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An Interview With Ken Watters

AAJ Staff By

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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.
Few debut recordings are capable of generating justifiable and genuine excitement amongst jazz enthusiasts. However, the collaborative release by Ken and Harry Watters, the suitably entitled Brothers (Summit Records), would appear to be one of those recordings.

Since it's release earlier this year, Brothers has drawn an unusual degree of attention from AAJ contributors. Unusual not only for the amount of coverage (four reviews, and a biographical sketch in the March edition) but also for the universally positive reception it has garnered (AAJ Publishers Pick of the Week for February 28, 1999 and a profile in the New Faces category for March 1999).

As an example, check out these quotes from the AAJ review staff:

"Ken and Harry Watters have rekindled spirits of years gone by with remarkable grace and craftsmanship—superb musicianship, sparkling treatments of Twentieth Century classics and exceptional original compositions mark this outing as an early top 10 contender. These pieces are fresh, contemporary sounding and aurally stimulating. Highly Recommended." ~ Glenn Astarita

"The Summit Records jazz catalog isn't large, but it offers nothing but the very best—this is the Watters Brothers first recording together, and comes highly recommended." ~ Jim Santella

"The brothers complement one another well, so much so that one might assume they'd been together all their lives. Actually, Ken and Harry parted company after studying at North Texas State, and this is the first time they've teamed up on record. They should do so more often—they are seasoned players who've fashioned an engaging family reunion that is worth attending." ~ Jack Bowers

"Both of the Watters brothers are technically accomplished musicians, and they share a talent for smooth, flowing solos with little bluster—the jazz family has a welcome new addition in the Watters brothers of Huntsville, Alabama." ~ Joel Roberts

Given these accolades, further elaboration is redundant.

AAJ is pleased to present an interview with trumpeter Ken Watters, described as the post-bop modernist of the pair (trombonist Harry is the traditionalist, rooted in Dixieland).

All About Jazz: Just for the record, who's older, you or Harry? (I'm guessing Harry.)

Ken Watters: Harry is about two years older than me. We both went to North Texas State at the same time before going our separate ways (Harry to New Orleans, and me to New York). Professionally, I was doing quite well in NYC, but on a more personal level I was developing some insurmountable problems. I came back to Alabama about 3 years ago to "clean up my act," so to speak, with every intention of going straight back to New York. Then Harry and I decided to finally do this project together, and my sobriety made it possible. I met my wife, and consequently stayed in Alabama. I've been clean & sober for more than two years now.

AAJ: You've dedicated Brothers to your grandfather, saxophonist Frank Humphrey, citing him as an inspiration to you and your brother. Would you please elaborate on this (e.g., did he play records for you? Talk to you about jazz? Give you musical training? All of the preceding?) and also tell AAJ a little more about him?

KW: My granddad lived in Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, and played music professionally in that area. He worked with all kinds of ensembles, from small to large (big band was really his first love). He would make us practice as many hours a day as we could, which meant maybe one hour, but was very warmhearted and encouraging. He also had a large library of Dixieland sheet music, and would assign certain tunes for us not only learn to read, but to memorize. He would never let us stop a tune in the middle or change tempos. Once we started playing a tune, we had to finish it.

He was at as many of our concerts through our growing up years as he could attend until the end of his life, and he was always the first one applauding wildly at the end of every song.

AAJ: When did you decide to become a professional musician?

KW: In the 9th grade, I guess. From that point on, I never even considered going into anything else. My dad was an aerospace engineer at NASA, so needless to say, although he was quite supportive of our love of music, he wasn't thrilled about either Harry or me going into music as a career. Luckily, James Michener (the author) came to breakfast at our house one day while he was in Huntsville doing research for his book "space." He told Dad that he must be very proud of our musical accomplishments, and Dad voiced his concerns over our career choices. Michener told him that we would never be happy unless we were allowed to "follow our hearts." After that, Dad was always very supportive of us making music our careers.

AAJ: You've worked with and for a diverse assemblage of musicians. From whom have you learned the most and what is it that you've learned?

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