October 21, 1959 |
Hackney, London, UK
Drum and bass
Cleveland Watkiss is a British virtuoso vocalist, actor and composer. He was the winner of the London Jazz Awards for Best Vocalist in 2010 and was voted Wire/Guardian Jazz Awards best vocalist for three consecutive years.
Watkiss was born in Hackney, East London, to Jamaican parents, and was one of nine children. He studied voice at the London School of Singing with opera coach Arnold Rose and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He was also one of the co-founders of the vastly influential Jazz Warriors big band. His vocals can be heard on their debut album, Out of Many People, which won a video award in Japan. Watkiss was then entered for the Wire/Guardian Jazz Awards and was voted best vocalist for three consecutive years, and was the opening act of choice for two of the world's greatest female jazz vocalists, Cassandra Wilson and Abbey Lincoln. John Fordham, the Guardian music journalist, described Cleveland as "arriving on the scene with a bang”.
Watkiss has performed with a diverse range of artists from around the world, including: the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Düsseldorf Symphonic Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis & JALO, Bob Dylan, Jackie Mittoo, Keith Richards, James Taylor Quartet, Art Blakey, Sly & Robbie, Abdullah Ibrahim, Stevie Wonder, Patife, Lepaja Symphonic Orchestra, Carlinhos Brown, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JALO), Robbie Williams, Joe Cocker, Bobby McFerrin, The Who, Branford Marsalis, George Martin, Julian Joseph, Bocato Big Band, Lisa Stansfield, Courtney Pine, Janet Kay, Maxi Priest, Soul II Soul, London Chamber Orchestra, Kassa Mady, Goldie, Cassandra Wilson, Kenny Wheeler big band, Sugar Minott, Talvin Singh, Björk, Pete Townshend, London Community Gospel Choir (LCGC), and many more.
Watkiss is also a keen music educator, working as a voice instructor for Singup, with workshops in venues/schools, colleges and universities around the UK.
More recently, Watkiss was cast in the starring role in Julian Joseph and Mike Phillips ground-breaking jazz operas Bridgetower and Shadowball to considerable acclaim. Cleveland has performed in many of the major concert halls, festivals and clubs around the world with "VocalSuite", a solo voice performance, and his new Quartet "CWQ", accompanied by Shaney Forbes (drums) and Mark Hodgson (bass) Marco Piccioni (guitars).
- "Wasn't he awesome? what it takes us 6 to do he does it all by himself" - Take 6
- "Cleveland Watkiss was voted best vocalist in the wire/guardian awards three years running and there is no doubt he arrived on the scene with a bang” -Hackney Gazette
- “Best male jazz singer in Britain” - Evening Standard
- "Vocalist Cleveland Watkiss was imperious on an express train rendition of McLean's 'Appointment in Ghana', in which his scat choruses revealed a timbral richness and phrasal trickery that had the horn players nodding in approval - Independent
- “A possibly unique unit of voice, bass and drums, the group nevertheless manages to convey the entire jazz aesthetic by musical implication, while at the same time having all the internal spaciousness you’d expect” - JazzUK
- "Watkiss’ larger than life stage presence and highly original scatting brought the band into the desired higher gear, bringing out great solos" - Jazzwise
- “Every phrase oozes distinctive musicianship” - The Stage
- "History shows that it’s Cleveland’s ability to connect the jazz tradition and the “Songbook” with ever changing sounds of the underground – from roots reggae to drum & bass - that makes him totally unique." - Straight No Chaser. PB
- "The trio live is such a great experience - that's about the bravest line-up any singer can put themself in, and you played it like you lived there :o) That, my dear man, is class" - Steve Lawson
- "Singing with just bass (Mark Hodgson) and drums (Shaney Forbes) for company is a somewhat risky business, requiring sharp ears and quick musical reflexes, but Cleveland Watkiss has always been blessed with these advantages, so is able to seize and hold an audience's attention solely with the power and versatility of his voice - Chris Parker
- “A jazz legend“ - Telegraph
- “Cleveland Watkiss was simply made for the lead of Bridgetower...it could be a career high to date” - Jazzwise
- “Watkiss has been acknowledged as one of the world's most outstanding male jazz singers” - The Guardian
- Watkiss, Cleveland (1991). Blessing in Disguise. Polydor
- Watkiss, Cleveland (2001). Victory's Happy Song. Via.
- Carr, Ian; Digby Fairweather; Brian Priestley (2004). The Rough Guide to Jazz. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 1-84353-256-5.
- Walker, Klive (2005). Dubwise: Reasoning from the Reggae Underground. Insomniac Press. ISBN 1-894663-96-9.