He first picked up a saxophone 55 years ago, at age 13, and when he heard a John Coltrane recording at 14, he says, "It was as though someone put my hand in a light socket." By age 16, he was a soloist with the Delaware Symphony and playing jazz by ear. He attended Boston's Berklee College of Music on a saxophone scholarship and then toured the world with Buddy Rich and his Big Band.
In 1968, Watts moved to Los Angeles where he recorded with pop icons such as Marvin Gaye, Steely Dan, Carole King, Frank Zappa, all the Motown artists, and many others. He spent 20 years as a member of the house band for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and frequently played local jazz clubs. After meeting Charlie Haden, the great jazz bassist, in 1983, Watts became a charter member of Quartet West and joined Haden in Pat Metheny's Special Quartet, opting to play live jazz on the road instead of in the studio.
He and his wife, Patricia, started Flying Dolphin Records in 2004 so that Watts would have greater creative control of his music. A Simple Truth, the label's eighth release, debuts in May. He is the 2014 recipient of the Frankfurt Music Prize and continues to tour in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. When not on the road, he teaches master classes at colleges and universities. Believing that music has the power to connect all people, Watts says, "Music is God singing through us."