Ernie Watts

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Ernie Watts
Ernie Watts in 2008 Photo by Bob Travis
Ernie Watts in 2008
Photo by Bob Travis
Background information
Birth nameErnest James Watts
Born (1945-10-23) October 23, 1945 (age 78)
Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.
GenresJazz, rhythm and blues
Instrument(s)Saxophone, flute, clarinet
Years active1960s–present
LabelsMotown, Tamla, Atlantic, Warner Bros., A&M, CBS, Qwest

Ernest James Watts (born October 23, 1945) is a Grammy-winning American jazz and R&B saxophonist who plays soprano, alto, and tenor saxophone. He has worked with Charlie Haden's Quartet West and toured with the Rolling Stones. On Frank Zappa's album The Grand Wazoo he played the "Mystery Horn", a straight-necked C melody saxophone. Watts also played the notable sax riff on "The One You Love" from Glenn Frey's album No Fun Aloud.


Watts at Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, California, 1987

Watts was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and began playing saxophone at 13. After a brief period at West Chester University, he attended the Berklee College of Music on a Down Beat magazine scholarship.

He toured with Buddy Rich in the late 1960s, occupying one of the alto saxophone chairs, and visited Africa on a U.S. State Department tour with Oliver Nelson's group.

Watts played alto saxophone with The Tonight Show Band under Doc Severinsen for 20 years. He was a featured soloist on many of Marvin Gaye's albums on Motown during the 1970s, as well as on many other pop and R&B sessions during his 25 years as a studio musician in Los Angeles. He has won two Grammy Awards as an instrumentalist.

Watts was added to the lineup of backing musicians on the fifth show of the Rolling Stones American Tour 1981 and was with them until the end of that tour. Throughout the tour, Watts's influence on the Stones' live performance grew significantly, with the Stones jamming longer and longer over tracks such as "Just My Imagination" and Let Me Go". Watts can be heard on Still Life, the live album recorded during the tour.

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 Charlie Haden's Quartet West; the two met backstage one night after Haden heard Watts play "Nightbird" by Michel Colombier.

Watts also played on soundtracks for the movies Grease and The Color Purple and on the theme song for the TV show Night Court.[1] In 1982, his version of "Chariots of Fire" was featured in the Season 4 episode of WKRP in Cincinnati ("The Creation of Venus"). He was featured on one of Windows XP's sample tracks,
"Highway Blues" by New Stories.[2]

In 1986, Watts visited South America with the Pat Metheny Special Quartet alongside Charlie Haden and Paul Wertico, playing at Shams in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In 2008, his album Analog Man won the Independent Music Award for Best Jazz Album.[3] He played on Kurt Elling's album Dedicated to You, which won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2011.


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)
  • A Simple Truth (Flying Dolphin, 2014)
  • Wheel of Time (Flying Dolphin, 2016)
  • Home Light (Flying Dolphin, 2018)

With Karma

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

As a member[edit]

The GRP All-Star Big Band

The Super Black Blues Band
(With T-Bone Walker, Otis Spann and Joe Turner)

As sideman[edit]


  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 July 17, 2014.
  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]