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LJS 116: Dominating a Learning Mindset and Transcending Musical Limits (Feat. Kobie Watkins)

Welcome to episode 116 of the LJS Podcast where today we have on a very special guest, drummer, composer and teacher, Kobie Watkins. Kobie has played with the who’s who on the jazz scene, and in this show, he shares his story and talks about his mindset of continuous growth and learning. Listen in!

Listen to episode 116

One of my favorite things about doing this show is learning alongside all of you. And yes, I learn even as I teach, but I especially learn a lot having on special guests.

On today’s episode, I have on drummer, composer and teacher Kobie Watkins. Kobie has played with a long list of big-time jazz musicians, and that’s because he’s part of that club. Sonny Rollins, John Patitucci, Curtis Fuller, Bobby Broom, Joe Lovano…and the list goes on and on.

Kobie shares his story of musical growth and how he has developed a mindset of continuous learning. He also shares some of his best tips for crushing it as a musician.

Here’s some of what we talk about:

1. Kobie’s musical beginnings and how he got started.

2. His mindset around continuous learning.

3. The things he thinks all musicians should be working on.

4. Important lessons he’s learned, including one from Sonny Rollins.

5. His new album “Movement.”

Make sure you check out Kobie’s newest album. See the link below. I learned a lot from him in this interview and I’m sure you will to. What was one of the main takeaways for you? Leave it in the comments below.

Important Links

Kobie Watkins Grouptet¬†“Movement”

Learn Jazz Standards Community Facebook Group

Read the Transcript

Brent: What is up, everybody? My name is Brent, and I am the jazz musician behind the website, which is a blog, a podcast, and videos, all geared towards helping you become a better jazz musician. If you are into jazz, and you want to learn how to become a better player, whether you’re a beginner just getting started out, intermediate trying to improve, or even if you’re an advanced player trying to get some further insight, my friend, you are in the right place.

Thanks for being here. Thanks for listening, and on today’s episode 116, I’ve got a killer special guest on the show. It’s drummer, composer, teacher Kobie Watkins. Kobie Watkins is really a powerhouse musician. Really honored to have him on the show. He’s played with musicians like Sonny Rollins, Branford Marsalis, Joe Lovano, Curtis Fuller, Jim Hall, John Patitucci, Arturo Sandoval, Roy Haines, Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride, Bobby Broom. I mean, you get the point, right? I mean, he’s played with everybody, and I had a great time talking to him, just learning his story and just getting his advice, which he’s about to share with you. And I’m so stoked about that.

And you know, Kobie, he has a brand new album coming out with his grouptet. It’s called the Kobie Watkins Grouptet. I want you to go check that out at This album is called “Movement”, and wow, just a powerhouse bunch of musicians. He’s going to talk a little bit about his album at the end, but listen, he also has a very special giveaway that he wants to give away to you guys, my audience. He’s going to let me give away something really special to a select number of people. So you’re going to have to listen to the very, very end of this show, and I’ll tell you all about that. So be sure to listen to the very end.

All right, I don’t want to take up any more time. Let’s get on the interview. Let’s start learning from this jazz master, Kobie Watkins. Let’s do this thing. All right, welcoming on the show today is Kobie Watkins. He’s a drummer, he’s a composer, he’s an educator. Kobie, thanks for being here today.

Kobie: Thank you. Can’t wait to start.

Brent: Yeah, I’m so excited to have you on, and actually, I have an interesting story about when I first you play, Kobie. You’re playing with Bobby Broom, with his trio. I can’t remember right now what the bassist was, but it was at the Jazz Alley, and I was going to college there. I went there to college in Seattle for a year, and I happened to be at your show. I was checking it out, and then Bobby had some kind of problem with his guitar. It broke down.

Kobie: My gosh, yes.

Brent: Eventually, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it, so they announced, “Hey, does anybody have a guitar in the crowd?” And I was like, “Yeah, I have a guitar.” And so …

Kobie: Was that you?

Brent: Yeah, that was me.

Kobie: Oh my gosh.

Brent: You remember this show? That’s crazy.

