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Trevor Watts: A Life of Musical Integrity

AAJ Staff By

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[I] have retained the true spirit and integrity of jazz music, something I heard and was taken with so long ago. The music told me right from the start 'Be yourself'.
By Trevor Watts

It's always been important for me to follow my muse, whatever that is. It seems to manifest itself in a subconcious need to do something, change something, explore something. Entwined with a feeling of staving off habit, boredom and self satisfaction. The need to explore new avenues for oneself. These new avenues may not be so for others. But I have always been a great believer in discovering for yourself. More fun that way, and who's to say it's wrong? Probably comes from a background in the industrial North of England in the '50s when there was very little "live" music around, and only a prospect of a job in a factory for the rest of your life. As someone who left school at 15 this was not for me. I wanted to play like the musicians on the 78s I heard that my Dad introduced me to from his sojourn in Canada and the USA in the late '20s and early '30s. Ellington, Tex Beneke, Artie Shaw, Nellie Lutcher, Nat King Cole, Tommy Dorsey, Mills Bros, Fats Waller, etc. I had no awareness of a career in music, just the spirit of what was being played.

This has stayed with me even today. And whatever anyone else feels about the various directions I've gone for, I personally feel that I've retained my integrity. Call it naive if you like. The need to play freely improvised music came at the right time in the early '60s. Before we came on the scene and helped change things through groups like the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and Amalgam, it was very much a jazz history in the U.K. of second hand USA style jazz. Often played well, but not good enough for our generation, like a lot of other things weren't good enough in those days.

We stuck it out at the experimantal Little Theatre Club. My group Amalgam from around 1976 experimented with a rock drummer, noise guitar player, funky bassist and my saxophones. Some people thought I'd sold out, but to me, that music would never be commercial in the real sense. If I'd tried for that I'd have done it better. It was always done with the feeling of what would it be like with this group of people. We were all experimenting from our different corners, and discovering aspects of each others playing that we wouldn't have otherwise. I then moved onto the original Drum Orchestra in 1980 which had Steeleye Span violinist Peter Knight. Pete was a friend of mine from the '60s and took an interest at the time of the group's formation in improvised music, which he'd never done. Liam Genockey the drummer stayed on from before and I added Ernest Mothle, a South African upright bassist, and Mamadi Kamara and Nana Tsiboe on African percussion. Again to see how this combination would apply itself to improvising. Some very wild nights, and very exciting. This eventually led to my Moire Music Drum Orchestra with five Ghanaian percussionists, which again began as an improvising situation, but with African rhythm obviously. The only two deliberately more compositionally based groups was the Moire Music 10 & 14 pieces, and my current Celebration Band that recently had a lot of success in America. I feel I've kept that thread of integrity the whole way through whether promoters or fans are into it or not, at least I assure them that that's what they'll hear when they come to listen to any group of mine. No point in letting that drop now. It's been done through a mix of getting other jobs in the first place, but not since 1968, social security benefits, a helpful partner, and looking for that position in life where I'd never overstretch my resources. Eating cheaper food, not getting too stretched with rent, etc.

I always looked for this, and whilst I know there are others less fortunate than myself, there's others who say they need X amount of money, that they'd like to be able to do what I do but can't. Well it hasn't been easy, but it can be done. I feel as though I understand and have retained the true spirit and integrity of jazz music, something I heard and was taken with so long ago. The music told me right from the start "Be yourself". So many musicians want to be someone else, and of course it's good to study others. But to try and find your own voice is THE KEY. So many colleges knock the stuffing out of people; they learn all the tools of the trade, and then what. Get a career in music I suppose. Well, good luck in that respect. I always wanted to win through by playing music exactly the way I wanted to, irrespective of fashion. I'm still trying to make that wider breakthrough, because I believe the fans and promoters anywhere will really enjoy the music of my current project Trevor Watts and the Celebration Band, as was recently proved on our recent USA/Canada tour. Who knows, we may even get a gig in New York one day. But no compromises here.


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