Born in Jackson, Mississippi on April 27, 1940, Frederick Douglas Waits attended both high school and college in his hometown, yet host real musical education began with the influence of Jackson’s local rhythm and blues music. It was during high school that Waits familiarized himself with the flute as wen as the drum set. Eventually he chose the drums as his principal vehicle of artistic expression. Upon graduating from Lanier High School, Freddie Waits traveled to New York with Little Willie John to perform at Smalls Paradise. This would be one of the first major experiences to lead Freddie on his path.
Waits’ professional career began while still in college. It was during this time that he had the privilege of accompanying two of the great Blues singers of the time: Ivory Joe Hunter and Percy Mayfield. Later on, Waits became ‘house drummer” for Motown Recording Studios when he finally moved to Detroit, Michigan. This gave him the opportunity to work with such legendary artists as The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Marth Reeves and The Vandellas, The Supremes, and Stevie Wonder (Waits recorded on Stevie Wonder’s Finger Tips,which was used in the soundtrack of the film Cooley High}. These experiences represented a most exciting introduction for one or the innovators of the Blues Rock sound. On one of his many trips to New York he played with Choker Campbell’s band at the Apollo theatre. As a member of the Paul Winter sextet, Waits also performed on the college circuit and on two occasions toured Brazil, where he first began to explore Samba and other South American musical forms.
After moving to New York, Freddie Waits became a member of the original New York Jazz sextet, which featured Jimmy Owens, Benny Golsen, John Mcintosh, Roland Hanna, and Barr Phillips. Some of the other Jazz greats he accompanied during this lime included Donald Byrd, Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, and Johnny Hodges.
With the high recommendations of Bob Cranshaw, Grady Tate, Mickey Roker, and Billy Taylor, Waits was soon asked to accompany the world renowned “First Lady of Swing”, Ella Fitzgerald, on an extensive tour encompassing the U.S, Austria, The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, England, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Yugoslavia. Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and East and West Germany. Upon returning to the U.S. Freddie rejoined the McCoy Tyner trio and accompanied Joe Williams, Novella Nelson, Belly Carter, Ray Bryant, Hubert Laws, Rhoda Scott, Lena Horne, Pharaoh Sanders, The Bndgewaters, Nancy Wilson, Billy Taylor, Grady Tate, and Carmen McRae. Thus, by this point, Waits’ performing and recording abilities had been well-documented.
Freddie Waits also devoted a great deal of his lime and energy to the versatile percussion group M’Boom, which featured Max Roach, Omar Clay, Roy Brooks, Joe Chambers, Warren Smith, Dr. Fred King, and Ray Mantilla, all of whom were contributing to a tremendously wide range of ideas and influences to the overall situation.
Freddie Waits was also very strongly committed to music education. He spent a significant amount of time teaching through Jazzmobile and Rutgers University. Much of his passion towards music was expressed in the sharing of precious knowledge to younger generations of musicians. He states: “”If you see someone hungry and you have a piece of bread, you are going to give it to them:· And of his experience at Rutgers University, he quotes: “I came here to teach, but I also came here to grow”.
Freddie Waits was a phenomenal musician whose legacy is survived in full by his numerous recordings, compositions, students, and perhaps most significantly by his sons, Nasheet and Sharif Waits. He was devoted to the development of America’s most sophisticated art form, Jazz, and to the growth of the human spirit through the musical experience. Throughout his many travels he sought to incorporate new influences into the music that he created, making it a very personal, while also universal, expression of the most humane qualities that one should possess. Freddie states: “Wherever I have traveled, I felt a connection with the people, and that connection was manifested in the music. I want to experience by playing and traveling.” His artistic approach embodied a blending of cultures, but possessed a distinctive purity of its own and, because of this, his legacy will live forever.