Kobie: Yes, absolutely. I’m telling Bobby about this tomorrow.

Brent: Really? That’s so cool. Yeah, so I ended up, I was sprinting to the dorms. The dorms are in downtown, near Jazz Alley, the club. I think in the meantime someone might have had a Strat or something and handed it to him, and Bobby was totally owning it. I mean, obviously it wasn’t the ideal situation of having a hollow body. So I rushed back, grabbed my guitar, and Bobby played the rest of the night with the guitar. Anyway, you guys sounded good. But that was the first time I heard you play. I just thought I’d add that anecdote there.

Kobie: Gee whiz, you were the guy, man. Okay, that’s awesome. Yeah, we gotta take you out for dinner, man. We owe you, actually.
Brent: No, you totally don’t. That’s so funny that I did not expect you to even remember that show, because I know you play a lot. You’re such an accomplished drummer, you’re such an accomplished musician, so so stoked that you’re here to talk to my audience. You know, my audience is just excited to get to know you, to learn from you. I’m excited to learn from you. So I just think we should start from square one, right from the beginning. How did Kobie Watkins start getting into music? What’s the start of that?

Kobie: Oh, man, small child, three, four years old. Its so funny. Side note, I just saw my son just in the cabinets, grabbing pots and pans out, the tops, and my wife was like, “We gotta take those outside.” I can’t. This is what I did. And so I started out as a kid. I was taking pots and pans out and playing on them, and actually my brother actually reminded me of something that I did not know, because you don’t remember, really, much, but I would set the plastic bowls up, the Tupperware they used to sell, this old school Tupperware. I would set it up in tones when I was like three and four years old. So I was aware of tonality even then, and I just wondered when I was in college, why am I so particular about tonality in my drums? And even before college, even as a drum set player in church, I was wondering why I was so connected with tonality. Was I just being weird?

Anyhow, so as a kid, through church, I was brought up in church, so I played drums through church, and then I made a decision. I said, “Hey, maybe I should go to school and become a teacher.” That was initially like, hey, my dad told me about Vandercook College of Music, and then I said, “Man, I can teach.” And as I was going to school, I realized the love for playing was greater than, and still as much, as teaching. So I was learning all these teaching skills and pedagogies, but then I was still going to the jam sessions, and I was going and hanging out and doing that, and still getting my work done. And so that was really interesting, trying to make that duality happen. And then even going to the Latin jazz clubs later on in my junior, senior year when some of my friends started playing there. So it was like my third degree, or my third branch of education.

So there was the jam sessions, there was my education degree happening, then going to the Latin clubs and listening and trying to follow and dance to the music. So there’s a lot in there, because as an educator, I wanted to be able to show my children, whoever my students were, that I could play all of these different instruments. So I made sure that I fell in love with each instrument that they had us practice for, I think, a maximum of four weeks. We’d do four weeks’ time on just one or two different instruments. So it would be like a woodwind, like a flute, and then on the brass side, you’re doing like a French horn. You fall in love with these. My approach was, fall in love with these instruments, so that you create the best sound from them.

Brent: It sounds like in a lot of ways, you’re equally in love with the education side of music as well as the performing side, but those two inform each other in such a way that each one supports the other. Is that true?

Kobie: You get it. Yep. Totally get it. You’re like spot-on. I couldn’t have said it any better. I think it was so important, because I’d watch people around me, and the guys and girls and ladies and gentlemen that were around me, they were really good at what they were doing, or they were really already accomplished in some levels, because they had levels of schooling, but I didn’t, as far as high school and things. I didn’t come through that overly structured, or even functional structure, of high school band and marching band and things, so everything for me was like I was a sponge to everything, and learning and understanding and figuring out.

And most of the time, which even now again, a big one for your audience is, and for anybody, it’s the process. Dealing with yourself and the process is the most important time spending on your instrument, because you figure out what you can do, what you cannot do, what your abilities are, the capabilities. Even so you say, “I can’t really get that note right now, but I’m capable of getting that note eventually. How do I get that note eventually?” Well it just takes time and effort, slow, methodical.

