Ernest James Watts (born October 23, 1945) is an American jazz and rhythm and blues saxophonist who plays soprano, alto, and tenor saxophone. He has worked with Charlie Haden's Quartet West and toured with the Rolling Stones. On Frank Zappa's album The Grand Wazoo he played the "Mystery Horn", a straight-necked C melody saxophone. He played the notable saxophone riff on "The One You Love" by Glenn Frey.

Ernie Watts
Ernie Watts in 2008 Photo by Bob Travis
Ernie Watts in 2008
Photo by Bob Travis
Background information
Birth nameErnest James Watts
Born (1945-10-23) October 23, 1945 (age 76)
Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.
GenresJazz, rhythm and blues
InstrumentsSaxophone, flute, clarinet
Years active1960s–present
LabelsMotown, Tamla, Atlantic, Warner Bros., A&M, CBS, Qwest
Associated actsCharlie Haden, Buddy Rich, The Tonight Show Band, Marvin Gaye, Rolling Stones, Christopher Cross, Steely Dan


Watts at Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, California, 1987

Watts was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and began playing saxophone at thirteen. After a brief period at West Chester University, he attended the Berklee College of Music on a Down Beat magazine scholarship. He toured with Buddy Rich in the late-1960s, occupying one of the alto saxophone chairs. He visited Africa on a U.S. State Department tour with Oliver Nelson's group. For twenty years he played alto saxophone with The Tonight Show Band under Doc Severinsen. He was a featured soloist on many of Marvin Gaye's albums on Motown during the 1970s, as well as on many other pop and R&B sessions during his twenty-five years as a studio musician in Los Angeles. He has won two Grammy Awards as an instrumentalist.

In the mid-1980s Watts decided to rededicate himself to jazz. He recorded and toured with German guitarist and composer Torsten de Winkel, drummer Steve Smith, and keyboardist Tom Coster. He was invited to join Charlie Haden's Quartet West. They met backstage one night after Haden heard Watts play "Nightbird" by Michel Colombier. Watts played on soundtracks for the movies Grease and The Color Purple and on the theme song for the TV show Night Court.[1]

In 1982, his version of "Chariots of Fire" was featured in the Season 4 episode of WKRP in Cincinnati ("The Creation of Venus") as Andy Travis and Venus Flytrap are playing games in the studio when Momma Carlson walks in and surprises them.

He was featured in one of Windows XP's sample music, "Highway Blues" by New Stories.[2] In 1986, he visited South America with the Pat Metheny Special Quartet, alongside Charlie Haden and Paul Wertico, playing at Shams in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In 2008, his album Analog Man won the Independent Music Award for Best Jazz Album.[3] He played on Kurt Elling's album Dedicated to You, which won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2011.


As leaderEdit

  • Planet Love (Pacific Jazz, 1969)
  • The Wonder Bag (Vault, 1972)
  • Look in Your Heart (Elektra, 1980)
  • Chariots of Fire (Qwest, 1982)
  • Musician (Qwest, 1985)
  • Sanctuary (Qwest, 1986)
  • The Ernie Watts Quartet (JVC, 1987 [1991])
  • Afoxe with Gilberto Gil (CTI, 1991)
  • Reaching Up (JVC, 1994)
  • Unity (JVC, 1995)
  • Long Road Home (JVC, 1996)
  • Classic Moods (JVC, 1998)
  • Reflections with Ron Feuer (Flying Dolphin, 2000)
  • Alive (Flying Dolphin, 2004)
  • Spirit Song (Flying Dolphin, 2005)
  • Analog Man (Flying Dolphin, 2006)
  • To The Point (Flying Dolphin, 2007)
  • Four Plus Four (Flying Dolphin, 2009)
  • Oasis (Flying Dolphin, 2011)
  • A Simple Truth (Flying Dolphin, 2014)
  • Wheel of Time (Flying Dolphin, 2016)
  • Home Light (Flying Dolphin, 2018)

