Jan 2, 2014
Bobby Watson’s distinguished career has taken him from the coveted post of musical director of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers; to co-founder of Horizon, an acoustic quintet modeled after the Messengers that showcased (among others) the talents of Victor Lewis, Edward Simon, and Terrell Stafford ; to a varied and deep catalogue of recordings as a band leader. But it wasn’t until 2010 that he got the opportunity to take some of the risks he’d been putting off.
That was the year he began his own label, Lafiya Music, taking creative and financial control over his recordings. His first release, The Gates BBQ Suite, was a seven-part suite for large ensemble featuring the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music & Dance Concert Jazz Orchestra. This successful attempt at story telling led him to stretch even further - he wrote music for the Kansas City Ballet, and then for a theatrical play, “Kansas City Swing”, about the twilight of the Negro Baseball leagues.
The positive reaction to these extended pieces, which showcased not only Bobby’s talent as a performer, but as an arranger and composer, have resulted in Check Cashing Day, an album that dramatically mixes poetry, jazz, song and history as it reflects on the events and legacy of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the March on Washington 50 years ago.
Watson assembled many of his favorite collaborators – most notably long-time bassist Curtis Lundy and his wife, singer-keyboardist Pamela Baskin-Watson – and added some first-timers, like Glenn North, the poet-in-residence at the American Jazz Museum to execute his vision. The result is always enjoyable, and often moving. It cries out for a full stage version, something Watson hopes will happen in 2014.
Podcast 401 is my conversation with Bobby Watson, as we discuss what he calls “the perfect storm” of events that led to Check Cashing Days, his hopes for taking the project on the road, and his plans to continue a 30th anniversary tour with Horizon in 2014. Musical selections include:
Bobby Watson & the “I Have Dream” Project – Title Track, “Forty Acres and a Mule” and “ Seekers of the Sun (Son) from Check Cashing Days. A wonderful cross section of the album’s spoken word, instrumental and vocal standouts. The last of the three tunes was written by Pamela Baskin-Watson; the other two are Watson compositions.
Bobby Watson featuring the UMKC Concert Jazz Orchestra – “Beef On Bun” from The Gates BBQ Suite. Watson commented that he was thrilled to record this suite with his student players rather than being forced by a major label to take the work to New York for recording. “They own the work”, he adamantly said.