And yeah, everybody doesn’t want to do it slow and methodically, but sometimes it’s really important if you trust that process first, and then sometimes you develop a different way that you may want to learn or process how you want to develop. But I think the slow, because I always take it from my children now. They did not walk from just walking. They fell down, they got back up, they fell down again, they tried again, and they fell some more. And it was a slow process, and it was over periods of months.

So I started trying to teach my boys how to walk at six months. Six, seven months, they were like on a little push thing. Well, okay, we think about that with our instrument and jazz and music in general, and just give yourself some time, two months to get this, then the next two months to get this. And you know, you put yourself in a situation where you’re giving yourself small goals, small successful goals.

And that’s what I did in school, that’s what I do as a professional now, and that’s what I do with my students. Okay, we didn’t get it. I’m okay with that it. I tell my son … We’re practicing, he’s three years old and we’re practicing his writing right now. And I was like, “Man, you gotta get these K’s. You gotta write the K’s.” At fist, I went at it like, “You gotta write the entire letter,” and then I said, “Nope, let’s just draw a line. Dot to dot to dot,” and I drew dots, and I was just like, “Oh, this makes perfect sense. You can only do things dot to dot, one at a time. You can’t do everything in one fine swoop.” And so we have to be really aware of ourselves, because it makes us that much greater.

Brent: Wow, I love that. We’re talking about a very goal-oriented approach here, but not trying to bite off everything at once, and I know just from knowing some people in my audience, that they get overwhelmed about the journey of music, and jazz specifically, but overall that journey in music, there’s so much there, and there’s so much to go after. And there’s always something that needs a little bit of work, but I love that you’re talking about with your son, you draw the line first. Once you get that line, then you move to the next one. So far, this is really great stuff. Thanks for sharing.

Now, I want to backtrack one second, just a little bit. Where did all this … how did you get this musical drive? Because clearly, what you’re describing right now is this big musical motivation. Was there someone, was it your family that turned you on to music like this? Where did it come? Was there someone who injected themselves into your life, or is this all just coming just from you?

Kobie: From energy. Well, my dad, he was a very fine drummer, a very fine musician, and as I later … he just passed away last November … as I later learned from one of his really good friends … and as a kid, but I never titled him as a master musician. He was able to teach me rudiments, drum set rudiments, the ABCs of what we play on the drums. He was able to teach me that. Those were my only formal lessons as a drummer today. I could really count on probably one and a half of my hands how many lessons we technically had.

He taught me and my brother from talking, words, what he said, how he said it, the intent of what music could and should be, how we should think, how we should approach, how we should execute. These thing were … and it was so direct that you received it like, wow. It wasn’t an opinion, because as we see now, one big … We grew up in church, so my dad was just like, “Man, anybody in the audience, whether you’re at church or at a concert, playing the drums, don’t be surprised that anyone in the audience can basically outplay you. They’re sitting right there in the audience. So don’t be surprised if that happens.”

So that was a big lesson, like, “Man, somebody in the audience at any point could be better.” So it humbles you how you approach what you’re playing, especially in church. So weirdly enough, my brother now, we may be 14-15, 15-16, he’s a year younger than I am, we’re sitting there and we see this disheveled guy walk in, and he gets on the drums with this choir. And he gets in. Again, this is the, like, ’90s, so this is not even clicks in the ear with a shield up in front of you. This is like organ, drums, guitar, bass, raw uncut. You’re like black church. This guy gets up there, and he plays, and we’re like, “Oh my gosh,” he just rips us a new one, just literally like.

And we weren’t … I don’t know if we had played or what, but we had looked at the guy like, “Who’s this cat? Why does he look like that?’ He just tore us a new one. He was so skilled. The delivery was amazing, and we were just like, “Oh snap, there it is, is what Daddy was talking about all this time. He’s that guy.” It was like, “Never again.” And later on in my professional career, I met this guy, and I remind him every time I see him, I say, “Hey, man. You know, you walked into church, and you killed us.” It was, like, ridiculous.

