From DRUM! Magazine’s August 2017 Issue | Text, Transcription, And Video By Andy Ziker
Knowing him as one of the leading figures in the development of modern straight-ahead jazz drumming, we may forget that Jeff “Tain” Watts also played for three years in the house band on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and has proved over the years to be an incredibly versatile musician. As it turns out, Watts is also a top-notch composer. Every tune on his recent solo release Blue, Vol. 2 is so strong that it was difficult to choose only a few to transcribe. Watts handles odd-time-signature funk with controlled abandon and long, adventurous phrasing. His use of texture, dynamic control, and rhythmic flow reveals a master at the top of his game.
“Waltz For Marvin”
You’ve never heard a waltz like this. Watts, who is a champion at the rolling triplet version popularized by Elvin Jones with John Coltrane, instead chooses a sixteenth-note-oriented variety with a calypso-funk vibe. The bass drum, using a low but open tone, pounds out a four-over-three polyrhythm; snare accents fall mostly on the & of 1 and 3; and the hi-hat provides the pizzazz with beautifully placed accents and openings.
A Harvey Mason-esque fill in 4/4 leads us into an instrumental interlude in 5/8, in which mini-phrases can be felt in three measures of five or one measure of five and one measure of ten. Watts gives us a plenitude of thematic content to hang onto, including a four-sixteenth-note combination (bass, snare, snare, bass) and a lick that moves from the bell of the ride to open hi-hat. However, he also feels free to change things up, such as with the bar of partially open hi-hat in measure six.
“Sons Of The Jitney Man”
A big ol’ power flam launches us into a songo funk in six along with a bass/piano ostinato and a dissonant tenor sax melody. Snare accents are positioned to produce a floating sensation, syncopated bass drum weaves in and out of the vamp, and mostly closed hi-hat defines the time while keeping the momentum going. Watts employs three levels of dynamics on the snare, open hi-hat jabs on the & of 5 along with piano chords, and rimshots (both accented and unaccented).