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Marzette Watts

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Any history background etc on this free jazz tenor player from the late 60"s?

I was tracking down trombonist Marty Cook whom I crossed paths with in Munich in the mid-80s when I found this link.

Not for the faint of heart. Interesting. The female non textual voices are effective in this setting.

Lonely Woman...different band different LP. Very nice.

Edited by slide_advantage_redoux

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Here's a short piece I wrote on Marzette for the NYC Jazz Record:


In this music, as in most other art forms, the true Renaissance man (or woman) – the person whose interests and output ranges broadly across all the arts – is a rare individual and not often appreciated. Such a figure in the heyday of the New Music was reedman Marzette Watts, who recorded two LPs for ESP-Disk and Savoy in the late 1960s before abandoning jazz for other activities. Somewhat of a blip on the screen of post-Coltrane free music, his modes of expression included painting, filmmaking, politics, sound art and audio engineering, most of which has passed the public by.

Marzette Watts was born in Montgomery, Alabama on March 9, 1938. His interests early on were mostly directed towards painting and drawing, though he played piano as a child and picked up saxophone and clarinet as a teenager. Watts initially studied fine arts at Alabama State College, where he was one of the founders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and was ejected from the state for attempting to register Black voters. It was around this time that Watts became more seriously interested in playing the saxophone – on a visit to New York in 1957, he heard Sonny Rollins, whose “sound just stayed in my mind. I really wanted just to quit school and go to…New York. But my mother wouldn’t have it.” (Interview with Larry Nai in Cadence, August 1998: 11-19) Being kicked out of the state was a blessing, for Watts was able to relocate to New York in 1960; he completed a degree in Art Education from NYU in 1962 and subsequently moved to Paris to study painting at the Sorbonne. It was in Paris that he found more time to practice the saxophone, playing tenor on the streets for extra money: “When I started to play, I thought I’d be playing something very accessible…but it came out like the painting I was interested in, which was Abstract Expressionism.” (Nai)

Returning to New York in 1963, Watts quickly became acquainted with the writer LeRoi Jones and saxophonists Marion Brown, Archie Shepp and Byard Lancaster. He moved into a loft in Jones’s building at 27 Cooper Square, practicing with Shepp and Lancaster and staging loft concerts and rehearsals. Painting was still an important facet of Watts’ life – he hung out at the Cedar Bar with artists like Willem De Kooning and Mark Rothko, and his style of gestural fields a la Joan Mitchell blossomed (sadly, none of the works are known to survive). After a year in Denmark in 1965, Watts returned again to New York and began rehearsing a group with trombonist/composer Clifford Thornton, which resulted in Marzette & Company (ESP, 1966, also featuring Lancaster and guitarist Sonny Sharrock). Under the direction of Bill Dixon, Watts produced a second and more mature effort for Savoy Records in 1968, simply called the Marzette Watts Ensemble. This session, yet to be reissued in full, made Thurston Moore’s list of the ten most desirable records of the Free Jazz underground. Thornton helped Watts to get a job teaching at Wesleyan University in the late 1960s, where he studied electronic music and worked on producing experimental film. Throughout the next decade, Watts was an in-demand engineer for loft-jazz sessions, recording albums for Ronnie Boykins, Rashied Ali, Arthur Doyle and others. Moving to California to raise his five children, Watts remained involved in composing film music and practicing experimental sound design, recording many hours of music that are as yet unheard. A week shy of his 60th birthday, Marzette Watts died on March 2, 1998.

Watts also appeared on unissued recordings from Clifford Thornton and the Jazz Composers' Orchestra and The Orchestra of the University of the Streets (under the direction of Bill Dixon).

Both "Lonely Woman" and "octobersong" are on the Savoy LP, which is excellent.

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