Brent: And he inspired you. He inspired you to work harder and …

Kobie: To work harder, and so we’d love the music from … because I know I got off slightly … but we loved the music from how it was taught, how it was conveyed. How we listened was part of the way he taught us. How we listened, we didn’t just listen to the drums. More times than not, we barely listened to the drums. We listened to the horns. We listened to the singer. We listened to the organ or the keyboard, because right now that’s how we drive the way we play drums. We drive from the harmony. We drive from where the vocalist is singing from, him or her, the tension and release that the vocalist needs to move forward in the song.

So it’s driven, our music, that energy is driving from how it was taught, the things we listened to, which was gospel music, which was later on some smooth jazz, some R&B, and then later on we just started stretching out into everything. And even now I’m enthused by every form of music.

Brent: Hmm, absolutely. I think that’s a powerful lesson right there, is that you’re not just listening to the drums, you’re listening to all the different instruments in the band, and that just really will inform how you play your instrument. Sometimes a lot of people make that mistake of just, okay, I’m a saxophone player, so I’m just listening to saxophone players, but then missing out on everything that’s happening. And when you’re playing, especially in a jazz scenario, when you’re playing with all these other musicians, we’re all responding with each other and trying to grab things from each other, and that’s the way that music is supposed to be played. So that’s a great lesson.

Tell me about a time in your career … I mean, you’ve had an incredible career. I know you’ve played with Sonny Rollins. We were talking about Bobby Broom a little bit. Tell me about a time in your career where you learned a particularly … I know you just talked about a moment there … but a particularly big musical lesson, something that maybe just sticks with you that comes to the top of your head.

Kobie: Oh, you know, just recently I was playing with a bassist, and we recorded, and I was playing this song the normal way I played it, but then I was listening back to the recording. I literally pulled something out of it. I was like, “That’s where I’m supposed to be rhythmically.” First of all, recording truly gives you your mirror, literally, whether it’s video or whether it’s audio or both. It gives you a mirroring effect or understanding of what you are really doing or what you’re not doing. I was so off from connecting and locking the groove, and when I heard it in that one small spot, we went back and I was able to do it. That was just recently.

There’s some other times where, depending on how you’re playing the drums, you can hear … and depending on the volume that you’re playing, and this happened to me, actually, Saturday. I was playing with a Lain percussionist. Depending on how loud you’re playing, you can miss the locking. Depending on how busy you are, you can miss locking in those grooves together. So I’m getting lessons all the time. I missed … there were some calypso things that I missed when I was with Sonny Rollins, that I now go back and I can grasp and say, “Oh, it was supposed to be here, the groove was supposed to be here in this tempo. It was supposed to lock here, as opposed to there.” Man, I’m constantly learning, where I should be, where I should sit, and it’s just from listening back rhythmically.

Brent: Wow. I’m inspired because your attitude of just constantly learning is an amazing reminder for me, amazing reminder for all of us today. I mean, such an accomplished musician as yourself is always learning, is always on the path to learning, and I also remember a teacher I studied with, Vic Juris, a guitarist. I studied with him, and he also had that exact kind of same attitude of I’m always not 100% satisfied with where I’m at with my playing. And when I first heard him say that, I was amazed, because I looked up to him as a guitarist, and just realizing that. And you’re saying the exact same thing, so that spirit of just always learning, that we’re on this journey, pushing for it. I just absolutely love that.

Now, you do teach. You are an educator. You were talking a lot about this … Let’s go back to some of that goal stuff you were talking about, setting goals and just taking things one step at a time. What are you doing with some of your students to help them improve? What does that path look like for people who are saying, “Hey, I want to get better at playing jazz, at playing music,” whatever their instrument may be? What does a path look like for them to move forward?

Kobie: Awesome. Singing. Singing.

Brent: Okay. Singing?

Kobie: Singing, and I don’t mean … well, I do mean it. This was just recently, I jumped on this bit of a soap box, and singing connects to everything, whether you’re singing the rhythm or you’re singing the melody. So singing. If you’re able to sing the phrase, if you’re able to repeat what you’re hearing through your voice, that’s a direct connection to your body. You can take a small … don’t do the large ones unless you’re ready to do the large ones, but take small portions of it.

