Ernie Watts

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For other people named Ernie Watts, see Ernie Watts (disambiguation).
Ernie Watts
Ernie Watts.jpg
Ernie Watts in 2008 Photo: Bob Travis
Background information
Birth name Ernest James Watts
Born (1945-10-23) October 23, 1945 (age 71)
Norfolk, Virginia, United States
Genres Jazz, rhythm and blues
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Saxophone, flute, clarinet
Years active 1960s–present
Labels Motown, Tamla, Atlantic, Warner Bros., A&M, CBS, Qwest Records,
Associated acts Charlie Haden, Buddy Rich, The Tonight Show Band, Marvin Gaye
Website Official website
Notable instruments
Keilwerth Saxophones

Ernest James "Ernie" Watts (born October 23, 1945) is an American jazz and rhythm and blues musician. He plays saxophone (tenor, alto and soprano) and flute. He might be best known for his work with Charlie Haden's Quartet West and his Grammy Awards as an instrumentalist. He has also toured with The Rolling Stones, joining them on their 1981 tour and also appearing with them in the 1982 film Let's Spend the Night Together.

He is noted for playing "The Mystery Horn" (actually a Conn straight-necked C Melody Saxophone) solo on Frank Zappa's album The Grand Wazoo in 1972.


Ernie Watts at Great American Music Hall, San Francisco CA 8/7/87With Charlie Haden's Quartet West including Alan Broadbent and Billy Higgins / Photo: Brian McMillen

Watts was born in Norfolk, Virginia. He began playing saxophone at thirteen and later attended the Berklee College of Music on a Downbeat scholarship, after a brief period at West Chester University. He toured with Buddy Rich in the mid-1960s, occupying one of the alto saxophone chairs, with Lou Marini occupying the other. Later, he visited Africa on a US State Department tour with Oliver Nelson's group. Watts also played tenor saxophone with The Tonight Show Band under Doc Severinsen for 20 years. He also was a featured soloist on many of Marvin Gaye's original albums on Motown during the 1970s, as well as on countless other pop and R&B sessions during 25 years as a first-call musician in the studios of LA. He has won two Grammy Awards as an instrumentalist.

In the mid-1980s Watts decided to rededicate himself to jazz. He recorded and toured with German guitarist and composer Torsten de Winkel, drummer Steve Smith and keyboardist Tom Coster. He was invited to join bassist Charlie Haden's Quartet West. Watts and Haden met when Haden heard Ernie play the Michel Columbier piece "Nightbird" (written for Watts) at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and Haden came backstage to meet Watts . Watts had earlier played the saxophone on the Grease soundtrack and clarinet on The Color Purple. He also played the saxophone on the opening theme song of the popular 80s sitcom Night Court.[1]

Ernie Watts was also featured in the Windows XP edition Jazz preview. The song he was featured in was "Highway Blues". He plays black-lacquered Keilwerth SX90R saxophones, one of which can clearly be seen in the cover photograph of his 1995 "Unity" recording.[2]

In early 2008, Watts' Analog Man on his own label Flying Dolphin Records won the award in the 7th Annual Independent Music Awards for Best Jazz Album.[3]

Recently he has recorded a new Quartet West album with Charlie Haden, and also works with vocalist Kurt Elling, whose album Dedicated To You, featuring Watts, won a Grammy in 2010 for Best Jazz Vocal Album. In 2012, Watts once again teamed up to tour with former Johnny Carson band leader Doc Severinsen in Severinsen's Big Band as guest soloist. Watts primarily is featured playing the tenor saxophone.

He tours Europe twice a year with his own Ernie Watts Quartet, and is often a featured artist in Asia, as well as in summer jazz festivals the world over. His record company, Flying Dolphin Records, produces his own music with his US quartet as well as his European band.


