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POSTPONED: Bobby Watson with Curtis Lundy and Friends

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Side Door Jazz Club

85 Lyme Street

Old Lyme, CT 06371

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BOBBY WATSON sits among the pantheon of present-day jazz greats. Born in Kansas City, Kan., his career now spans more than four decades. A GRAMMY®-nominated saxophonist, composer, bandleader, educator and producer, 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. During his four-plus years with the legendary drummer, the saxophonist contributed to 14 Jazz Messengers recordings, which turns out is more than anyone else in the group’s 35-year storied history.

In addition to Blakey, early on the saxophonist also worked with notable jazz icons and elder statesmen such as Max Roach, Louis Hayes, George Coleman and Sam Rivers, as well as sharing music experiences with peers and colleagues alike including, but certainly not limited to: Branford Marsalis and Wynton Marsalis as well as significant vocalists such as 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, modeled in many ways after the Jazz Messengers, but one with its own distinct and slightly more modern twist. Horizon is now considered one of the preeminent small groups of the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. The group recorded several classic titles for the Blue Note and Columbia record labels. Watson has also led the High Court of Swing (a tribute to the music of Johnny Hodges), his GRAMMY®-nominated Tailor Made Big Band and is a founding member of the four-horn 29th Street Saxophone Quartet. He also wrote original music for the sound track of Robert DeNiro’s directorial debut, A Bronx Tale.

Watson's now-classic 1986 release, Love Remains (Red) has long-been recognized by the Penguin Guide to Jazz (Penguin). Having received the publication's highest rating, it was then identified in the ready reference book's seventh edition as a part of its "core collection" [i.e. a "must-have"], joining other entries by a number of aforementioned jazz masters as a recording that any jazz aficionado should own.

From 2005-2008, Watson issued a trio of recordings on the Palmetto label: Live & Learn (2005), Horizon Reassembled (2006), which brought him back together with Lewis, Terell Stafford, Edward Simon and Essiet Okon Essiet, and From the Heart (2008), on which he unveiled yet another project, again sharing the spotlight with bassist Lundy.

After spending 25 years in New York where Watson was omnipresent on the jazz scene, the saxophonist and his wife, vocalist-composer Pamela Baskin-Watson, returned to Kansas City, invited to do so at the behest of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he was selected to be the Director of Jazz studies at the school’s Conservatory of Music & Dance, while serving as the first William D. and Mary Grant/Missouri, Distinguished Professor in Jazz Studies. After 20 years, the saxophonist will retire from the post in September 2020. Under his watchful eye, the UMKC program has developed and evolved substantially and is now considered one of the country’s finest jazz programs.

In 2010, the saxophonist self-produced The Gates BBQ Suite, what he calls “a labor of love.” The recording 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 jazz students. Noted the All About Jazz review: “Bobby Watson serves up some ‘down to the bone’ goodness in The Gates BBQ Suite. The seven-part suite for large ensemble features the UMKC Conservatory of Music & Dance Concert Jazz Orchestra, and is a heartfelt tribute to Watson's hometown…, which includes the area's landmark Gates Barbecue restaurant.” Watson took the orchestra to Europe, where it performed at a number of summer festivals. Watson’s self-produced Check Cashing Day followed; released in 2013 it centers on and honor the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

In 2017 Watson released Made in America (Smoke Sessions). Once again, the well-conceived project reflects upon a singular theme; on this occasion Watson turned his attention to lesser-known American Black History giants, with each composition paying homage to a different person.

In many ways, the just-released (2019) Bird at 100 (Smoke Sessions) brings Watson full-circle – and on a number of fronts. Most obvious is that 2020 represents the Charlie Parker Centennial. The fact that Watson hails from Kansas City and made his way to New York serves as a clear reminder of Bird’s path. And, just as obvious, Parker and Watson both play the alto saxophone. The more subtle “bonus” of Bird at 100 is Watson shares the recording’s front line with two other extremely accomplished altoists: Gary Bartz and Vincent Herring. To say the least, this triumvirate, a summit of sorts, is, to say the least, formidable.

All told, the saxophonist has issued some-40 recordings as a leader and appears on well more than 100 other titles. Second Floor Music, his long-time publisher, makes his original combo and big band arrangements available to other performers and educators.

Rightfully so, Watson has received a number of well-deserved awards that in various ways recognize 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, the Black National Caucus officially recognized his work in the Congressional Record. On August 23, 2014 – serendipitously Watson’s 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 cornerstones: Count Basie, Jay McShann, Parker and Mary Lou Williams.

Throughout his tenure at UMKC, Watson maintained an ongoing touring schedule traveling the world over either as a guest educator, band member or leading his various ensembles. In April 2015, he reunited after two decades with two long-standing 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 MVP Jazz Quartet. A year later, he turned his attention to developing a “new” quartet, which featured a combination of present-day seasoned veterans and peers, such as pianist Stephen Scott, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Lewis Nash, all heard on Made in America.

As 2019 comes to a close and the sun sets on his formal position as a major jazz educator, Watson remains as busy as ever. Next year will see him lead both quartets and quintets, performing original music. Those presenters and festivals celebrating the Parker Centennial have, not surprisingly, inquired about Watson’s desire to participate. And, there have been renewed calls to have Horizon “reassemble” and perform intermittently. With more availability literally at his fingertips, Watson says, “Now’s The Time.”

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Side Door Jazz Club

85 Lyme Street

Old Lyme, CT 06371

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