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Jeff "Tain" Watts: Jazz For The Modern Age

By Published: October 15, 2007

AAJ: For me, the emotional high point of this record is to hear the wonderful vocalist Juan Tainish back in the recording studio and reconnecting with his fans. That must have been a great moment for you, too.

J"T"W: There's just something about Juan. I understand he'll be taking some vocal lessons to really improve the quality of his performance. I know he's truly not the best singer, but there's something about him. It's like he knows what I'm thinking. And he knows, when I write a lyric, what I'm trying to get to with the text. I haven't found anybody else to do that. He was cool. He worked really cheap. Of course he was late, but I was happy to have him. [The joke: "Juan Tainish" is the vocalist alter ego of Watts himself.]

AAJ: I've gone all this time without ever even mentioning the other people who are on this record. Will you talk about the band?

J"T"W: [Saxophonist] Marcus Strickland has been a big part of my musical life for four or five years. I really like him because he's really open and able to have something to say. A lot of the tunes that I write have familiar elements, but they're put together in strange ways. Definitely not textbook ways. But no matter what I write, he always has something to say on it. He doesn't have to figure it out, "Let me learn this different type of form and then I'll be able to construct a solo upon it." He instantly has something to say.

It helps me as a composer. I feel that whenever you write new music and stuff that's not typical, you need musicians who are open. The tune is like a flame and you need musicians who breathe life into the song, who come to life as soon as possible so you feel like you truly wrote a song.

[Pianist] David Kikoski—we went to Berklee College together. He could always play. He always sounds great. For the directions that I want to end up going in with this ensemble, he was a really good choice. A lot of people listen to different music, but I think there's a difference between listening to different music and actually addressing it with your instrument and being able to play examples of this and that, and really know about things.

Jeff 'Tain' Watts

David plays the instrument really well, and you can sit down and talk with him about [pianist Thelonious] Monk's music, [guitarist and composer] Frank Zappa's music. He can talk intimately about Stevie Wonder and he can sit down and play examples. Earlier this year, I went with him to a festival in Uruguay. We were riding to the venue with a couple Brazilian female singers. He got into a discussion with them about [guitarists] Toninho Horta or João Gilberto or somebody. And David stumped them on their own music. [laughs] He was citing lyrics. He's just like a scholar of music and he has great energy.

Christian McBride. It's bad to say "favorite," but he's trying to leave no stone unturned as far as his instrument, that's for sure. When he got to New York and was going to Juilliard at eighteen years old, he had a great sound and a lot of talent. He's doing his best to expand on that and play everything that's possible on the bass. In general, I haven't played with him enough, even though we're friends and have fun when we do play. That's one of the main things I wanted to stimulate with this situation. Just have fun and create a space where we could do some playing and challenge each other and see what we come up with.

Selected Discography

Jeff "Tain" Watts, Folk's Songs (Dark Key Music, 2007)

Branford Marsalis, Braggtown (Marsalis Music, 2006)

Jeff "Tain" Watts, Detained (Half Note Music, 2004)

Branford Marsalis, A Love Supreme CD + DVD (Marsalis Music, 2004)

Jeff "Tain" Watts, Megawatts (Sunnyside, 2004)

Alice Coltrane, Translinear Light (Impulse!, 2004)

Jeff "Tain" Watts, Bar Talk (Sony, 2002)

Jeff "Tain" Watts, Citizen Tain (Sony, 1999)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Lester David Hinton
Bottom Photo: C. Andrew Hovan

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