Bobby Watson

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
In 1977, quite a few eyebrows were raised when drummer Art Blakey, the nurturer of many jazz greats, started touting the country kid in overalls with the alto saxophone as his latest great discovery. Eyebrows remained up in amazement as Bobby Watson let loose with a Parkeresque run of notes. Watson's sweet, full tone evokes both memories of Johnny Hodges and the blues-tinged beauty of the church music Watson played as a child. Since those early days as a Jazz Messenger, Watson has, for the most part, fulfilled Blakey's expectations.

Watson studied music at the University of Miami. After graduation, when the opportunity arose for an education with Art Blakey, Watson grabbed it and spent five years as a Jazz Messenger, eventually becoming the band's musical director. Watson did the same thing Benny Golson did for Blakey in the late 1950s, he helped kick-start a group that had become stagnant. He also brought to the group his energetic playing and something else Blakey needed, a songwriter to fit the Messenger groove. The best example of Watson's contribution to the Messengers is displayed on Album of the Year, featuring the best of Blakey's later bands, including a precocious trumpeter named Wynton Marsalis.

After leaving Blakey in 1981, Watson formed the first edition of his long-running band, Horizon. Watson demonstrated his diversity working as a sideman in George Coleman's hard-bop octet, Sam Rivers's experimental Winds of Manhattan ensemble, and drummer Panama Francis's Savoy Sultans. Watson was having a hard time finding a label to record his band, so he and bassist Curtis Lundy formed their own label, New Note, in 1983. A few years later, Watson helped found the 29th Street Saxophone Quartet.

He signed with Blue Note in the late 1980s and a few years later switched to Columbia where he recorded both small group sessions and an album with the big band he formed in early 1990s. print, good dates to explore exist. Watson has a bit of a populist streak, which some critics have unfairly dismissed as being facile. The alto player has a good dose of old school appreciation for creating solos that capture attention, sometimes with burning intensity or sweet lyricism, occasionally with humor.

Like Horace Silver, Watson isn't afraid of writing slick, finger-popping, catchy melodies as vehicles for improvisations. One of Watson's strongest albums is Love Remains (Red Records, 1988), a quartet recording with pianist John Hicks, bassist Curtis Lundy, and drummer Marvin Smith. The album has its requisite cookers like "The Mystery of Ebop" and "Sho Thang." The title composition is one of Watson's most beautiful pieces ever, demonstrating the depth of emotion he can create when he puts his mind to it . The same band made an album under Hicks's name, Naima's Love Song (DIW, 1988), which is worth grabbing.

Biographical Sketch

Unlike the Bird's generation, Bobby Watson came up a surer and more measured path. He trained at the suggestion of his friend guitarist Pat Metheny at the University of Miami along with Jaco Pastorius, Bruce Hornsby and Danny Gottlieb. Then he got his doctorate as the musical director of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Along the way, he worked with drummers Panama Francis, Max Roach and Louis Hayes with saxophonist George Coleman as well as Sam Rivers' avant-garde Winds of Manhattan.

In association with drummer Victor Lewis, Watson launched the first edition of Horizon, his accoustic quintet. He's also led the High Court of Swing, a tribute to the music of Johnny Hodges and the highly-acclaimed 29th Street Saxophone Quartet. By the late 1980s, Watson had become one of the best-kept secrets in jazz. His CD, Present Tense was hailed by Peter Watrous in Musician Magazine "as one of those perfect albums" and he recorded Tailor Made, a 17-piece big band project that broadened his artistic vision and his audience.

Bobby has consistently topped the critics' as well as the readers' music polls. Somehow Bobby has also found the time to interpret the works of Debussy and Chopin on Pride of the Lions and to produce several younger artists including Ryan Kisor and David Sanchez. He also composed original music for Robert DeNiro's directorial debut film, A Bronx Tale.

Never one to stand still or to be limited by categories, Bobby has added tenor saxophone and flute to his arsenal and is on to New Horizons, and Urban Renewal.
About Bobby Watson
Articles | Calendar | Discography | Photos | More...


Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.