Friday, May 29, 2009

No slowing down

June’s issue of Hot House includes my profile of tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts, who is on the road as special guest with the new tribute project Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings Coltrane/Hartman. (They’re at Birdland June 16 to 20, and the project's CD is due out June 23 on Concord Jazz.

Watts talked at great length from his West Coast home. And not everything could be squeezed into the lengthy article.

Here are some of his additional thoughts:

His bittersweet tone, a key ingredient in the film noire sound of Charlie Haden’s Quartet West – “It is a combination of all of those years of listening to everybody, then focusing on Coltrane. The physical aspect to the sound partly derives from body type. Some people are big strong people and approach the instrument differently. I think my sound developed from thinking of the saxophone as a singing tool. I do a lot of pop music and R&B, when you are playing that music, you have to play in a certain melodic style that keeps the music authentic. With the sax, I thought of it as being a voice. Everything you do is a melody. You focus on playing something that is beautiful and clear. I realized that I had this singing ability in my sound.”

Ernie Watts, Montreal, June 2008... >>>

Music reflects life – “Every day is a new beginning. You can play great one night and get up the next day and feel awful. Some days I get up and it is like I never saw a saxophone before in my life. I have a practice routine to keep everything in balance. That helps a lot. It is like training for the Olympics continually.”

The importance of passing on knowledge through college workshops or master classes (Watts says does about six a year) - “When you talk about what you do and you vocalize it, it gives you a different view of something that is hard-wired and you normally wouldn’t think about. Life is like that. Every experience is a teaching experience and a learning experience. I learn as much from them as they learn from me. It forces you to reflect on things we’ve been doing for 30 years without thinking about it. Little things like vibrato and tonguing. When you have to explain it, it gives you another view of it. The music is to share, and that is very important.”
I’ll provide a link to the Hot House profile as soon as it is posted online.

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