Artist: Bobby WAtson
Album: Made in america
Reviewed By Scott Yanow
Jazz Artistry Now – Altoist Bobby Watson will probably always be best known for his association with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (1977-81) but he has had a long and wide-ranging career. While he was born and grew up in Kansas, Mr. Watson graduated from the University of Miami before joining Blakey. After the Jazz Messengers period, he led Horizon (a quartet that by 1991 featured the young trumpeter Terell Stafford), the Twenty-Ninth Street Saxophone Quartet, and The High Court Of Swing (paying tribute to Johnny Hodges). Mr. Watson has ranged musically from swing to free in his career and recorded with everyone from Sam Rivers, Ricky Ford and Steve Nelson to Panama Francis’ Savoy Sultans. Among his many albums was a set of unaccompanied solos (That Little Light Of Mine) in1993. Through it all, Mr. Watson has displayed his own passionate sound, versatile style, and consistent musical curiosity, never being shy to stretch himself.
A busy educator since 1985, Mr. Watson has been a professor of Jazz Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory Of Music for much of this century, resulting in a lower profile on the national jazz scene. Made In America is his first album as a leader since 2012 but it shows that his playing and creativity have not diminished in the slightest through the years. Mr. Watson is joined by a top-notch quartet that also includes pianist Stephen Scott, Curtis Lundy (his regular bassist since the 1980s), and drummer Lewis Nash.
Made In America pays homage to ten significant African-Americans, some of whom are much better known than others. “The Aviator” uses a familiar musical quote from “Off we go into the wild blue yonder” as part of an original piece to pay tribute to Wendell O. Pruitt, an early military pilot, and a Tuskegee Airman. The performance, which is a little funky but always creative, serves as a solid start for the program.
The blues-based “The Guitarist” is for Grant Green and is the type of number (balancing the straight-ahead with funkier sections) that the late guitarist would have enjoyed playing. “The Butterfly” is a melancholy ballad for Butterfly McQueen who spent much of her acting career serving as comedy relief. “The Cyclist,” which has a catchy melody and bass line, is for “Major” Taylor, the first African-American cyclist to win a one-mile championship back in 1899. Its melody and solos sound as if one is going out on an adventure. Here, as on the other selections, Mr. Watson and pianist Mr. Scott create concise and meaningful improvisations that build upon the melody and mood of the piece.
“The G.O.A.T.” (which stands for “The Greatest Of All Time”) is for Sammy Davis Jr., particularly for his tap-dancing. Drummer Lewis Nash has many breaks to depict Davis’ colorful dancing. “The Entrepreneur,” written by Pamela Watson (Bobby’s wife), is an optimistic piece with strong forward momentum that remembers Madam C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire in the U.S. The altoist plays a particularly stirring solo on this performance. Mr. Lundy’s “The Jockey” (for Isaac Murphy who won the Kentucky Derby three times in the 1800s) is a good example of joyous jazz/funk that also includes a cooking straight ahead section during the bridge of each chorus. Mr. Watson sounds quite exuberant. In contrast is the somber “A Moment Of Silence,” a brief piece originally written to remember the late pianist Mulgrew Miller. The energetic “The Real Lone Ranger” (for Bass Reeves, a U.S. Marshal thought to be the inspiration for the Lone Ranger), an infectious tribute to Dr. Mark Dean (“The Computer Scientist”) and the standard “I’ve Gotta Be Me” (for America and what it could be) conclude the satisfying effort.
It is gratifying to realize that all of those years teaching others have not resulted in Bobby Watson losing his zest for creative jazz.
1. The Aviator “For Wendell Pruitt” (Bobby Watson) 5:42
2. The Guitarist “For Grant Green“(Bobby Watson) 5:13
3. The Butterfly “For Butterfly McQueen” (Bobby Watson) 6:19
4. The Cyclist “For Major Taylor” (Bobby Watson) 7:52
5. The G.O.A.T. “For Sammy Davis, Jr.” (Bobby Watson) 6:44
6. The Entrepreneur “For Madam C.J. Walker” (Pamela Baskin-Watson) 5:50
7. The Jockey “For Isaac Murphy” (Curtis Lundy) 6:17
8. A Moment of Silence (Bobby Watson) 1:06
9. The Real Lone Ranger “For Bass Reeves” (Bobby Watson) 7:54
10. The Computer Scientist “For Dr. Mark Dean” (Stephen Scott) 4:02
11. I’ve Gotta Be Me (Walter Marks) 6:42
Bobby Watson – alto saxophone, compositions
Curtis Lundy – bass, composition
Stephen Scott – piano, composition
Lewis Nash – drums
See – www.BobbyWatson.com
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The Jazz Artistry Now review of Made in America written by Scott Yanow was published in October 2017.
Mr. Yanow has written 11 books on jazz, over 800 liner notes, and more than 20,000 recording reviews through the years. His writing has graced virtually all of the top jazz magazines and he is happy to be a new contributor to Jazz Artistry Now.