Ernie Watts

“He is one of the greatest living tenor saxophonists, at the top of his game.”
Ian Patterson / All About Jazz

Two-time Grammy Award winner Ernie Watts is one of the most versatile and prolific saxophone players in music. It has been more than fifty-five years since he first picked up a saxophone, and from age sixteen on he has been playing professionally, initially while still attending school. Watts has been featured on over 500 recordings by artists ranging from Cannonball Adderley to Frank Zappa, always exhibiting his unforgettable trademark sound. In March of 2014, Watts received the prestigious Frankfurt Music Prize at the Frankfurt MusikMesse. Founded in 1980, the Frankfurt Music Prize is presented annually. Recipients include classical and non-classical musicians. Of the 32 current winners, only 6 have been jazz musicians. Per the Frankfurt Music Prize Foundation, Watts was “selected for his strikingly melodic saxophone style and his original tone language, with which he has already enriched several generations of musicians.” Previous jazz honorees include Chick Corea, Paquito D’Rivera, and John McLaughlin.

After 15 albums as a leader, for a variety of labels large and small, Watts started Flying Dolphin Records in 2004, in partnership with his wife Patricia. Flying Dolphin (distributed by City Hall Records in the US and Laika Records in Germany) is a new chapter for the artist’s creative expression. “Through my years of studio work, touring, and recording,” he says, “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. Starting my own label provided me with a new sense of freedom.”

The most recent way this freedom is expressed is through Flying Dolphin’s newest release, A Simple Truth (2014). This concept album is joyful and uplifting, full of energy and life. It starts with “Morning” and ends at “Evening,” lush orchestral pieces with saxophone which bookend the recording, with Quartet tunes between the two. Highlights include the exquisite “No Lonely Nights” by Keith Jarrett, the highest-energy-ever “Bebop” by Dizzy Gillespie and the warm, singing ballad “A Simple Truth” by Watts.

Other releases in the Flying Dolphin catalog include Oasis (2011), reflecting on Watts’ own personal oasis, music, with original pieces and a reference to John Coltrane, the original Watts muse, through the Coltrane piece “Crescent.” Four plus Four (2009) is a studio project with both the US and European Ernie Watts Quartets, recorded in Los Angeles and Cologne, Germany, including “Through My Window,” a Watts original written to showcase both quartets together. To The Point (2007) was made high-energy live with the Ernie Watts Quartet at The Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles. Analog Man (2006) is winner of the Independent Music Award for Best Jazz Album of 2007, with his European Quartet, touring together since 1999. Spirit Song (2005) was Watts’ first studio recording as a leader since the release of Classic Moods (JVC) in 1999. Watts used a handmade cedar Spirit Flute to introduce the title track, creating the haunting folk melody which is then reprised on tenor.

Flying Dolphin’s first release ALIVE (2004) was recorded live at the Backstage in Fulda, Germany. The chance to hear Watts at immediate heat in the midst of his own music had only been available before to his concert audiences.

Watts started playing saxophone at age 13 in…

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