Doug Watkins: Soulnik

Vinyl reissue of the bassist's 1960 set has him playing swinging solos on the cello, accompanied by Yusef Lateef and others


This was the second of just two albums Watkins made as a leader. In great demand as a bassist in the 1950s and early 60s, he made his first LP as a bandleader – a typical hard bop blowing session – in 1956 with Hank Mobley and Donald Byrd.

On this 1960 set he became the main soloist, playing cello. It’s reported that he borrowed the instrument from a friend just three days prior to this session and played it for the first time on the recording. He certainly sounds completely at home on it, just as though he had played it for years. His thinking was probably that it would be more acceptable to listeners if he played cello rather than bass which was considered only as a rhythm instrument by most enthusiasts.

The music is esoteric with Watkins blending his lines with Lateef’s flute or oboe. Lateef contributes two blues lines, there is one original by Watkins and two standards. Watkins hits a good, swinging groove from the start with One Guy, the first blues, with some sterling flute by Lateef. The flute playing is distinguished by a pure, warm tone and some inventive solo work. The title tune, Soulnik, also by Lateef, has a strong cello and oboe introduction and swinging solo work from Watkins and the reedman. The minor key Andre’s Bag has some of Watkins’ most inventive and expressive cello solo work.

The two front line men are well supported by fellow Detroiters Lawson, Wright and Humphries on piano, bass and drums. Lex Humphries is a particularly tasteful drummer who plays brushes all through on a relaxed, lightweight programme. There’s nothing startling or innovative unless you count the unusual instruments employed. The album has good, clear and natural sound on this vinyl reissue.

Watkins said he planned to go into cello playing “more deeply”. Sadly, he had little opportunity as he died in a car crash early in 1962 on his way to California to join Philly Joe Jones’ new trio. He was just 27 years old.

(1) One Guy; Confessin’; Soulnik; (2) The Beginning; (1) Andre’s Bag; I Remember You; Imagination; (2) Space (47.35)
(1) Watkins (clo); Yusef Lateef (f, o); Hugh Lawson (p); Herman Wright (b); Lex Humphries (d). New Jersey, 17 May 1960.
(2) Yusef Lateef (ts); Curtis Fuller (tb); Hugh Lawson (p); Ernie Farrow (b); Louis Hayes (d); Doug Watkins (pc). NYC, 5 & 9 April 1957.
Sounds Good 66406