For more than three decades, Watson has contributed consistently intelligent, sensitive and well-thought out music to the modern-day jazz lexicon.
A saxophonist, composer, arranger and educator, Bobby Watson grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, and trained formally at the University of Miami. He earned his “doctorate” – on the bandstand – as musical director of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, which showcased a rotating cast of players, many of whom would go on to have substantial careers as bandleaders.
In the mid-80s, Watson became a much-sought after musician, working with notable artists such as drummers Max Roach and Louis Hayes, saxophonists George Coleman and Branford Marsalis, multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Watson also served in a supporting role for distinguished and stylistically varied vocalists 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 after the Jazz Messengers with a modern twist. Horizon is considered one of the preeminent small groups of the mid-1980s to the 2000s. The group recorded several acclaimed titles for the Blue Note and Columbia record labels, including Post-Motown Bop (Blue Note) and Midwest Shuffle, Live! (Columbia).
Watson also led a nine-piece group known as the High court of Swing – a tribute to the music of Johnny Hodges – as well as the Grammy-nominated 16-piece, large ensemble Tailor Made Big Band. The lyrical stylist is also a founding member of the well-respected 29th Street Saxophone Quartet, an all-horn, four-piece ensemble.
More recently Watson issued a series of recordings on the Palmetto label. On the heels of his No. 1 releases, Live & Learn (2005) and Horizon Reassembled (2006), Watson issued From the Heart (2008), another project with bassist Lundy. The release remained No. 1 on the national jazz airplay chart for nine weeks.
Watson has issued some 30 recordings as a leader and appeared on more than 100 other recordings. He has also recorded more than 100 original compositions, including music for the soundtrack of “A Bronx Tale,” which marked Robert DeNiro’s 1993 directorial debut. Numerous compositions have become classics such as his “Time Will Tell,” “In Case You Missed It” and “Wheel within a Wheel.”