Monday, September 9, 2013

Marzette the Obscure

From the liner notes to Marzette Watts' other recording, a photo of multiple exposures showing the artist/musician standing in front of one of his paintings, tenor at the ready. Photo from "Marzette Watts and Company," ESP

Long-time visitors to this blog know that as a college student I worked in a Discount Records store in upstate New York. Those were the days when recorded jazz was in serious remission. The heyday of the great independent jazz labels (Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside) had passed and the majors were mostly focusing on mining the huge profits that could be made from "progressive" rock. Things were so bad that the Schwann Catalog listed only one Charlie Parker record in print. I kid you not.

Most record stores in the 1970s had vast
quantities of cut-out records for sale, usually –
as in this photo – at the back of the store.
It was also a time when a dedicated jazz record hunter could find fabulous treasure in the cut-out bins that every record store invariably had. My store had three rows of them filled with remaindered and overstock LPs, most for ninety-nine cents. Among the items offered were dozens of Atlantic jazz LPs – including a large part of the MJQ's discography – plus a few Riverside odds and ends (Barry Harris, Yusef Lateef, Mark Murphy).

We also had the entire BYG Actuel series with Braxton, the AEC, Archie Shepp and Clifford Thornton. Being enamored of the avant garde, I was most interested in those and any other "outre" LPs in our melange of cut-outs. One record caught my eye because of its striking cover. There was only one copy in the bins and it was a bit worse for wear with torn shrink wrap and a partially split cover. It was entitled "Marzette."

We were allowed as Discount Records employees to open any record in the shop for in-store play.I had of cache of sides I liked to listen to while ringing out customers, and I added "Marzette" to them. From the liner notes, I gathered that Marzette Watts was a painter/film maker who also played tenor. He was evidently pals with Bill Dixon, a horn player and composer I knew from his association with Archie Shepp. The music was typical "free jazz" of the period, not terribly together and not very good. Watts was, in my twenty-something judgment, a fairly mediocre saxophonist. I would put the record on when I wanted to drive customers looking for the latest Allman Brothers or Carole King album out of the store.

Even though I didn't think much of "Marzette," I eventually bought if (for all of four bits, at the employee discount) and took it home. It's been on the shelf now for forty years, pretty much unlistened to since those college days. But not long ago I was tootling around the Interwebs and I came across a copy of "Marzette" that had sold at auction for $350. Surprise!

Ms. Waters in her ESP days.
Turns out that Marzette Watts recordings are very desirable on the collectors market. "Marzette" garners top prices in part because it features cult chanteuse Patty Waters on one cut. She offers a breathy interpretation of Ornette's seminal "Lonely Woman," perhaps singing lyrics that she herself wrote. The late Bill Dixon is also present, playing piano on a composition that he wrote called "octobersong," no doubt inspired by the October Revolution that he help to foment several years earlier. And there's another Ornette tune – "Play It Straight" – that Coleman recorded live for Blue Note but has never been released.

On relistening to "Marzette," I'm still not much impressed by Watts' playing or the record. But it does have a nice energy in places and Bobby Fews and J.C. Moses contribute much to whatever coherence the album has. Because it's so unaccountably sought after, I thought I'd post it here so that you Gems fans can decide for yourselves.

Mr. Watts, by the way, studied painting at the Sorbonne in Paris in the early sixties before hooking up with Clifford Thornton and recording his first LP for ESP in 1966. His painter's loft was a hangout for many on the avant garde's front line – Shepp, Don Cherry, Ornette, Cecil Taylor and Pharaoh Sanders among them. In 1968 he recorded "Marzette" for Savoy, at a time when the label had abandoned jazz almost completely and was concentrating on gospel music. As a result, the album sold only a handful of copies and was soon relegated to bargain bins. Like Bill Dixon, Watts later briefly taught at Weslyan in Middletown, CT, presumably in music. Watts eventually quit music altogether and concentrated on art and film making. He died on the West Coast in 1998.