Of course, they got this thing called the amazing slower downer, and they got a bunch of different things that you can slow down the music, where you can hear it, and that was one of the things I did, actually used it when I did my master’s at Northwestern. I used that slower downer, and what was the song? It was Miles Davis’s … I think it was “So What”, the famous thing there. I slowed it down, but first I sang it. So I was like, “Oh man, (singing),” whatever the solo was, and it became clear to me, like the rhythm, the melody, it never escaped me once I had that. So that way I could actually play it. If you can sing it, you can play it, as people always say. That’s one.

Two, drummers, since I was a kid I’ve been able to mouth the drums and play solos and have to invest in just drum set playing from the voice, from (singing) and making all the sounds. Why? Because you’re investing in the rhythm, you’re investing in the sounds of the drums, you’re investing in the clarity of the rhythm.

Brent: It’s still singing. It’s still singing, though.

Kobie: Yes, and so all of that is clarity. All of that is giving you clarity. It’s all giving you a sense of how to connect with the music. So not only are you just learning a skill, but you’re connecting more with the music. That’s what singing does. That’s what I would say is my motto for kids. I teach a big band lesson … not a lesson, excuse me. I teach a big band on Sundays, middle school, 6th through 12th graders. There’s about 17 of them or whatever, and it’s just truly big band, four trumpets, four trombones, seven saxophones, I believe, two basses, drums, and guitar.

And they would always laugh at me, because I’d say, “Hey man, can you sing?” Even, “Can you sing it being silly?” Because even if you sing it being silly, you’re trying. You’re giving yourself a window to just be a non-expert. Just be a non-expert. Sing and be silly, be just over a top with it. Just don’t care. But just sing it in that format, and then you start to bring it into perspective. You’re like, “Oh, I actually can do this.” But just do it in a way. I had a teacher in my undergrad, and he said, “Man,” he would tell the choir all the time, “sing it out of tune.” (Singing). Play with it. That’s how you know when it’s in tune, where it really is.

Brent: Right, by going for it.

Kobie: Yeah, just go for it, be out of tune. Be totally out of spectrum of reality of what the rhythm or what the note is, and then try to find it. Slowly bring it back into play. Slowly invest in like, “Oh okay, that’s actually where it sounds best.” But you had the chance to just like kinda be, and kinda be silly, basically. It’s not always serious. It’s not always like … Like I enjoy music because I know it’s not … what I tell people, I know it’s not heart surgery. It’s not a do-or-die situation.

Brent: No one’s going to die if you play a wrong note.

Kobie: No, no. We’ll pick that note. We’ll go back and get the broom, sweep it up, and we’ll be fine.

Brent: Yeah, and perhaps if you don’t go out there to make some of those mistakes, you aren’t going to learn those important lessons for how to improve, right? I mean, if you don’t … Like you said, just be silly. If you don’t put yourself out there, if you don’t give it a shot, then nothing’s ever going to happen anyways, right? So it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing to just do this.

Kobie: We ain’t afraid of being wrong.

Brent: Yeah, that’s a tough one for everybody.

Kobie: Our children. Children are never afraid of being wrong.

Brent: That’s so true.

Kobie: It’s like they just do it. It’s like children, they just do it. We have to continue that mentality. We have to continue that childlike introductions into every lesson. Hey, if we’re afraid to do everything … Man, my two-year-old son, no joke, this guy, he got up on the ottoman. The ottoman’s not that high off the ground, we all know this, but I’m like, “Cameron, off the ottoman.” I said it at least 10 times. Boom. I was like, “You hit your head, didn’t you?” “Ow.” And he’s just like rubbing his head, and I was just like … And it was just like hey, he had to learn it, but he wasn’t afraid to learn that.

Brent: Learn the hard way.

Kobie: Yeah, he wanted to jump off back and forth. We have to not be afraid to play and sing a wrong note, especially when we’re practicing. When we’re practicing, everything should be wrong to some degree, like, “Man, I’m not playing this five-stroke roll even, or it’s not with the click.” Actually, great. It’s not with the click, so now you know what it sounds like when you’re off from the click. So that’s a lesson in and of itself. You don’t know when you’re off from the click if you never done it.

