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Ernie Watts Featured In OHS ‘Evening Of Big Band Jazz’

OSWEGO, NY – It will be another “Evening of Big Band Jazz” when the Oswego High and Oswego Middle School Jazz ensembles take the stage at the OHS Ralph M. Faust Theatre for the Performing Arts this Friday at 7 p.m.

Special guest artist saxophonist Ernie Watts will join the talented Oswego musicians for an evening of outstanding music.

Ernie Watts
Ernie Watts

OHS Jazz Ensemble Director Stephen Defren said, “Ernie Watts is a saxophonist from California with a long and storied career. This event is one of the musical highlights of the year and as always there is no admission to join us for this night of music.”

Not only will Watts be on stage during the Friday night concert, but the day before Defren explained, “He will give the students a jazz improvisation clinic and have a dress rehearsal for their performance.”

According to advance publicity, the two-time Grammy Award winner Watts is one of the most versatile and prolific saxophone players on the music scene.

In a diverse career, that has spanned more than 40 years, he has been featured on more than 500 recordings by artists ranging from Cannonball Adderley to Frank Zappa, always exhibiting his unforgettable trademark sound.

After 15 solo records for a variety of labels, large and small, Watts started Flying Dolphin Records, a company he runs with his wife, Patricia.

Flying Dolphin (distributed by Burnside Distribution Corp.) is a new chapter for the artist’s creative expression.

“Through my years of touring and recording, I’ve played in every kind of musical setting. I’ve reached a place in my life where I need to make music on my terms, and starting my own label provided me with a new sense of freedom,” he said.

Watts started playing saxophone at age 13.

He went with a friend who was enrolling in the local school music program, and found himself carrying home an instrument as well.

“I was a self-starter; no one ever had to tell me to practice,” remembers Watts.

His discipline combined with natural talent began to shape his life.

He won a scholarship to the Wilmington Music School in Delaware, where he studied classical music and technique.

Though they had no jazz program, his mother provided the spark by giving him his own record player for Christmas and enrolling him in a record club.

That first record club promotional selection turned out to be the brand-new Miles Davis album Kind of Blue.

“When I first heard John Coltrane play, it was like someone put my hand into a light socket,” Watts said.

He started to learn jazz by ear, often falling asleep at night listening to a stack of Coltrane records.

Although he would enroll briefly at West Chester University in music education, he soon won a Downbeat Scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, renowned for jazz.

During the 1970s and ‘80s, Watts was immersed in the busy production scene of Los Angeles.

His signature sound was heard on countless TV shows and movie scores, almost all the early West Coast Motown sessions, and with pop stars such as Aretha Franklin and Steely Dan.

Though the pop music genre placed narrow confines on his performance, the studio sessions allowed Watts the chance to constantly hone and refine his tone.

After years in the studios, Watts’ passion for acoustic jazz never left him.

At the end of a long day of sessions, he could frequently be heard playing fiery jazz in late-night clubs around Los Angeles.

Watts’ eclectic mix of career activities includes current work with vocalist Kurt Elling in a tribute to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman with string quartet.

The project “Dedicated To You” (recorded live at Lincoln Center for Concord Records) earned Elling his first Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2010.

He has also taken part in Jazz at the Kennedy Center for Billy Taylor and recently appeared in Australia with Billy Cobham and orchestra.

A typical year finds Watts touring Europe with his own quartet in spring and fall, in Asia as a featured guest artist and performing at summer festivals throughout North America and Europe, often with Charlie Haden’s Quartet West.

He gives back to the music by conducting student clinics and master classes.

Watts has also compiled a collection of orchestral arrangements for guest soloist appearances with symphonies.

And there is the occasional “hometown gig” with the Ernie Watts Quartet in California, where he is still based.

Summing it all up, Watts describes his ongoing journey, “I see music as the common bond having potential to bring all people together in peace and harmony. All things in the physical world have vibration; the music I choose to play is the energy vibration that touches a common bond in people. I believe that music is God singing through me, an energy to be used for good.”