Watts, Ernie

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Watts, Ernie

Watts, Ernie, American saxophonist; b. Norfolk, Va., Oct. 23, 1945. His first significant employment included a 1966 to 1968 stint with the Buddy Rich band, after which Watts moved to Los Angeles, where he landed a most favorable spot in 1972 as a regular performer in NBC’s Tonight Show band. He worked with Gerald Wilson and Oliver Nelson and recorded with Bobby Bryant and Jean-Luc Ponty in the 1960s. During the 1970s he played with notables such as Lee Ritenour, Stanley Clarke, and his idol, Cannonball Adderley. In 1982, he received a Grammy Award for his performance on the soundtrack to the film Chariots of Fire. His own output in the early 1980s did not reach the heights of making any original, pure statements one would expect from a musician with such a broad musical background. What seems to have changed his course is his affiliation with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West in the mid- 1980s. The series of recordings made with this group convey his rich lyrical sense and his integrity and warmth. In the 1990s, he began to make recordings that were compositionally strong and marked by his gift of im-provisational playing. While some of the recordings he made in the 1990s attempt to blend various approaches to R&B, World music, pop music, and vocals, and are challenging in their accessibility, the straight-ahead jazz recordings with his own quartet best display his gifts as a performer.


The Ernie Watts Quartet (1987); Project Activation Earth (1989); Afoxe (1993); Reaching Up (1994); Unity (1995); Now Is the Hour (1996); The Long Road Home (1996).

—Gregory Kiewiet