Watts, the Place, Inspires Jeff 'Tain' Watts


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It was more than a shared name that first got the attention of drummer Jeff “Tain" Watts. Even as a kid growing up in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, he recognized something profound about a distant neighborhood in Los Angeles.

He knew of those six days of rioting in 1965, but he also knew that Watts was the hometown of Charles Mingus, the monumental bassist and jazz composer whose work was often fueled by the heavier sociopolitical issues of his time.

“I just felt a strong vibration coming out of Watts," the drummer says now. “I always felt a connection to it."

He finds another link with his recently released album, Watts, a collection of anxious hard bop and blues led by Watts and played by an all-star jazz lineup, including trumpeter Terence Blanchard, bassist Christian McBride and saxophonist Branford Marsalis (with whom he keeps the beat for one of the most acclaimed small groups in jazz, now celebrating 10 years without a personnel change).

On the cover is an illustration of the landmark Watts Towers, but the album is far less about the place than a certain vibe and corner of American history.

“Katrina James," he says, is dedicated to “the two great tragedies of the early 21st century -- the loss of James Brown and Hurricane Katrina." It begins with a big brassy theme and funk bass riff that evoke the Brown sound, before hurtling into overlapping lines from Blanchard and Marsalis that are muscular and soulful.

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