barnesandnoble.com: A sideman becomes leader. Have you been waiting for the chance?
Jeff “Tain” Watts: Yeah, it’s time. It feels a bit bizarre, but I can’t wait to see what people think.
bn: Have you always been as physical a drummer as you are now?
JTW: I think so, yeah. The physical side has always been there. At 23, I had recorded Wynton’s THINK OF ONE and Branford’s SCENES IN THE CITY, and that whole physical thing was in place. But these days I’ve been trying to get to a more…I don’t want to say cerebral, because that sounds too heavy, but a deeper thing. Creating a personal language for me and the guys I play with.
bn: Was practicing a more aggressive kind of swing part of the agenda back then?
JTW: Well, back then, Wynton probably felt that the jazz ball had been dropped a bit, or delayed by the music of the day - - you know, how he felt about the avant garde and fusion. So it seemed we were checking Trane’s music, Ornette’s stuff. Picking up on a time line really. Basically it’s all hard- hitting music. Before I moved to New York, I’d been playing a lot of fusion and rock-oriented stuff.
bn: Were bosses telling you to tone it down back then?
JTW: It’s only been recently that a bunch of different people have been hiring me for gigs, and they know what they want going in. If they would have hired back then, they might have said something in order to preserve their music. These days I try to tailor the moves to the full service of the music at hand.
bn: Which of the really physical jazz drummers had it all?
JTW: In a physical sense, easily Tony Williams. Billy Cobham, too, back in the day. Several years ago, there was a double bill at the Blue Note - - those two together. Tony with Wallace Roney and those guys. Cobham in a trio with Wayne Krantz. So I called a bunch of drummers - - Troy Davis, Gene Jackson, Cecil Brooks, just a big pile of drummers. I said “Man, let’s get a bad table and check this stuff out!” Tony really went out of his way to do the job that night. It was great. He could kick, right?