In Conversation with Jeff “Tain” Watts

I’ll be posting some great interviews from jazz mega-site jazz.com this week, and today’s is a 2009 interview with drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts by Ted Panken. From the interview, Watts’ comments about working with Wynton Marsalis:

“He brought in the bulk of the tunes, and the music emerged from what his original repertoire needed as well as the tunes from the lexicon. I guess the early band was supposed to try to pick up the threads and move forward from where he felt the music had stopped, with the exception of the pure avant-garde free music. Maybe at the time there was a vibe from him that people had been seriously playing music, seriously playing jazz, that Ornette’s band was there, and Trane’s band was there, and Miles’ band was there, and some other stuff was going on, but then it stopped, and then there was this evil fusion, and then there was all this free music with people that can’t really play trying to play, and that this made people not really serious.

“His initial jumping-off point was Miles’ quintet, and then he started to introduce Ornette Coleman’s music. Logical extensions of what was happening in the ’60s. Not so much Coltrane until much later. We were just checking stuff out. Wynton’s focus is very systematic, and whatever he’s checking out at a given time, that’s what’s going on. So Miles’ group in the ’60s—at that time, that’s what it is. I know he had an appreciation for John Coltrane’s music and that quartet, but because of the way his mind worked, he only had room to appreciate Miles’ group back then. I can honestly say that we were in Europe somewhere, on a bus, and we actually got into an adolescent comparison of Miles’ group in the ’60s and Coltrane’s classic quartet. I’m sure everybody has conversations that they would like to take back …

“From Wynton’s perspective, his thing was, like, ‘Work on your instrument, really try to play it on a high level,’ and a good percentage of his criteria at that time of what it takes to play an instrument felt like it was based on the European aesthetic. So when making the comparison of Miles’ band and Trane’s band, he felt like Miles’ band dealt with that European standard more. There was more harmonic sophistication. The way that Tony Williams played the drums, there’s more overtly European type of techniques being used as opposed to Elvin.”

Click here to read In Conversation with Jeff “Tain” Watts