Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Kobie WatkinsI've been thinking about you lately. It's been two weeks since you performed with Sonny Rollins at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. Have you recovered from the workout Rollins subjected you to that night? Kobie, I felt bad for you. I wondered if you've ever worked that hard before. There was an ambulance parked outside Orchestra Hall. I overheard someone jokingly say it was there because you needed medical attention immediately after the second set. I don't know how long you've worked for Rollins. Does he work you that hard every night? If so, you may want to contact an attorney. I'm almost certain Rollins violated some labor law. He took it easy on Bobby Broom and Bob Cranshaw. All night, you're professional. You never buckled under the pressure. I admire any jazz drummer that can withstand Rollins improvisational assaults night after night. In my book, you had the right to resign because no human being should have to work as hard as you did. Rollins definitely got his monies worth.

Rollins has a reputation for working drummer like a sharecropper's mule, and he didn't cut you any slack. Kobie, where do old-timers such as Rollins get their endless supply of energy? I heard other stories of old-timers overworking young lions. The late pianist Harold McKinney told me his nephew, pianist Carlos McKinney, who made his bones playing with drummer Elvin Jones, used to complain all the time that Jones was working him to death. Kobie, I know it's been an honor to work for Rollins. You would've been a fool to decline joining his band. Many drummers would've pawned their souls for chance to work for him. I wondered if you expected a heavy workload. You appear to be a smart guy, and I don't think you believed for a second playing with Rollins would be a cinch.

Renowned drummers such as Al Foster, Roy Haynes, and Shelly Manne worked for Rollins. Haynes is scheduled to headline the Detroit International Jazz Festival this year. If the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper in Detroit that I write for, assign me to interview the drummer, I'll ask him if Rollins worked him to the bone. Being on Rollins' payroll must be gratifying. Kobie, I've interviewed Rollins twice. His stories about Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young marveled me. Rollins even discussed his addiction to drugs early in his career, and he set the record straight about the Williamsburg bridge urban myth. The jazz critics, historians, and journalists only got part of the story correct. Has Rollins ever talked to you about it?

Back then, as the story goes, Rollins lived in the same apartment building as drummer Wilbur Ware and his wife, who was pregnant. Rollins practiced all times of night, and it bothered her. So, Rollins decided to practice on the Williamsburg Bridge. That's the meat of the story, which has been twisted and embellished over the years. During one of my interviews with Rollins, I inquired about his association with Hawkins and Young, and their well-publicized alcohol abuse. Rollins pointed out most human beings need something to help get them through life. Hawkins and Younger were no different Rollins emphasized. Believe it or not, his insight made me reevaluate how unfairly and how quickly I used to judge addicts.

Kobie I can only imagine the stories and wisdom Rollins has shared with you. You are a lucky guy. Not many jazz musicians have Rollins on their resume. You haven't wasted your time with him. I bet Rollins is hard on you because you're an exceptional drummer destine to be a legendary figure in the music. As I said earlier, I'm checking on you because you've been on my mind lately. Over the years, I've attended a lot of jazz concerts, and honestly. I've never seen a drummer work as hard as you did that night. Kobie, in 30 years or so, when you've become a legend, you'll subject some up-and-coming sideman to the same pressure night after night as Rollins heaped on you.
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