Brent: Right. Right, absolutely. So get in there. So far we got singing, we got whatever instrument you play, you’re a drummer, and we’ve got just doing it, just going out there. What else do people need to be doing, working on?

Kobie: Sonny Rollins gave me this one. This is a great one, and it goes back to the drums again. But we were in rehearsal, we were playing, and he comes over to me. He goes, “Hey, you’re not the only drummer in the band.”

Brent: Wow, that’s a great lesson.

Kobie: Right?

Brent: I love that.

Kobie: I was like, “Is he talking about somebody? I think he is.” I was like, “I don’t know who he’s talking about,” but I started laughing, and he was just like … I was like, “Okay.” He was paying attention to things not happening, rhythmically and connectively. He said that, he’s like, “Hey, you’re not the only drummer in the band.”
Brent: Wow. So everybody’s responsible is what he’s saying.
Kobie: Everybody’s responsible for having rhythm and locking in and playing well. I mean, you listen to the old Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald and what’s-his-name that sang … I forget his name. Listen to how rhythmic they sing. The rhythms that they sing are just like it’s right spot on, whether it’s delayed or … Billie Holiday, she was a one-take wonder, basically. They called her “One Take”. She always got it in one take. She never wanted to do more than one take. I was like, “Wow.”

Brent: There’s something magical about Billie Holiday, though. I mean, she’s always been my favorite. I don’t know why. She’s always been my favorite, doesn’t matter old, new. For some reason, I always gravitated to her. There’s so much soul coming out of it. But you’re right, the phrasing, the rhythm in the way she sings, it’s so raw, it’s so organic. Wouldn’t you say that? I love Billie Holiday. I’m glad you mentioned her.

Kobie: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. I didn’t even know that. You didn’t tell me that.

Brent: No, no, I didn’t. I’m glad you brought her up. I have to ask you this question, okay? I have to ask you. What was it like playing with Sonny Rollins? Was it-

Kobie: Awesome. Awesome. It was awesome, because you were constantly learning, on the bandstand and off the bandstand, about how life is happening off the bandstand. But one of the biggest things, I had an audition. My audition with Sonny was immediate, like an immediate lesson. We played the music, and then afterwards we went and we talked for like five minutes. He says, “Look man, what we do on this stage is the most important thing,” if I’m recalling or I’m paraphrasing, “but it’s the most important thing for that day.

And life in general, because people, they go through everyday mundane life, and for this concert, we want to take them someplace else. And we also be someplace else. So we don’t want to have to think about the music. We don’t want to have to think about what we’re doing. We just want to be able to play and be in the moment, part of the moment, be in the spaces of the energy that’s already before us, that we just need to grab onto. And the people don’t want to come to the concert, and they don’t want to have to think about what they’re listening to. They don’t want to think about tapping their feet. They just want to tap their feet and take away all the things that they were wronged for that day.”

Because you can go through every day, and if you sit down at a really good concert … I’ve gone to a Pat Metheny concert, man, and I just sat there and just daydreamed. I was just like, “Man, this is amazing.” I’ve gone to Branford Marsalis’s concert, and I was just like, “Yeah, man, this is …” And Kenny Garrett, I just almost cried at one of his, man, because I was just hanging on all of the notes. I was just like, “Man,” I was like, “Dude, you almost had me in tears,” but he would just play and play, and just give of himself.

And that was another thing. Sonny was just like … And there would be times, man, Sonny would be playing so deep and profound. I remember one of the concerts, afterwards, I just cried afterwards, man. It was like, “Whoa,” because it was just so deep and so enthralling, when we were just digging in so deep. I’m a crier sometimes with music. When I’m playing, sometimes you’ll see tears, and I’m like, “Oh, whoops.”

