Bobby Watson: Saxophonist/Composer/Arranger & Educator
A GRAMMY®-nominated saxophonist, composer, producer and educator, Bobby Watson trained formally at the University of Miami and then, from 1977-1981, earned his “doctorate” as musical director of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and appeared on 14 of the group’s recordings, more than anyone else in the ensembles 35-year existence. In addition to Blakey, Watson, early on the saxophonist worked with notable jazz icons such as Max Roach, Louis Hayes, George Coleman and Sam Rivers we well as working with peers and colleagues alike including, but certainly not limited to: Branford Marsalis; Wynton Marsalis; and vocalists Joe Williams, Dianne Reeves, Lou Rawls, Betty Carter and Carmen Lundy.
An association with bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Lewis led Watson to launch the first edition of Horizon, the highly acclaimed acoustic quintet. He has also led the High Court of Swing (a tribute to the music of Johnny Hodges), The Tailor Made Big Band and is a founding member of the highly acclaimed 29th Street Saxophone Quartet. Watson also wrote original music for the sound track of Robert DeNiro’s directorial debut, A Bronx Tale. To date, the saxophonist has recorded 38 records as a leader and appears on close to if not an additional 100 recordings.
More than 100 Bobby Watson compositions have been recorded. Second Floor Music, his long-time publisher, makes his original combo and big band arrangements to other performers and educators. After a string of recordings for the Palmetto label, Watson released a pair of self-produced titles. The Gates BBQ Suite (2011), celebrates his hometown’s most famous food product with the music and track titles referencing the one-time family business. At the time of its release Gates became the perfect vehicle for his University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) jazz students, who participate in school’s Watson-directed program. Watson’s most recent release, Check Cashing Day (2013), honors the Civil Rights Movement in general and specifically the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famed “I Have A Dream” speech. His latest release, Made in America (Smoke Sessions, 2017) pays tribute to the lesser-known giants of American Black History.
In 2000, after three decades in New York where he stood among the world’s most elite jazz musicians, Watson, at UMKC’s administration invitation, returned to Kansas City where he was awarded the first William and Mary Grant/Missouri Professor of Jazz as an endowed chair; part and parcel with the appointment, the saxophonist became UMKC’s Director of Jazz Studies, a position he continues to hold today.
Watson has received a number of well-deserved awards recognizing his musical contributions during what is now more than a four-decade career. In 2011 the saxophonist was inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of fame. In 2013 he received the prestigious Benny Golson Jazz Masters Award from Howard University in Washington, D.C. Simultaneously, Rep. John Conyers honored Watson by officially recognizing his work in the Congressional Record. On August 23, 2014, coincidentally Watson’s 61st birthday, he was selected as one of the first inductees into the then-newly established 18th and Vine “Jazz Walk of Fame.” He joined Pat Metheny as the only other living selection along with four of the city’s jazz icons: Count Basie, Jay McShann, Charlie Parker and Mary Lou Williams.
While Watson continues to further develop and maintain UMKC’s Jazz Studies Departments, and making it into one of the country’s finest jazz programs, he also maintains an ongoing touring schedule traveling the world over either as a guest educator, band member or leading his own ensembles. In April 2015, he reunited after two decades with two of his longest standings collaborators bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith – as well as working with second generation pianist Keith Brown, son of Donald Brown, receiving across-the-board critical acclaim under the cooperative banner known as the National Pastimes Productions All-Stars.