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McBride, Watts go head to head for all that jazz

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Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012

Bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts might be better known for their small-group work, but both say big bands play a big role for any jazz musician.

They are the ensembles young players often encounter first, as did Watts when he was at East Allegheny High School. Or they are the groups that become the "lab band," says McBride of his work at the Jazz at Aspen festival in Colorado.

"It's all music," says Pittsburgh native Watts.

The two will be in Pittsburgh on Saturday, playing with the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra in a show the band's co-founder, trumpeter Sean Jones, jokingly calls a "Pittsburgh versus Philadelphia clash."

"And we all know who's going to win," Jones adds, with a chuckle.

But the show will be more of a display of the big-band talents of Watts, born in the Hill District, and Philadelphia native McBride.

Both will be bringing their own big-band arrangements and both are eager to work with the jazz orchestra put together by Jones and Mike Tomaro from Duquesne University to show off large-ensemble play.

While Watts and McBride have varied work lineups, both can boast some big-band triumphs. Watts was the drummer with the Mingus Big Band on a Grammy-winning album in 2011. Meanwhile, McBride's album with his big band, "The Good Feeling," won a 2012 Grammy.

Watts likes the challenges of working with the larger group.

"You are responsible for a bigger group of people," he says. "I usually use a bigger kit and cymbals that are high enough to get the sound out there."

McBride says he agrees with Jones' comment that "every town that has a symphony should have a top-notch jazz band, too."

Watts also is enthusiastic about being reunited with Tomaro, the director of jazz studies at Duquesne and a big-band arranger who also writes textbooks on the skill.

"We haven't played together since we were both at Duquesne," Watts says.

The drummer started at Duquesne and then transferred to the jazz-oriented Berklee School of Music in Boston while Tomaro finished on the Bluff and then got his master's at George Mason University in Virginia.

For McBride, the show represents his continued enthusiasm for the big band. He says he wants to do a follow-up of his Grammy-nominated album this year. But he also says he wants to do new editions of his quintet album and one he made in a number of duos.

A challenging schedule?

"It's the artist's job to create," he says.

Additional Information:

Jeff 'Tain' Watts and Christian McBride

With: Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $20-$40

Where: August Wilson Center, Downtown

Details: 412-456-6666 or

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