Jazz Musician & Composer
2017 Performer • 2018 Performer • 2019 Performer • 2020 Performer

Los Angeles, CA

Two-time Grammy Award-winner Ernie Watts first picked up a saxophone more than 60 years ago, at age 13. At 14 he first heard John Coltrane, and his course in music was set. While learning classical saxophone, he taught himself jazz by ear and won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he was asked to join Buddy Rich’s band. He began his professional career at age 20.

In 1968 he moved to LA, recording in the studios for film, TV and music. He played on more than 500 recordings, by artists from Cannonball Adderley to Frank Zappa, and films including The Color Purple, always with his unforgettable trademark sound. When chosen by Charlie Haden’s Quartet West in 1985, Watts returned to live jazz as his primary work. He tours extensively with his own quartets in the U.S. and EU as a feature artist, and with college and university groups.  

He and his wife Patricia began Flying Dolphin Records in 2004 for creative control of his music. In 2014, he received the prestigious Frankfurt Music Prize, one of only six winners in 30 years to be jazz players. In 2017, he was guest of honor at the Telluride Music Festival. Based in California, he is rarely home, but shares his jazz sound worldwide.

According to Ian Patterson, writing on All About Jazz, “He is one of the greatest living tenor saxophonists, not only at the top of his game, but the top of the game.”