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Jeff “Tain” Watts: How He Revolutionized Jazz Drumming

The Tainish Tinge

Jeff "Tain" Watts, Newport Jazz Festival 2013
Jeff "Tain" Watts
Jeff "Tain" Watts' quintet (l. to r.): Troy Roberts on saxophone, Paul Bollenback on guitar, David Budway on piano, Watts on drums and Chris Smith on bass. At the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, NYC 8/15
Jeff "Tain" Watts (left), with Wynton, Ellis and Branford Marsalis (from left), in 1984
Jeff "Tain" Wats (left) and Branford Marsalis, Newport Jazz Festival 2007

It’s day two of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem in August. Jeff “Tain” Watts is dancing in the wings. He hears Camille Thurman sing “Skylark,” and he starts to sway. He holds out an arm ceremoniously to fellow drummer Johnathan Blake, due to play with Dr. Lonnie Smith in a couple of hours. Blake and Watts proceed to link arms, twirl, break away and spin, perfectly nonchalant. Watts’ good cheer is infectious, heightening anticipation for the following set by his quintet with tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts, guitarist Paul Bollenback, pianist David Budway and bassist Chris Smith. They’re here to play material from Blue, Vol. 1 and Blue, Vol. 2, Watts’ first solo releases since 2011, both on his Dark Key label.

When Watts takes the stage, he shouts out Harlem and mentions his time as a resident long ago, adding, “I haven’t appeared much here under my own name. That’ll change.”

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