Brent: But you know, it shows in the music. You’re such a powerful musician, and your personality just flows out of your playing. You know, I can say that. It just flows out of the way you play, and those musicians you were talking, I mean, when they’re playing together, they transcend this ability. And I’ve certainly been to shows where I’ve just been like, “Wow, I can’t even believe that just happened.” But the thing is, I’m talking to you right now, and you’re one of those people. You’re one of those people that makes those situations happen, and that’s why …

You know, my audience, they like learning about how to become better jazz musicians, musicians, but they also love listening to music. They love listening to jazz, and you’re someone … I’m excited, because I know you’re coming out with an album, a really great album, and I want you to talk about this, because you are one of those people that moves people in a way with music that can transcend what you would expect is possible, when you get into one of those moments. Tell me about this new album that’s coming out soon.

Kobie: Man, Brent, I tell you that I’m going to take it from where you just said “move”, and so the name of the album is called “Movement”-

Brent: Nice.

Kobie: … particularly because of the drive of each of the songs. It’s the dance. The movement, this album “Movement” is the dance. Every song that you listen to and hear, you have a level of dance. There’s some type of dance that you feel, that you’re able to connect with, and that’s … We didn’t know it, actually, going in. It was crazy.

As we started developing everything and how things started to fit together, it was just like, “Oh, this is dance music. This is not just …” And as an audience member, and me asking the audience, I never want my audience to just sit. I want my audience to dance.
Man, let me tell you one story. Sonny Rollins, one of the first concerts that I played with him overseas, Umbria, one of. But this is Umbria 2008, I think, something like that. Umbria, Italy. And I didn’t know this stuff happened. This is crazy. So we’re playing … (singing) … “Don’t Stop the Carnival”. I don’t know, 700, 800 people ran to the stage and started dancing.

Brent: Wow.

Kobie: And I turned to Bob Cranshaw, and he was like, “mm-hmm (affirmative).” I was like, “Oh my goodness.” He just gave me that a matter of fact, like yep. I was like, “Whoa, I had no idea.” It was like how was it that I was a participating member of the band and didn’t know about this Christmas gift?

Brent: Wow. That’s so cool.

Kobie: Yeah, it’s like out of nowhere. There’s one of the songs on this called “The City” that I got from Sonny, from Sonny and how we were playing one of his tunes or whatever, and it was really, really … It’s not his song, but it was just like one of the songs inspired me, and so I created this tune called “The City”, and it’s just like it just grooves. (Singing). But then, also, I grew up in Chicago, so it also has this house music feel, because house music came from Chicago.

So my brother heard it, and he was just like, “Oh man, that’s like Chicago house music.” I was just like, “Really?” But it’s jazz. None of the songs per se … They all connect, first of all. Let me say that, they all connect, because they all have a continuous ebb and flow from … I would say from just a dance Latin feel to a dance groove feel, and it’s all in there. It’s all connected. You can always get a two-step in out of nowhere and be right there in the moment.

This music is written for everyone, to have and to connect and to love, and I feel great about it. It’s called “Movement”. The name of the album is “Movement”. It’s going to be out June 16th, national. You can get a early release if you like. You can go to … should I say the …

Brent: Oh, you can say it now, too. We’ll say it again later. Yeah, sure.

Kobie: Sure, so you can go to, and you can pick it up there. Just love on it. Let me know what you think about it. The guys on there are really playing, and really … They dance when they play.

Brent: Well, I know for a fact that you got a super-spiritual player on board. You got my old teacher and mentor, Justin Nielsen. He’s playing the piano. I don’t know if I know a guy that just … I mean, I feel like you guys might be kindred spirits, because there’s a lot of heart and soul. By the way, of those listening, I actually did interview him on the podcast, episode 100, so, if you want to check out that interview. But Justin has a lot of heart and soul. I’m excited to hear this album. I think it’s going to be …

Kobie: Justin and I used to actually just play, like when I moved to Boise, or moved to Eagle, Idaho, and taught at Arts West then. We would just like, when it was time for us to play or whatever, our quartet at the time, he and I would just sit down and just start playing. No bass, it would just be he and I for like 10 minutes. And just like literally following and connecting one another. It’s really, really, really interesting. And so we knew then, that was 2010, and I think that’s really how we first connected, more or less. There’s just like, “Hey, let’s just play.” We used to start playing together. It was just, that was it. And so then his brother, Ryan Nielsen, he’s a dancer.

