Ernie Watts, an American jazz and rhythm and blues saxophonist, has been a pivotal figure in the international jazz scene for over five decades. Known for his virtuosic technique and emotionally charged performances, Watts’ musical range spans across various genres, including jazz, R&B, pop, and classical music.
Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Watts discovered his passion for music at an early age, taking up the saxophone at 13 years old. His impressive talent earned him a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Watts’ professional career took off when he joined the Buddy Rich Big Band, marking the beginning of a prolific career that would see him work with a host of legendary artists across diverse musical genres.
In the jazz world, Watts is perhaps best known for his long-standing collaboration with renowned pianist and composer, Charlie Haden. Together, they formed the Quartet West, producing a series of critically acclaimed albums that would firmly establish them as leaders in the post-bop jazz scene. Watts’ remarkable performances earned him two Grammy Awards, securing his reputation as one of the leading saxophonists of his generation.
Watts’ musical versatility has also seen him make significant contributions to the world of pop and R&B, working with a variety of artists, including Frank Zappa, The Rolling Stones, and Aretha Franklin. His distinct sound has graced hundreds of recordings, making him one of the most sought-after session musicians in the industry.
Watts’ contribution to music extends beyond performance and recording. As an educator, he has worked at several renowned institutions, including the Loeb Jazz Institute at Harvard University and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, fostering the next generation of jazz musicians. He is also affiliated with the Julius Keilwerth company, having his own signature model saxophone that reflects his exacting standards and professional requirements.
In his live performances, Watts’ magnetic stage presence and mastery over his instrument have continually captivated audiences worldwide. His reputation for delivering deeply moving performances, coupled with his consistent artistic evolution, have made him a perennial favorite at international jazz festivals and concerts.
Throughout his impressive career, Ernie Watts has continued to redefine the role of the saxophone in both jazz and popular music. His extraordinary musicianship, versatility, and unwavering commitment to his craft make him a treasured figure in the world of music. Whether through his recordings, performances, or educational efforts, Watts continues to inspire and influence countless musicians, solidifying his legacy as one of the true greats of jazz.
Page last updated 7/9/2023.