I’ve posted about this subject before (Read Here) when I was selected to audition for the Mellon Jazz Festival in my hometown of Pittsburgh. One of the mentors was hometown hero Jeff “Tain” Watts. Although I had never heard him play I knew that Watts was the drummer for Brandon Marsalis. What I did not know was how much of a major force Watts was on the jazz drumming community and how much of an impact he had on the music. I just thought he was some popular drummer from Pittsburgh.
In fact it was a tragedy as I had the privilege of receiving lessons from the man who gave me a great deal of wisdom during the afternoon of the auditions. He listened intently as I soloed and gave me pointers on how to make it musical instead of just playing a bunch of unrelated fills. He looked on as I played one of the prepared pieces and helped me to read the chart more smoothly. He took the time to make me feel less nervous about the audition. I did my best and made it to the second round before I was eliminated. I will never forget how Watts told me to never stop practicing. I can recall that exact moment.
Years later I was reminded of Watts when he was mentioned on The Modern Drummer Podcast with Mike and Mike. It rejuvenated my interest in the one they call “Tain.” I went to Watt’s website which is a little difficult to navigate but has some nice biographical information. When I researched Watts I found that he held the distinction of being the only musician to appear on every Grammy Award-winning jazz record by both Wynton and Branford Marsalis. Everywhere I looked Watts is credited with revolutionizing jazz music and being one of the most consequential sidemen of the last 30 years.
The lesson here, learn a little about the mentors that come into your life and you may come to appreciate them for who they really are. I had no idea. Of course Watts is a fellow Steelers fan and is sitting beside a Terrible Towel on the cover of Branford Marsalis’s Braggtown album. Forget all that drumming stuff. That’s what makes him cool to me.