So here's the Marzette Watts Ensemble as produced by Bill Dixon, in all its obscure glory. These files were taken right from the vinyl, of course, with no cleaning of the sound required. Gems has saved you a cool 350 clams!

The Marzette Watts Ensemble
Marzette Watts, ts; George Turner, cnt; Marty Cook, tbn; Frank Kipers, vln; Robert Fews, p; Juny Booth, Steve Tintweiss, Cevera Jehers, b; Tom Berge, J.C. Moses, d; Amy Shaeffer, Patty Waters, v. Bill Dixon, prod.
New York, NY; 1968; Savoy MG-12193

1. octobersong (Dixon)

2. Play It Straight (Coleman)
3. F.L.O.A.R.S.S. ((Watts)
4. Medley (Watts)
5. Lonely Woman (Coleman)
6. Joudpoo (Watts)

Find it here:


  1. Any chance of a re-up? Many thanks in advance.

    1. Try the link now, Nargile57. It should be working again. RapidShare unfortunately has broken all links from this blog, meaning they all must be rebuilt ...

  2. Mny thanks, I'm downloading it now :)

  3. i can't thank you enough for making this available!!!...i've wanted hear this for YEARS!

  4. can you re-upload it, please? it doesn't seem to work anymore. thanks in advance

  5. "Cevera jehers" on bass seems to be cevera jeffries, who was a longtime cohort of bobby few. He stands an unsung monster of the bass, witness his work on booker ervin's "the inbetween," also featuring few. Ervin only worked with bass monsters post-mingus (tucker,davis,workman,mitchell...) and i'm sure few's buddy cevera must've thrilled him! thanks for putting this out there (though my fave marzette album continues to be his ESP with "backdrop for urban revolution")! :-)

  6. New guy, here. As a good a place as any to say how I'm digging your experience and expertise in this great blog. I'm gonna have a blast going through all your entries. As Giuliano says above, I can't get the Marzette link either, (though other ones worked at Rapid.) and as a tenor sax player myself, I love uncovering the obscure cats most of all. "Black Jazz" recs, "Strata East", (just) "Strata", I guess this puts me in the 70's Afro/Pyramid/Cosmic loose thing. My religion. Pleased to meet you, Dave. I grew up in upstate NY -- what area did you sell wax in?

  7. PS, Cherry (above) got me here. After blowing blues and R&B all night, my guitar man and I drive home "clearing out our brains" -- much of the time immersed in Don's spiritual stuff. I'd daresay I have a pretty complete collection of his stuff up right up until he joined Sun Ra in the ether. Thank the spirits we've still got Pharoah, whom I've seen and met.

    1. Welcome aboard, Reverend! Hope you find lots of stuff here that's of interest. I'll repost the Marzette link this evening. I have all the early Strata East stuff, so one day I'll upload a bunch of it. Nice to know you're a musician. I assume you're referring to Don Cherry? I have an interview with him that's never been heard – another item to post! One of these days ...

  8. Here's the new Marzette Watts link:

  9. Got it, man. Thanks! Mediafire always works great.
    Don Cherry it is. I dig his early stuff, Blue Notes, the Ornette period (Old and New Dreams, etc.), but it's his 70's spiritual music that really turned me on.
    Before I hog all the comments here, a quick tale: Went to see Pharoah in Boston way back. This was when most of my recordings were on LPs. I didn't want to carry one of those around all night to be autographed, so I brought a reed out of my sax case. He chuckled "man, I never signed a reed before!" but fit his Hancock on it. Plus, I end up sitting front row with a pro photographer who took down my address and sent me a beautiful 8x10 glossy of the show! What a couple of treasures! Years later I meet Pharoah after a show on the same elevator.
    I remind him of the reed. "So you're that cat!," he smiles. What a sweet dude. PS: sent your site on to my guitar man ~ he was knocked out, too.
    Regards, the Rev.

    1. Thanks, Rev, for that great story! One day you'll have to do a blog of your own. I'll dig out that Cherry interview and post it one of these days with one of his later releases. Stay tuned (and welcome to your guit guy)!