Sean Jones, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts On JazzSet

Written by Becca Pulliam from National Public Radio

Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts comes from Pittsburgh, and trumpeter Sean Jones lives there now. On this episode of JazzSet, each brings a high-energy band to the Detroit Jazz Festival, held every Labor Day Weekend. We’ll get back to Pittsburgh in a minute.

Watts got his start with the Wynton Marsalis group in the 1980s, then in brother Branford‘s quartet for two decades, composing as well. The path between Branford Marsalis and Watts was short and direct. Marsalis signed Watts to the Sony label in 1999 and played on Citizen Tain and Bar Talk. Born in 1960, Watts is one of the great drummers of his generation. All About Jazz puts it this way: “Along with explosive power, blinding speed and mastery of complex rhythms and time signatures, Watts brings a rare sense of elegance, tried-by-fire composure, and a gritty street funk to his music.”

As the Detroit Jazz Festival’s 2011 Artist in Residence, Watts came to Motown several times to coach students. On opening night, he led a one-time-only performance of his thunderous Drum Club — an international ensemble representing Asia, the Caribbean and Africa with vibes, congas, percussion, tympani and at least three massive drum kits on the outdoor stage.

This set is Watts’ last as Artist in Residence, and he says, “I’m always at home in Detroit. I’ll come back anytime.” With Christian McBride on bass and Watts on drums, this group has a foundation, and saxophonist Marcus Strickland and pianist Lawrence Fields are all in from the first moment to the very end. We have highlights here.

Personnel: Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums; Marcus Strickland, tenor and soprano saxophones; Lawrence Fields, piano; Christian McBride, bass.

Opening for Watts on this installment of JazzSet, Ohio-born Sean Jones — age 34 — played lead trumpet with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for approximately five years. Artistic director Wynton Marsalis was a member of Jones’ section. When Jones was asked what he learned from Wynton Marsalis, he answered in two words: “Work ethic.” Now, Sean Jones is the artistic director of two jazz orchestras — the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra at the August Wilson Center and the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. He’s here in Detroit with his small group to play music from his latest album, No Need for Words.

Jones introduces each piece with a few words about an aspect of love. “Touch and Go” is about the stop-start quality of loving relationships, while “Forgiveness” is about one very personal relationship in Jones’ life. He shares his story, and it’s an honest one.

Personnel: Sean Jones, trumpet; Brian Hogans, alto; Orrin Evans, piano; Luques Curtis, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums.


Recording by Timothy Powell. Surround Sound by Duke Markos. Thanks to the 2011 Detroit Jazz Festival, Terri Pontremoli, artistic director.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

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