With the saxophone, Ernie Watts is among the most familiar voices in music

The Artistry of… Ernie Watts

His distinctive horn sound may have you saying things like, “Hey, I know that solo, I remember that line.” Ernie Watts has infused his soulful sound into a host of familiar songs and tunes in many different genres. He wears different hats as a sax player, too, playing soprano, alto and tenor. If you’re a Glenn Frey fan, you’ll know the soul-tugging Watts solo in The One You Love.

A Downbeat scholarship winner as a teen, Watts attended Berklee. Stops along the way included membership in many iconic bands and playing with standout bandleaders including Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Golson, and Charlie Haden, and in a chair in Doc Severinsen’s band on The Tonight Show.

He spent 25 years in Los Angeles as a top studio musician contributing to pop and R&B recordings. That’s his sax in Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On — just one of the solos he did while working with Gaye and Motown. That is Watts in the theme music for Night Court, the popular TV comedy of the ’80s and early ’90s. He also appears in the soundtrack to The Color Purple.

Watts is a busy bandleader with many albums to his name. He’s won some Grammy Awards, too, including one for the Kurt Elling album Dedicated to You. His music-making defines dedication to art. He’s a distinctive voice in a crowded and massively talented field.


The Artistry of… is a weekly series that reflects on the passion and essence of an artist. It airs Wednesday evenings on Dinner Jazz with John Devenish.


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