NORTH NEWTON, KAN. - Bobby Watson, renowned jazz saxophonist and a composer, producer and educator, will be artist-in-residence at Bethel College on St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday, March 17.
Watson will give a free clinic and master class at 4 p.m. that day in Krehbiel Auditorium of the Fine Arts Center. At 7:30 that evening, he will be the guest soloist with Bethel College’s Jazz Combo and Jazz Ensemble I, under the direction of James Pisano, assistant professor of music. The concert is also in Krehbiel Auditorium and is also free and open to the public.
Bobby Watson grew up in Kansas City, Kan., and trained formally in the University of Miami’s well-respected jazz program. Watson then proceeded to “earn his doctorate on the bandstand” as musical director of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
The late drummer (who died in 1990) created the group in 1955, showcasing a rotating cast who eventually became consistent members of a who’s who of modern jazz. The Jazz Messengers, sometimes referred to as “the University of Blakey,” served as “the ultimate postgraduate school” for ambitious young players such as Watson.
After completing his tenure as a Jazz Messenger (1977-1981), Watson became a much-sought after musician, working along the way with a potpourri of notable musicians, peers, elder statesmen and colleagues, among them drummers Max Roach and Louis Hayes; fellow saxophonists George Coleman and Branford Marsalis; celebrated multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers; and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (who joined the Jazz Messengers at least in part at Watson’s suggestion). Watson has served in a supporting role for a number of distinguished and stylistically varied vocalists, including Joe Williams, Dianne Reeves, Lou Rawls, Betty Carter and Carmen Lundy.
In association with bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Lewis, Watson launched the first edition of Horizon, an acoustic quintet modeled in many ways after the Jazz Messengers but with its own distinct, slightly more modern, twist. Horizon is considered one of the preeminent small groups of the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, and made several recordings for the Blue Note and Columbia record labels.
In addition to his work as leader of Horizon, Watson also led The High Court of Swing (a tribute to the music of Johnny Hodges) and the Grammy®-nominated Tailor-Made Big Band (16 pieces). He is a founding member of the acclaimed 29th Street Saxophone Quartet.
Watson has to his credit some 26 recordings as a leader and appears on close to 100 other recordings as either co-leader or in a supporting role. He has recorded more than 100 original compositions. His long-time publisher, Second Floor Music, publishes many of his original combo and big band arrangements, which circulate and are interpreted on an international scale by others. Watson also wrote original music for the soundtrack of Robert DeNiro’s directorial debut A Bronx Tale.
The Penguin Guide to Jazz recognized Watson’s classic 1986 Red Records release, Love Remains, with its highest rating, identifying it in the Penguin Guide 7th Edition as part of its core collection (i.e., “a must-have for any jazz aficionado” along with recordings by masters such as John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and others). Watson recorded his latest project for the Palmetto label – shortly after its June 2004 release, Horizon Reassembled went to Number 1 on the national jazz airplay chart.
Known as a tireless worker, a team player and a consummate musician, Watson has been a first-call musician for nearly three decades. A resident of New York for most of his professional life, he served as a member of the adjunct faculty and taught private saxophone at William Patterson University from 1985-86 and Manhattan School of Music from 1996-99. He is currently involved with the Thelonious Monk Institute’s yearly Jazz in America high school outreach program.
In 2000, he got an offer to return to his native Midwest. In 2001, he was selected for the first William D. and Mary Grant/Missouri Distinguished Professorship in Jazz Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music, where he currently serves as director of jazz studies, balancing live engagements throughout the world with teaching responsibilities.
James Pisano is director of jazz studies at Bethel College. He holds degrees in clarinet performance from the University of New Hampshire and the University of Miami, where he was a member of the award-winning Concert Jazz Band. As a clarinetist, Pisano has performed in the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas, the Florida Philharmonic, the Miami City Ballet and the Wichita Grand Opera orchestra as well as at Carnegie Hall numerous times under the baton of composer John Rutter.
On jazz saxophone, Pisano has shared the stage as a soloist with jazz luminaries such as Phil Woods, Frank Foster, Louie Bellson, Clark Terry, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Nancy Wilson, James Moody, Hank Jones, The Lionel Hampton Big Band, The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, The Artie Shaw Band, The Cab Calloway Orchestra and the Dizzy Gillespie Reunion Big Band, among many others. Pisano maintains an active performance schedule – most notably as a member of the saxophone section of the Jazz Heritage Orchestra (Cleveland, Ohio) since 2001.
Pisano’s previous teaching positions have included director of jazz studies at East Tennessee State University, where he implemented the first ETSU Jazz Festival, and director of jazz studies at the University of Idaho’s Lionel Hampton School of Music, where he developed a faculty jazz sextet and expanded the curriculum to include advanced improvisation.
Bobby Watson’s residency at Bethel College is supported in part by the Greer Fine Arts Endowment at Bethel College, initiated in 1979 by the late Dr. Robert C. Goering and his wife Amparo Goering, Wichita, in memory of Milford E. Greer, Jr.
Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.