Born and raised in the state of Iowa, Dick Oatts was brought up in a musical family. He was introduced to the saxophone by his father Jack Oatts, a respected jazz educator and saxophonist. After high school, Dick attended Drake University and in 1972 he began his professional career in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Oatts moved to NYC in 1977. Shortly there after, joined the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra. Since then, he has toured, recorded, and performed as a sideman in small groups with Bob Brookmeyer, Red Rodney, Eddie Gomez, Mel Lewis, Jerry Bergonzi, Joe Lovano, Dom Salvador, Vic Juris, Soren Moller, Terell Stafford, Ray Mantilla, Jon Faddis, David Berkman, Flim & the BBs, Ray Mantilla, Fred Hersch, Joe Morello, Lalo Schiffrin and several others.
His Big Band and large ensemble experience include Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orch, The Mel Lewis Jazz Orch., Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, Jon Faddis Jazz Band, Tito Puente, Lester Bowie, Sam Jones/Tom Harrell, Jim McNeely, Kenny Wheeler, Joe Lovano Paquito D'Rivera,and Gunther Schuller. Oatts has been a featured artist with the Metropole Orchestra, WDR Big Band, Stockholm Jazz Orchestra,Danish Radio Big Band, Millenium Jazz Orch., Norboten Radio big band, High Coast Jazz Orchestra, RIAS Radio big band, Concerto BouOrchestra, Mats Holmquist/Dick Oatts Orchestra, Rome Radio, UMO big band, Winnipeg Jazz Band, and the Wellington Jazz Orch. Oatts has accompanied such vocalists as Joe Williams, Sara Vaughn. Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Neena Freelon, and Milton Nascimento. He has recorded solos for R&B artist, Luther Vandross and Everything but the Girl.
As a Steeplechase recording artist, Oatts has recorded 10 solo CDs and 5 co-led CDs. He has recorded 3 CDs on the DMP label with co-leader and pianist, Garry Dial and another on the Temple Univ. record label entitled "That Music Always Round Me". Oatts and Terell Stafford are co-leaders on "Bridging the Gap" on Planet Arts. Dave Santoro and Oatts are co-leaders on "Meru" on Red Records.
For the past 35 years, Oatts has appeared at College Jazz Festivals as a soloist and clinician throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico,South America, Europe, Mid-East, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and Taiwan. Oatts is a professor at the Boyer School of Music and Dance at Temple University and has been an "Artist in Residence" at the Amsterdam Conservatory since 1998.