July 13, 2024

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Interview with Joff Watkins: Without the audience the musicians would be nowhere

Interview with Bluesman Joff Watkins. An interview by email in writing. 

Dear readers, get to know more about our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festivals and the activities of our US/EU Jazz – Blues Association in the capitals of Europe, we will soon publish program for 2024, enjoy in the July – August – Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Sofia, new addreses this year, also in Amsterdam, Budapest.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Joff Watkins: – I grew up in Bromley, south London. I first heard blues music at around the age of fourteen years old. I remember seeing Lightnin’ Hopkins on a documentary and being really struck by the music. Something about it resonated with me. That was my first exposure to the blues. I started playing harmonica about a year later. I had no idea you could make living out of it at the time.

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Festivals 2024

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

JW: – I am hoping it has improved. It took a few years before I could play at a decent level and I was happy with the sound I made. I was self-taught for a while and then I had harmonica lessons for around a year. Since then I have always tried to improve and learn as much as I can. I definitely learn from other players, but I try not to copy them note for note.

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Festivals 2023

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

JW: – I try to focus on getting good tone and intonation. That is number 1 priority. The rest follows from that. Nowadays I use a metronome a lot more to help with timing. I also use backing tracks to jam over as well learn licks and arpeggios. I like to know how to play the chords I’m playing over.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

JW: – I think I still play in the same style as I always have. I like to try and play melodically. I use tongue blocking techniques way more now than when I started out. That is a big part of my playing.

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JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

JW: – It always much more about soul. The intellect shouldn’t come too much into it when playing live. It should be just about feeling the music and connecting with the other musicians and the audience.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

JW: – The need to connect to the audience otherwise what is the point? Without the audience the musicians would be nowhere. I love playing on my own, but the beauty of music is connecting with other musicians and the audience. It takes you a level that you wouldn’t get to otherwise. That’s the point about playing music.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

JW: – There is a lot of modern jazz music coming out (and a lot of it from London) that is really connecting with young people. Jazz has always taken on new influences and mixed up the old and new.

JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?

JW: – Music is everything. I don’t know what I would do without it. During lockdown I didn’t realise how much I missed playing until that first gig back. The cloud lifted and I was so much happier. I think music is the meaning of life!

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

JW: – Getting paid for streaming and people buying music again. It’s really hard to make recording an album financially viable. Recording an album costs a lot and it makes it hard to fund when people are so reluctant to buy music.

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

JW: – Lots of African music, (Boubacar Traore, Djiby Diabate, M’dou Moctar to name a few, and of course Diabel Cissokho who we have collaborated with and I have played for). Some of the new London Jazz stuff. Plus of course all the old classic blues and jazz. Like to see Errol Lynton (great London harmonica player) when I can.

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Association 2023

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?

JW: – Chicago, early 1950’s to see Muddy Waters with Little Walter playing harp. That would be something.

JBN: – So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

JW: – When can we come to Belgium to play?

JBN: – You? Never and not only at our US/EU Jazz – Blues festival in Brussels.

 

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Interview by Emmanuel Bolton

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