and kind of say perhaps they could have used a little more foundation in their approach before they experimented. But ultimately, it's not for me to say. Some people are going to sound a certain way and it's all good. Ultimately it's about expression. Musicians have to satisfy themselves and I'm definitely not the one to try to tell them how to solo or what the backdrops for the improvisation should be.
AAJ: This controversy with Wynton and the Ken Burns film, "Jazz." Was it too conservative or harmful, or is the discussion just a lot of hot air?
JW: It's probably harmful, certain things that were omitted from the film. As an entry, for people just learning about the music, ultimately they'll find it, if they investigate at all and they're really interested. It should be taken as just one man's or two men's story, and not the be-all, end-all of what's going on.
My main quibble would be the fact that I think that Miles Davis, despite any detraction made by anybody just based on their preference, to not explore [his whole career]... It's kind of like Miles Davis' story ended with the Bitches Brew thing and it just died. But if you pick up that arc of his life from when he retired up until the present, you have a really, really hip artistic story. It's really a beautiful story. Some people aren't really feeling the records of his that came out in the 80s. I could have had a slightly stilted view toward some of them, but I was actually at that very first gig when he came back in Boston. I was living in Boston and I stood in line for hours to get those tickets so I could see Miles Davis play.
I think that they needed to show the complete art. It seemed like the film just said: He had some good bands; he knew how to put them together, then he kind of dropped the ball in the 70s and lived happily ever after.
AAJ: Like Wynton's stance. That's probably why it ended so abruptly.