Detroit is five hours away from Pittsburgh, but our fair town will be represented in the Motor City this weekend. Pittsburgh native Jeff "Tain" Watts is artist in residence at the 32nd Annual Detroit Jazz Festival, which runs Fri., Sept. 2 through Mon., Sept. 6.
The dynamic drummer was born in the Hill District, attended Duquesne University and Boston's Berklee School of Music (now Berklee College of Music). After playing locally with musicians like Tony Campbell and Dwayne Dolphin, Watts recorded on Wynton Marsalis' early albums in the '80s. He's also performed with Marsalis' brother Branford and numerous others. In addition, he's released several albums as a bandleader, including the recent Family (Dark Key), which reveals him to be a strong composer.
Though he hasn't lived here in a few decades, Watts retains some Pittsburgh modesty, laughing heartily when asked how he received the artist-in-residence honor.
"I still don't know how I got it!" he says. "They just asked me, and I thought about it. And I had the time available and, yeah, I graciously accepted."
The position, which began at the start of the year, has already included performances in Detroit. This weekend includes appearances by his quartet, as well as collaborations with a breakdancer and with a percussion ensemble whose members include free-jazz drummer Susie Ibarra and Afrobeat legend Tony Allen.
Festival executive and artistic director Terri Pontremoli says picking a drummer as artist in residence was essential for this year's theme, "We Bring You the World."
"The drums are the most common instrument in all cultures," says Pontremoli (who is herself a New Kensington native). "I also happen to think that Jeff is one of the most important drummers of our time. I think he is brilliant."
Fans who can't make the trek to the outdoor, free festival can pick up the action on the festival website. The site's Jazz Planet TV option will feature musician conversations and a live stream of the after-hours jam session at the Marriott Volt.