Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

May/June 2011: Wynton Marsalis (Festival Edition)

Neil Watson

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You might have seen Neil wailing away on the sax in the front row of the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra (which he also manages) or you might have seen him on various stages with various groups playing various styles. He’s sunny, thoughtful, and able to juggle many responsibilities—and make it look easy…

When did you start playing the saxophone? What drew you to it?

I started playing saxophone in junior high. That was 153 pounds ago for me, and back then I had a chin and a slapshot—if I had chosen the clarinet, the team would have made me buy a matching dress. But I suppose there might be something in my blood: my grandfather wanted to play saxophone too, but his mother always took it back to the music store!

When did you start playing saxophone?

I wanted to play saxophone when I was ten, but my parents made me take piano lessons first. (I didn’t like that at the time, but looking back now, I’m sure glad they did!) I started playing in the junior high band and I haven’t looked back.

Who are your major influences?

There are so many! I’ve spent lots of time transcribing Bird, Cannonball, Johnny Hodges, Joe Lovano, Coltrane… I could go on and on. But Kenny Garrett—his harmonic language, his funky rhythms, his energy—speaks to me the most. 

What are you up to, musically, these days?

I’m in the early stages of a recording project, which is exciting. I’m taking my time because I need it to be personal, a reflection of who I am. I’m also part of Adam Young’s group, Cowlicks and Rooster Tails. Acoustic guitar, bass, saxophone, and banjo—admittedly a little outside of my wheelhouse, but I’m enjoying the unique sound we’re getting! I’m also committed to becoming a better flute player—I love the sound of that instrument—so I’m playing a lot of flute these days.

What’s on your CD player?

A student recently recommended a John Patitucci recording called Remembrance. It’s a trio record with Joe Lovano and Brian Blade, and I can’t take it out of my CD player! I have always loved a piano-less trio, and the way all three players dance around the beat is incredible.

What do you do when you’re not playing sax?

I have two other passions. The first is my kids: I have a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter, and my number one priority is spending as much time as I can with them. The second is running: I got into that about a year ago and I love it. It’s like improvising on the saxophone—they’re both very meditative. I’m signed up to run the Chicago Marathon next October.

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