Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Watts, Ernie (James Ernest)

Watts, Ernie (James Ernest), soprano and tenor saxophones; b. Norfolk, VA, 23 October 1945. His mother's maiden name is Heawig Walfa Liggins (born 5-18-26, Portsmouth, VA). She is still living, in Newark DE. His father was Ernest James Watts (born 2-6-24, Norfolk county, VA, died 2-4-94). His sister is Theora Watts Wisher (born 1-24-55, Detroit MI). She's still living, in Newark DE. Ernie attended Wilmington Music School, Wilmington DE, 1959-63; Westchester State Teachers College, Westchester PA, 1963-64; and Berklee School of Music, Boston MA 1965-66.

His teachers include David Clausen, Bayard Jr HS, Wilmington DE, Harley Hastings, Wilmington Music School, Charlie Mariano, Berklee School of Music, Herb Pomeroy, Berklee, Phil Wilson, Berklee, Ray Santisi, Berklee and John LaPorta, Berklee.

Watts grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, where he studied the baritone sax in junior high school. Watts first picked up the saxophone at age 13 and eventually won a scholarship to the Wilmington Music School in Delaware, where he studied classical music.  Although he would enroll at West Chester University en route to becoming a music educator, he soon won a Downbeat Scholarship to the Berklee College Of Music.  When Gene Quill left Buddy Rich's band, trombonist Phil Wilson (a teacher at Berklee) was asked to recommend a replacement, and Watts got the job.  Watts departed Berklee for the important stint with Rich's big band (1966-1968) before moving to Los Angeles.  Once situated in southern California, Watts worked in the big bands of Oliver Nelson and Gerald Wilson and became a staff musician for NBC, performing regularly with The Tonight Show Band.  Throughout the 1970's and 1980's Watts' signature sound found its way on to the recordings of music's biggest names. He is best known for his extensive work in the studios. Has played on Quincy Jones, Cannonball Adderley, Joe Sample and other jazz and pop albums, plus issued some recordings under his own name. In a diverse career that has spanned some 30 years, he has been featured on over 500 recordings by artists ranging from Frank Zappa to Thelonious Monk.

A partial list of his credits includes Cannonball Adderley, Quincy Jones, the Rolling Stones (including their 1981 tour and film Let's Spend The Night Together), Frank Zappa, Carole King, Neil Diamond, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Rickie Lee Jones, Whitney Houston, Steely Dan, T-Bone Walker, Chaka Khan, Billy Cobham, Pat Metheny, Lee Ritenour and Patrice Rushen among many others. 

He plays and records regularly with Charlie Haden's award winning Quartet West (a group also including pianist Alan Broadbent and drummer Larance Marable), and on occasion sits in with Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra.  In addition to keeping The Ernie Watts Quartet active with concert appearances, Watts travels the world conducting music workshops for all student levels.  He has also compiled a collection of orchestral arrangements, which he uses as a guest soloist with symphonies around the country. 
Ernie Watts plays Keilwerth saxophones exclusively. His son is Ken Watts, born 9-19-73. He has has two previous marriages. His current spouse is Patricia.

Planet Love; Come Together            (with Richard "Groove" Holmes); The Wonder Bag; Look In Your Heart; Chariots Of Fire; Musican; Sanctuary; The Ernie Watts Quartet (1987); Ernie Watts With Gamalon; Afoxe (with Gilberto Gil); Stand Up; Reaching Up; Unity (1994); The Long Road Home; Classic Moods.

Films and broadcasts:
He has appeared on many film and television scores (including The Fabulous Baker Boys, Ghostbusters, Tootsie, Arthur, The Color Purple, Fame, Night Court, Benson and Dynasty). 

Ernie Watts: Saxophone Collection; Artist Transcription Series, transcribed by Jim Roberts . Hal Leonard, 1995.

His version of Chariots Of Fire, which in 1983 won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental.  The artist went on to capture a second Grammy in 1985 for Best Rhythm and Blues Instrumental, honoring his Qwest/Warner Bros. recording, Musican.

Contact information:
Nancy Meyer at nancy@batesmeyer.com.

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