Visiting Artist: Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts

Visiting Artist: Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts

“Music is not a competitive thing. You must be constantly trying to help each other,” renowned Jazz drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts impressed upon jazz music students from NOCCA, Loyola, UNO and Tulane University.

They had all come to NOCCA for Watt’s master class put together by The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at Loyola University. One of the most in demand drummers of his generation, Watt’s lessons for students were as complex and elegant as his music.

Initially majoring in classical percussion at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, Jeff enrolled at Berklee School of Music where he began studying jazz with fellow students such as Branford Marsalis and Kevin Eubanks. Since then, he has appeared on every Grammy Award-winning record by both Branford and Wynton Marsalis. He has toured and worked with the Marsalis brothers, George Benson, Harry Connick, Jr., McCoy Tyner, Danilo Perez, Betty Carter, and Kenny Kirkland among so many more.

To the class he brought his explosive power, blinding speed and mastery of complex rhythms and time signatures. He demonstrated his incomparable technique, inventiveness and grace. Very familiar with his work, students asked numerous questions about different recordings and licks. He explained how he might play the drums like a piano, how important the drums and piano are to adding or taking away texture, to letting music breath or to filling it up.

Mostly, though, he helped students focus on what is most essential to being an accomplished musician: optimizing every situation and helping each other. “Whether you are playing a solo, with a trio or with an orchestra, you have the same criteria – to make good music. Treat every time you play as a performance. That is what you are striving for.”

“You know, musicians can perform live music without truly aspiring to play with each other,” Watts told students as he tried to shape how important it is to be emotionally and aesthetically invested in each other’s playing. “You’ll have good days, bad days, alright days. But it’s those ‘bam!’ days that keep you going, when you touch some of that magic. That’s why you practice your craft and help other musicians – so you can be in position for those magic moments. You never know when they will come but they reaffirm why you are playing.”