My hangs with Jeff Tain Watts

I still pinch myself when I remember my time with Jeff a couple of years ago. Firstly I want to say thanks to my band member and Head of Jazz Department at The Queensland Conservatorium “Steve Newcomb” using his networking skills and passion to bring Jeff to our university and inviting me to lunch with them. Yep, that’s right, I got to have lunch (Vietnamese) with Jeff Tain and my good pal Steve.

To me this was truly a dream. Literally having lunch with a living legend. Of course I was doing my best to skilfully look legit and not ask any dumb questions….(what an idiot!). On reflection, I’ve since learnt the value of asking dumb questions and wish I had the courage to just speak up a little more. Personally, I’ve found it’s the people with no insecurities and who ask the “dumb” questions (anyone with a brain is generally thinking anyway…they are just too embarrassed to speak up) who walk away from an exchange with a sense of clarity and use the exchange to their advantage. In this case, being a better drummer and orderer of Vietnamese food.

Anyway, there is the obvious realisation I had which is “Oh he is just another human with the same needs as me”…..which is temporarily rewarding and at the same time terrifying as I realised there is no reason why I couldn’t train myself to be as skilled as him. But that’s not what I want to cover right now.

To make it simple I will outline the three key things I noticed that really separated Jeff from myself, and other professional drummers I work with.

His ability to just perform without any warm up, being jet lagged and not even manipulating the drum set to fit his body.

I’m not suggesting you do this, but what is important is there will come a point (or many times) when you are on little sleep, different time zone and have to jump up and perform. Of course this can be avoided with organisation etc but you simply can’t control life and what it will throw at you…but you can control your attitude! Basically Jeff’s attitude was about the music, and it was so obvious he had nothing to prove and willing to surrender his needs to serve the music as best as he could in the moment. Truly inspirational.

His true love of music.

Now this seems redundant to assume a professional drummer doesn’t love music, but when you see someone who truly loves music, you can feel it. Jeff loves creating music with his friends, he loves sharing his knowledge, he loves listening to new music (the list goes on).

His desire to pay homage to the drummers canon and welcome new drummers to the canon.

During our meal Jeff spoke about his realisation that he was now a part of a drumming canon with the legends we all know (Tony Williams, Papa Jo, Elvin Jones etc) and his passion to make sure he inspires and educates the new generation of drummers just like those guys did for him. I made sure he was aware he is doing a great job, but I couldn’t ignore his mission being bigger than himself and how much that meant to him.

There is so much more I could write about including his live workshop and gig I got to see (sitting on the floor next to his hi hat being slammed by his left foot), but it would require at lot more patience and time which these days are rare commodities.

Chances are I’ll make another one where I drop the Tain bomb and nostalgically write about our time together. Brief, but unforgettable.

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