Rivalry brings friendly fire between Grammy-winning musicians

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have always been rivals, especially in sports. It extends to music to which is the idea behind Saturday night’s match-up at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra will assume a neutral position as the back-up band to a pair of jazz musicians extraordinaire.


Pittsburgh will be represented by its own son of steel, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts while the city of brotherly love will be repped by bassist Christian McBride. Word on the streets is that the early advantage goes to McBride who is coming off a Grammy award Sunday for his first big band effort, “The Good Feeling.”

Sean Jones, director of music initiatives at the AWC, says count on some fierce friendly fire. “Chris will be on first and perform music off of his release “The Good Feeling” and Jeff will come in for the last two songs. Then Jeff will be up and we’ll do his (arrangements) and Chris will join him towards the end.”

McBride had established himself as a first call player in the Jazz world and has appeared on nearly 300 recordings and isn’t yet 40. His skills cross music genres (including work with Kathleen Battle, Sting, Carly Simon, the Roots and Queen Latifah) and he has charted arrangements for Isaac Hayes, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Lalah Hathaway and Soul Brother No. 1, James Brown.

Raised on the Sugartop of the Hill District, Watts studied classical drums (timpani) at Duquesne University before breaking out to Berklee School of Music in 1979, where his classmates included some of the young lions who were about to make their mark such as Branford Marsalis, Kevin Eubanks and Greg Osby.

While he is a much in demand session player, Watts has expressed his artistic chops in non-music capacities when he played the role of Rhythm Jones in Spike Lee’s movie, “Mo Better Blues” that starred Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes.

A well-regarded composer, Watts is also a wordsmith with a sense of humor—he was bestowed with the nickname “Tain” when he and Kenny Kirkland drove past a Chieftain gas station in Florida. Kirkland assigned it and Watts adopted it. Check out the titles of his recordings—“Citizen Tain,” “DeTAINed” at Blue Note records.

By the way, don’t feel too bad for the Tainish One – he has three Grammys for his work with Branford Marsalis Quartet.

The PJO musicians will perform music from Watts’ “Citizen Tain,” McBride’s “The Good Feeling” and other selections from the repertoires of both musicians.

Tickets are $20 – $40 and can be purchased online at the AugustWilsonCenter.org or the August Wilson Center box office, 412-3238-8742.

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