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Biography

  • Born

    2 March 1934

  • Born In

    Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, United States

  • Died

    5 February 1962 (aged 27)

Douglas Watkins (1934 – 1962) was an American hard bop bassist from Detroit.

An original member of the Jazz Messengers, he later played in Horace Silver's and freelanced with Gene Ammons, Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, Art Farmer, Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Sonny Rollins, and Phil Woods among countless others in jazz.

He was a cousin by marriage to bassist Paul Chambers, who was similiarly prolific on record during this era. Watkins was known for his superb tone and distinct phrasing. Pianist Red Garland often stated that Watkins' was his favorite bassist and he was always in tune and never off-key. Doug played with Red Garland in 1959, along with drummer Charles "Specs" Wright. According to Horace Silver's recent autobiography: Let's Get To The Nitty Gritty, Watkins, along with Horace Silver, left Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers because the other members of the band (Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley and Blakey) had serious drug problems, and they were tired of being harassed and searched by the police every time they went to a gig in a club.

Some of Doug's best work can be heard as a 21 year old on the 1956 album by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins called Saxophone Colossus, along with Max Roach and Tommy Flanagan. The tunes, "Blue Seven" and "St. Thomas" are fine examples of Doug's work. He had a distinct walking tone and was right on the beat. He lived only to the age of 28, but appeared on well over 350 lps in his short life span and a search of jazz recordings find him backing many major Jazz stars of the time. When Charles Mingus briefly ventured over to the piano stool, he hired Watkins' to take over the bass part; Tonight at Noon and Oh Yeah!!! were the results of this adventurous interlude.

Only two albums appeared with Watkins' name given as the leader: Watkins at Large (1956) is an album with fellow members of the Horace Silver Quintet of the time and Soulnik (1961)), with Yusef Lateef, features Watkins on cello with Herman Wright backing him on bass. The cello was an instrument he had only started to play two days before the recording session.

Watkins died in an automobile accident February 5,1962, while traveling from Arizona to San Franscisco to meet drummer Philly Joe Jones for a gig. He fell asleep at the wheel and was hit head-on by a oncoming truck. The other occupants of the car, pianist Sir Roland Hanna and trumpeter Bill Hardman survived the crash.

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