British Columbia

'All you have to do is feel': saxophonist Ernie Watts melds jazz and Indian classical music

Two-time Grammy-winning jazz musician Ernie Watts talks about his special musical collaboration with Indian classical violinist L. Subramaniam in Vancouver.

Grammy-winning musician performs with Indian classical violinist L. Subramaniam in Vancouver

Jazz musician Ernie Watts says his collaboration with Indian classical musician L. Subramaniam is based on sharing the same musical energy. (Roshini Nair/CBC)

Jazz musician Ernie Watts, who has collaborated with Buddy Rich, Marvin Gaye, Carole King, and the Rolling Stones, says musicians needn't be restricted to a specific style.

"It's all coming from the same energy," he told host Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition.

The accomplished saxophonist has won two Grammy Awards, played on the soundtracks of movies like Grease and The Colour Purple, and been part of The Tonight Show Band for twenty years.

Now Watts is in Vancouver for a special collaboration with accomplished Indian classical violinist and composer L. Subramaniam.

Watts, who has known Subramaniam since working on his score for the 1988 movie Salaam Bombay!, says the collaboration is actually more complementary than one might think.

"A lot of the South Indian scales, a lot of the raga music, is very, very similar to blues scales so I could hear that in Dr. Subramaniam's music," he explained. 

"A D minor 7 is a D minor 7. Beethoven played it. Bach played it. Cannonball Adderley played it. John Coltrane played it. It's the same material harmonically. The thing that really makes it really different is just where it is in the bar. It's the rhythm and where it hits in relation to the beat in the music that separates one form of music from another."

In addition, Watts said when he was part of jazz musician Buddy Rich's band, he listened to a lot of music by Indian classical sitar player Ravi Shankar and ultimately did a recording with Rich and Alla Rakha, Shankar's percussionist and tabla player.

Listen to musician Ernie Watts on The Early Edition:

But most enjoyable, Watts said, is letting go and letting the spirit of the music take over.

"Really, you know you don't have to understand it to enjoy it. It's about feeling. If you feel it and it makes you feel better than you did when you came in the room, then it has served its purpose," he said.

"All you have to do is feel."

Watts and Subramaniam perform on Saturday, July 8 at 8 p.m. PT at Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre as part of Indian Summer Festival.

With files from The Early Edition