NPR logo
'Tain' Watts: What's In A Name?
  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Tain' Watts: What's In A Name?


The powerhouse jazz drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts was an original member of the Wynton Marsalis quintet in the early 1980s and then followed saxophonist Branford Marsalis into his quartet. Watts still plays with Branford but also records as a leader. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says his latest is really good - sometimes.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Saxophonist Branford Marsalis working for drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, who usually works for him. Watts is a polyrhythmic dynamo and a terrific accompanist who really prods a soloist. His drums don't just keep time, they have their own strong voice. His socking snare drum and answering tom-toms add a distinct layer to the orchestration. When he threatens to upstage his players, it does keep them motivated.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

WHITEHEAD: Jeff Watts is among jazz's most combustible drummers. But he's less assured as a band leader. His new album, simply called "Watts," is uneven but features a hot quartet, with Terence Blanchard on trumpet and Christian McBride on bass. Hornmen Blanchard and Branford Marsalis go back to high school days in New Orleans. Improvising together, they know how to dovetail.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

WHITEHEAD: "Katrina James" from Jeff Watt's album "Watts." The drummer modeled its pianoless quartet and dose of political commentary on the 1960 classic "Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus." But the new album falls short of that mark. As the civil rights movement heated up, Mingus roasted an obstructionist Arkansas governor with the satirical song "Fables of Faubus." Watts speaks truth to last year's power, taking pot shots on an unpopular president on a CD released after he's left office with a sophomoric comedy routine you might find amusing maybe once.

(Soundbite of song "Katrina James" by Jeff Watts)

Unidentified man #1: How can I help you?

Unidentified man #2: Well, you see Mr. W's term is coming to a close, and we were wondering if you might be able to assist us in securing his legacy.

WHITEHEAD: Mingus in the studio playfully addressed an imaginary nightclub audience. Watts give us a number with self-conscious studio chatter and loose moments that sound like rehearsal jams, not that eavesdropping on rehearsals can't be fun.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

WHITEHEAD: Christian McBride bowing his bass. For leaders of their own bands, like him and the horn players here, it can be a luxury not being in charge. They can just focus on playing. And when a great drummer sets him up, it can lead to the slam-bam blowing that's one of jazz's great pleasures. Terence Blanchard on trumpet.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

WHITEHEAD: Jeff Watt's album, "Watts," lags some - there's that comedy routine, a bland ballad with a guest pianist and a couple of long solo or mostly solo drum tracks. Those aren't bad but less fun than hearing Watts light a fire under someone else. That said, a good half of "Watts" is very good, so be grateful for the glass half full.

DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead is currently on leave from teaching at the University of Kansas, and he's a jazz columnist for He reviewed "Watts," the new recording by drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts.

(Soundbite of credits)

For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.