With Karma

  • Celebration (Horizon/A&M, 1976)[4]
  • For Everybody (Horizon/A&M, 1977)[5]

As sidemanEdit

With the GRP All-Star Big Band

With Jean-Luc Ponty

  • King Kong: Jean-Luc Ponty Plays the Music of Frank Zappa (World Pacific/Liberty,1970)

With Gamalon

  • Project: Activation Earth (Amherst Records, Inc.,1989)

With Billy Alessi and Bobby Alessi

  • Words and Music (A&M, 1979)
  • Long Time Friends (Qwest, 1982)

With Gene Ammons

With Paul Anka

  • The Music Man (United Artists, 1977)
  • Walk a Fine Line (CBS, 1983)

With Willie Bobo

With Brass Fever

With Kenny Burrell

With Donald Byrd

With Jennifer Holliday

With Dion DiMucci

With Lee Ritenour

  • Friendship (JASRAC, 1979)
  • Stolen Moments (GRP, 1989)

With David Axelrod

With Donald Byrd

With Joe Cocker

With Boz Scaggs

With Stanley Clarke

  • Time Exposure (CBS, 1984)

With Gloria Gaynor

With Sarah Vaughan

With Aaron Neville

  • The Grand Tour (A&M Records, 1993)

With Bill Withers

  • Making Music (Columbia, 1975)
  • Watching You Watching Me (Columbia, 1985)

With Natalie Cole

With Randy Crawford

With James Taylor

With Rickie Lee Jones

With Paul McCartney

With Kurt Elling

With Patti Austin

With Dionne Warwick

  • Love at First Sight (Warner Bros. Records, 1977)

With Bob Seger

With Deniece Williams

With Marvin Gaye

With Christopher Cross

With Maria Muldaur

  • Southern Winds (Warner Bros., 1978)

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Gino Vannelli

With Benny Golson

With Aretha Franklin

  • You (Atlantic, 1975)

With Michael Franks

With Bonnie Raitt

With Cheryl Lynn

With Charlie Haden

With Betty Wright

  • Betty Wright (Epic Records, 1981)
  • Wright Back At You (Epic Records, 1983)

With Cher

With Frankie Valli

With Bobby Hutcherson

With Milt Jackson

With Barbra Streisand

With Jim Messina

  • One More Mile (Warner Bros., 1983)

With Peabo Bryson and Natalie Cole

With Willis Alan Ramsey

With J. J. Johnson

With Teena Marie

With Quincy Jones

With Jeffrey Osborne

With Carole King

With Glenn Frey

With Charles Kynard

With Eric Martin

  • Eric Martin (Capitol, 1985)

With John Mayall

With Randy Newman

With Carmen McRae

With Blue Mitchell

With Helen Reddy

With New Stories

  • Speakin' Out (1999)

With Moacir Santos

With Lalo Schifrin

With Bud Shank

With Donna Summer

With Rob Mullins

  • Tokyo Nights (Nova, 1990)

With the Super Black Blues Band: T-Bone Walker, Otis Spann and Joe Turner

With Gábor Szabó

With Mariya Takeuchi

  • Variety (Moon Records, 1984)

With Gino Vannelli

With Gerald Wilson

With Torsten de Winkel and Hellmut Hattler

  • Mastertouch (EMI, 1985)

With Rufus and Chaka Khan


  1. ^ "Watts, Ernie (James Ernest) – | Jazz Music – Jazz Artists – Jazz News". October 23, 1945. Archived from the original on November 8, 2013. Retrieved 2014-07-17.
  2. ^ "The official home page for Ernie Watts". Retrieved July 17, 2014.
  3. ^ [1] Archived March 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Karma - Celebration (LP liner notes). Horizon/A&M Records. SP-713
  5. ^ Karma - For Everybody (LP liner notes). Horizon/A&M Records. SP-723

External linksEdit