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Artist’s Choice: Bobby Watson on Unsung New York Masters

The saxophonist and educator reflects on his mentors

A saxophonist, composer, arranger and educator, Bobby Watson has served as the musical director of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and performed with Max Roach, Wynton Marsalis, Lou Rawls, Louis Hayes, Betty Carter and others. His new Smoke Sessions release, "Made in America," highlights historic yet still overlooked black pioneers in various fields, among them guitarist Grant Green, actress Butterfly McQueen, champion track cyclist Major Taylor and computer engineer Mark Dean (photo by John Abbott)
Bobby Watson has served as the musical director of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and performed with Max Roach, Wynton Marsalis, Betty Carter and others. His new Smoke Sessions release, "Made in America," highlights historic yet still overlooked black pioneers in various fields (photo by John Abbott)
Junior Cook in 1966 (photo by Francis Wolff/Mosaic Images)
Junior Cook in 1966 (photo by Francis Wolff/Mosaic Images)

These are all musicians I knew and worked with, and all of them were mentors who were very inspirational to me. I didn’t know who any of them were until I got to New York in 1976. They’re all gone now, but they opened me up and humbled me, and gave me a new perspective on how people have sacrificed their lives for the music. They weren’t small figures—everyone on the scene knew them—but their influence hasn’t passed through to the average jazz student. Who knows why? It’s the luck of the draw. That’s just the way life is.

Tommy Turrentine
“Webb City”
Tommy Turrentine (Time, 1960)
I like his mastery of the postbop language and the sophistication of how he handled chords; he was very ingenious on the trumpet. I ran into him down at Barry Harris’ club on Eighth Avenue [the Jazz Cultural Theater]. A lot of the cats used to hang out down there. I heard him play and talked to him and got a lot of wisdom from him.

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