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Ernie Watts and Gary Michaels - In it for the Love
By Gary Michaels (Gary Michaels Online)
It was the 1970′s and I was putting together a “Rehearsal Band” in order to play through my new music arrangements for big band. I had only been in Los Angeles for a few months so I didn’t know that many musicians.
I needed 5 Saxophones, 4 Trumpets, 4 Trombones, Piano, Bass, Drums and Guitar.
I had been calling the music directors at the local universities to get names to call. I had exhausted the list of students that had been recommended.
One student said, “I’m studying to be a professional musician. There’s no way I would consider playing with out getting paid for my time and talent.”
I said, “OK” and called the next one on the list, who also told me they were much to busy to take the time unless they got paid.
My idea was to get together a bunch of musicians who loved to play and would enjoy the opportunity to play the new music I was writing.
It wasn’t about the money. It was about music. It made sense to me.
I was pretty discouraged to say the least. As I sat there looking at all the crossed out names on the list I remember saying facetiously to myself, “Maybe I should have called Ernie Watts.”
Ernie was and still is one of the best jazz saxophone players in the world. He’s a two time Grammy winner. He’s recorded over 15 solo albums. At the time Ernie played with Doc Severinsen on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Then I remember thinking, “Maybe I should call Ernie Watts.”
I called the Musicians’ Union and got Ernie’s number. I rehearsed the speech I was going to make to Ernie. I was really nervous when I dialed the number.
Ernie answered the phone, “This is Ernie.”
I blurted out the whole speech in one breath, “Ernie, my name is Gary Michaels, I just moved into to town from Vegas. I studied arranging at North Texas State.” Ernie said, “That’s a great school. I’ve played with some guys from North Texas with Frank Zappa’s band.”
We talked about the guys he knew from North Texas for awhile then I told Ernie about the rehearsal band and asked him if he would like to come and play in my rehearsal band. He said, “Sounds like a good time. Count me in.” Then he gave me the names of some other guys to call, a list that read like “Who’s who in the music business.” I thanked him and said good bye.
Then it hit me, “Wow! Ernie Watts is going to play in my band.”
I got on the phone and started making the calls, only this time I was able to say Ernie Watts is playing jazz tenor in the band. To a one they all said, “Ernie Watts is playing? Count me in.”
The band was glorious. It just rocked. Over the two years I had the band I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with some of the world’s greatest musicians. I’ll never forget Ernie Watts.