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An Interview With Ken Watters

By Published: September 5, 2007
KW: While I was in NYC, I worked regularly with a Haitian band called Tabou Combo. I think that I learned more about groove and ways to play with the time from that experience than anything else that I did. The tenor player was Ned Goold, whose sense of time was impeccable. I grew more as a professional musician during that time period than I did at Interlochen, North Texas, Banff, or Manhattan School of Music.

AAJ: You cite trumpeters Woody Shaw and Tim Hagans as influences. But what non-trumpeters have influenced you? How and why have they influenced you?

KW: Paul McCandless (his sense of melody on improvised solos), Bill Watrous (his effortless sounding technique at all tempos and his beautiful sound), Monk (his imagination, creativity, and compositions), Charlie Mariano (his ability to really work many different moods), Pat Metheny (mainly his natural sounding composition style), Wayne Shorter (also, his writing style and his soulful ballad playing), Vernon Reid (his off-the-wall approach to solos), Rickie Lee Jones (her phrasing and writing, especially on her NON hit songs), Curtis Fuller (his flawless sense of time and groove), Dexter Gordon (his comprehensive approach to soloing)

AAJ: What's the funniest or most embarrassing thing that's happened to you while performing or recording?

KW: While on tour with Haitian band Tabou Combo, the audience liked what we were doing so much that they tear-gassed the stage. When that happens, you really know that you've won them over.

Also, on the same tour, we were fed by a promoter who was very proud of the band. I am a great lover of "lambi" or conch meat, and that's what I thought we were eating until one of the band members told me that we were eating "begga." It's apparently a great honor to be served "begga" in Haiti.

I asked what "begga" was, and he said 'dick cow." While I felt honored to have been served this delicacy, I couldn't find it in my stomach to eat any more. I was more than a little queasy for the rest of the gig.

AAJ: How's the jazz scene in Huntsville, AL? Are there any local musicians that AAJ should watch for in the future?

KW: For a Southern town in Alabama, it's amazing, but there actually is a small scene and some good players. There's a wonderful young saxophonist from Huntsville named Gary Wheat, who'll be moving to NYC in the next year or so. Also, one of the staples of the local jazz scene here is Devere Pride, a very solid bassist.

AAJ: Will you please describe your other bands, 5.6 and the Ken Watters/Devere Pride Quintet?

KW: 5.6 is more of a club / wedding type band that plays rock covers, and is made up of a bunch of my long time friends. It's more of a fun thing than a serious band.

The Ken Watters/Devere Pride Quintet is a very straight-ahead post bop quintet that has a regular weekly gig here at the Hilton every Saturday night.

I am mainly a freelance trumpeter, though. I play and record with many different bands throughout the Southeast. Lately I have been playing with some top notch jazz musicians in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham (Alabama Jazz All Stars led by Mark Lanter with Tom Wolfe, one of the finest guitarists I have ever worked with, and The Sam Kennedy Band). Needless to say, I spend a lot of time in my car.

AAJ: What can AAJ readers anticipate from Ken Watters in 1999-2000?

KW: Another CD with Harry in the next year or so, with more original compositions included. Also, a good bit of touring to promote the Brothers CD. Some of these gigs will include Scott Neumann on drums, an old friend and a great drummer from NYC.

AAJ: Glenn Astarita tells me that you're relocating to New Orleans. When will this occur? What prompts this move? What can listeners hope for as a consequence?

KW: It's difficult to make it in North Alabama in the field that I'm in. My wife is a visual artist and already has professional ties to New Orleans. Personally, I'd rather move back to New York, but I married a Southern girl.

On a recent trip to New Orleans, I was pleasantly surprised to find a thriving modern jazz scene (rather than Dixieland only), and I hope to immerse myself in the WHOLE scene. It's a wonderfully diverse city for the arts. Hopefully living there will present more opportunities to play, grow, and record.

AAJ: What musicians would you most like to work with that you've never worked with before?

KW: Keith Jarrett (I've been a big fan since I was in high school), Pat Metheny (I love his concept), and I'd love to work with some members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (although Lester Bowie is irreplaceable).

AAJ: What recordings by other musicians have you heard lately that have excited you?

KW: I was really impressed with the debut CD by saxophonist Joel Frahm (Sorry, No Decaf) on the Palmetto label. Joel was my roommate for a while in NYC, and because of that, I know how good he is. His CD shows him off well. Great tunes and great playing by everyone on the recording.

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