Oh my goodness, and he sounds great, trumpeter. Truly connected with his voice, like he will sing, not only sing his part, but he can transpose his part.

Brent: Wow. Yeah, he’s a real musical guy. The whole family’s really musical.

Kobie: Right. Their mom, Elaine Nielsen, she made me the fifth son. I’m the fifth son, because there’s four boys and one girl, but I’m the fifth son by … she adopted me. Because man, all of them can play, literally, all of them can play. It’s amazing. I’m like, “Yeah, this is like a …” Once someone asked me, “Why do you guys, why do you use them?” I was like, “Man, these cats should be out on the road. These are amazing musicians.” Alex, who’s the bassist, who’s also our marketing director, he’s just like, but he can play the bass. It’s like ridiculous. I was like, “Dude.” It’s like an innate thing for him. He hears it.

So anyhow, our bassist, amazing cat, Aaron Miller, he’s on there, man. He’s digging in. He’s killing. Jonathan Armstrong, he teaches at ISU, and he’s originally from California. Man, I have spirited cats. Everybody listens, and everybody connects. It’s musically amazing and scary at the same time.

Brent: I love it. I love it. Listen, I am fired up about this album, and hey, everybody listening right now, I hope you’re fired up about this album too. And I really want you to go check it out. You can pre-order this album, right, Kobie? Is that true?

Kobie: Absolutely.

Brent: All right, so if you want to pre-order this album, and I know I’m going to be doing it, go to, and if you’re checking out in the show notes, we’ll have that link in the show notes, but you just go to that link, KobieWatkinsGrouptet. I want you to order this album, because this is going to be a powerful piece of music, and if you’re listening to Kobie today and you’re like, “Wow, this guy is inspiring, and I want to hear what this is all about,” I encourage you. Go out there. Inspire yourself by listening to this music. So Aside from this album that I’m stoked about, I’ve been very stoked to talk to you, Kobie. I mean, you’ve just laid down some value for the audience today. You’ve shared your story and inspired me. I know you inspired them too. So I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thanks for being on the show. This has been super-exciting. And I think we might have you again in the future sometime.

Kobie: Oh, please, please, please. Yeah. Absolutely, I’m available. Absolutely. Thank you, Brent. Thank you.

Brent: Woo, that was a good one. Thank you again, Kobie Watkins, our special guest, for being on the show, and that’s all for now, but if you were listening at the very beginning of the show, I told you that Kobie has something very special he wants to give away for free … that’s right, I said free … to you guys. He’s letting me do this, and I’m really excited. I’m really thankful to him as well. What he wants to do, is he wants to give away four free downloads of his new album, “Movement”, which is so cool.

What we’re going to do for this is a little bit of a raffle. If you’ve been listening to the show for the last month or so, you know that we have a Facebook community group. If you go to, and if you’re not part of that group, it’s a closed group. Apply for the group, answer a few questions for me, I’ll let you in there. And this is what I want you to do. I want with hashtag #tip, tell me what you learned from this episode 116, what you learned from Kobie, and just put that in the group, and just share what you learned, one of your main takeaways. So remember, hashtag #tip and then what you got out of this show from Kobie.

Make sure you mention that this was episode 116. In about a week, I’ll send out to the winners some free download codes, the top four. So obviously, if you’re listening to this way in the future, from outside of the month of May 2018, you’re probably not going to be part of that raffle anymore, but for those of you who are listening in real time, go ahead, Facebook community group,, hashtag #tip, what you learned from Kobie in the episode, and you’ll be officially a part of that raffle. Okay? That’s what you’re going to do.

Thanks so much for listening. I really appreciate it. Hey, I always say this: If you got value off today’s show, and you’re like, “Hey, this is awesome, and I want other people to know about this show,” of course share it with your friends, who you know will want to hear about this stuff, but also make sure you go to iTunes, your favorite podcast listening service, leave a kind rating and review, help support the show. All right?

Hey, that’s all for today. Thank you so much. We’re going to be here with another episode, episode 117, next week. I look forward to seeing you back then.

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


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