As leader[edit]

  • Planet Love (Pacific Jazz, 1969)
  • The Wonder Bag (Vault, 1972)
  • Look in Your Heart (Elektra, 1980)
  • Chariots of Fire (Qwest, 1982)
  • Musician (Qwest, 1985)
  • Sanctuary (Qwest, 1986)
  • The Ernie Watts Quartet (JVC, 1987 [1991])
  • Afoxe with Gilberto Gil (CTI, 1991)
  • Reaching Up (JVC, 1994)
  • Unity (JVC, 1995)
  • Long Road Home (JVC, 1996)
  • Classic Moods (JVC, 1998)
  • Reflections with Ron Feuer (Flying Dolphin, 2000)
  • Alive (Flying Dolphin, 2004)
  • Spirit Song (Flying Dolphin, 2005)
  • Analog Man (Flying Dolphin, 2006)
  • To The Point (Flying Dolphin, 2007)
  • Four Plus Four (Flying Dolphin, 2009)
  • Oasis (Flying Dolphin, 2011)
  • Wheel Of Time (Flying Dolphin, 2016)

As group member (Karma)[edit]

  • Celebration (Horizon/A&M, 1976)[4]
  • For Everybody (Horizon/A&M, 1977)[5]

As sideman[edit]

With Richard Groove Holmes

  • "Come Together Richard Groove Holmes with Ernie Watts" (World Pacific Jazz Records)

With Alphonse Mouzon

  • Back To Jazz 1985

With Billy Alessi and Bobby Alessi

  • Words and Music (A&M, 1979)
  • Long Time Friends (Qwest, 1982)

With Gene Ammons

With Paul Anka

  • Walk a Fine Line (CBS, 1983)

With Eric Martin

  • Eric Martin (Capitol Records, 1985)

With Willie Bobo

With Brass Fever

With Kenny Burrell

With Lee Ritenour

  • Stolen Moments (GRP, 1989)

With David Axelrod

With Donald Byrd

With Stanley Clarke

  • Time Exposure (CBS, 1984)

With Billy Cobham

With Gino Vannelli

With Randy Crawford

  • Secret Combination (Warner Bros., 1981)

With Kurt Elling

With Torsten de Winkel and Hellmut Hattler

  • Mastertouch (EMI, 1985)

With Marvin Gaye

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Charlie Haden

With Bobby Hutcherson

With Milt Jackson

With J. J. Johnson

With Carole King

With Charles Kynard

With John Mayall

With Carmen McRae

With Blue Mitchell

With Helen Reddy

With New Stories

  • Speakin' Out (1998)

With Moacir Santos

With Lalo Schifrin

With Bud Shank

With Gábor Szabó

With Gerald Wilson


With Ndugu Chancler, Alphonso Johnson, and Patrice Rushen (aka The Meeting)

  • The Meeting (GRP, 1990)
  • Update (Hip Bop, 1995) (without Alphonso Johnson)

With Joe Louis Walker – Pasa Tiempo – produced by Carla Olson (Evidence Music 2002)

With Barry Goldberg – Stoned Again – produced by Carla Olson (Antone's TMG 2002)

With Paul Jones – Starting All Over Again – produced by Carla Olson (Continental Blue Heaven 2009)

With Chubby Tavares – Jealousy – produced by Carla Olson (Fuel Music 2012)

With T. Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner and Otis Span: “Super Black Blues” (RCA Victor/ FlyingDutchman Blues Time BT-29003, 1969)


  1. ^ "Watts, Ernie (James Ernest) – | Jazz Music – Jazz Artists – Jazz News". October 23, 1945. Archived from the original on November 8, 2013. Retrieved 2014-07-17. 
  2. ^ "The official home page for Ernie Watts". Retrieved 2014-07-17. 
  3. ^ [1] Archived March 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Karma - Celebration (LP liner notes). Horizon/A&M Records. SP-713
  5. ^ Karma - For Everybody (LP liner notes). Horizon/A&M Records. SP-723

External links[edit]