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Joan Watson Jones

From the album Choices
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JOAN WATSON-JONES is a singer, lyricist, multi-instrumentalist, and host and producer of The Jazz Room, an online radio program where she plays music and interviews some of the top names in jazz. On Choices, her fourth album, she presents a program of her original songs with music and lyrics penned by Watson-Jones, plus two standards.

Watson-Jones lives in New Hampshire but spends a lot of time at her family home in Harlem in New York City, where she was raised. Her father was a physician who had his office in the downstairs part of the house. “My father lived and worked in Harlem, because he was dedicated to living in the neighborhood where people needed him,” says Watson-Jones. He was on the team of physicians who saved Martin Luther King’s life when he was stabbed while signing books in 1958 in a Harlem department store, and he helped start the Upper Manhattan Medical Group.

For Watson-Jones, entertaining is in her DNA. Her mother was a dancer who performed at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. She also worked up a popular act with another dancer in which they regularly boxed three rounds on stage. When she came back to the United States, she became a pioneering female boxer and continued to perform before retiring to marry Watson-Jones’ father.

Watson-Jones has been playing music since she was four years old, when she began taking piano and tap dance lessons from one of her father’s patients. Watson-Jones credits her years of tap dancing with developing her impeccable sense of rhythm. Throughout the years, she continued her study of piano and also learned to play guitar and drums. Although her father supported her musical studies, he was also a very practical person and encouraged her to pursue an academic path. She received a master’s degree in Music Education and had a long career as a teacher, first in the Bronx and then in New Hampshire, where she eventually settled. With encouragement from her husband, she decided to follow her passion and retired from teaching to build a full-time career as a performer and writer.

Watson-Jones is a mainstay on the New England jazz scene, and she brought on board for this project old friends with whom she’s performed and recorded in various settings for 25 years. Pianist FRANK WILKINS is her arranger, accompanist, and creative partner. He has a long list of credits, including backing Dee Dee Bridgewater. Wilkins also accompanied Watson-Jones on her previous CD, Quiet Conversation, an intimate duet project. Bassist DAVE ZOX and drummer ALVIN TERRY are Watson-Jones’ longtime rhythm section and join her once again here.

Watson-Jones has recorded her own lyrics on other albums, but this is her first project featuring almost all original material. For Watson-Jones, nothing is more important than the people in her life. She is a natural storyteller, and the stories she tells grow from her life experiences.

She opens and closes the album with two standards. “Topsy 2,” originally an instrumental composition, was a big hit for Cozy Cole. Watson-Jones penned the lyrics to the tune. “I’ve loved Cozy’s drumming since I was young.” says Watson-Jones.  “I can actually hear a melody when he plays, as if he were playing notes on the drums. I just wanted to express the joy I feel when I hear his pounding rhythms.” Watson-Jones closes the album with “Here’s to Life,” the Artie Butler composition with lyrics by Phyllis Mollinary. “I thought this was a fitting way to end the album,” says Watson-Jones. “I look back on my life and realize how lucky I’ve been. The lyrics that Mollinary wrote just says it all.”

Watson-Jones wrote “Choices” after attending a Dianne Reeves concert at Carnegie Hall. Inspired by Reeves’ ability to transmit the heart and soul of a song, Watson-Jones went home and wrote the lyrics about her mother. “We’re all forced to make choices that can profoundly affect our life, sometimes choosing the road less taken. My mother told me to stand behind my choices, to be proud of them. They’re words I try to live by.” Watson-Jones attended a Martin Luther King, Jr. rally in a Baptist church in Harlem in the 1960’s. The church was very crowded, and Watson-Jones, being a petite woman, never actually got to see King, but his voice and words of love resonated deeply with her. “Talking with Martin” is dedicated to King and his ideals.

Watson-Jones wrote “Let Me Go” for a woman she calls her second her mother. As her father’s secretary, she was always in the house and was always loving and kind to Watson-Jones. In her later years when she got too old to really take care of herself, Watson-Jones returned her kindness by looking after her. “My Father’s Dreams” is dedicated to her father, the accomplished physician and humanitarian. After graduating from college, Watson-Jones wrote him a letter about her fears for the future. The lyrics are based on his loving response.

“I Ain’t Just a Pretty Face” is Watson-Jones’ anthem to her personal power where she tells her errant companion “I ain’t just a pretty face / Exuding style, form and grace / That broken promise of love so true / Has shown me what to expect of you.”

“The First Time We Met” recounts the first time Watson-Jones met her husband, Peter. They met in college 49 years ago when Peter had just come over from England. A quiet and studious person, he walked around wearing a three-piece suit and carried an umbrella and a briefcase. Despite their differences, love was meant to be … “You liked my eyes and my silly jokes / I liked your smile and your kind gentle voice / You knew crazy facts about all kinds of things / And best of all —we both loved Nina Simone.”

“A Glass of Wine” is about the intimacy and comfort that two people share over a glass after a long day. “You and me and a glass of wine / Always stands the test of time / We sit and talk about our day / And let our troubles melt / Let our troubles melt.”

“It’s Been a Long Time Coming” was inspired by a college friend. The old friend was short and heavy with a bad case of acne. Watson-Jones says, “She was a lovely person, but other people didn’t want to room with her. So, of course, since I’m black, the college decided to make us roommates. We were both outsiders.” After not seeing her friend for many years, she ran into her on a trip to Universal Studios in California. They re-ignited their friendship, and after several years, her friend wrote that she had finally found love.

Despite growing up in a time when overt racism was the norm, Watson-Jones was surrounded by the love of her family and all the people who came into their orbit. “Choices” is a beautiful and creative homage to a life filled with love and hope and music.

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