Self-Produced Album Celebrates Kansas City’s Music,
Most Famous Food — And a Watson Family Tradition
“Kansas City is the Napa Valley of barbeque. Gates Barbeque
stands alone as king of the valley!” — Bobby Watson
Bobby Watson, famed Kansas City-area native, William and Mary Grant/Missouri Endowed Professor of Jazz and esteemed director of Jazz Studies at University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, and among the world’s premier and most well-respected alto saxophonists, is set to release his long-awaited extended large ensemble work: The Gates BBQ Suite.
The seven-part undertaking — has been like the food he sets to music: a slow, continual process on its way to perfection. Watson began conceptualizing his “dream piece” when he returned to his home city after more than twenty five years in New York to accept the endowed professorship in 2000 to become the Director of the UMKC Jazz Studies Department.
Ultimately, what The Gates BBQ Suite represents is a highly personalized statement and a distinctly respectful musical journey that incorporates the saxophonist’s measurable experience and talent as composer, arranger and performer. It also serves as a provocative aesthetic with a philosophical twist, a commentary and self-reflection. What should not be lost in the undertaking is that Watson chose to feature, poignantly so, UMKC’s Conservatory Concert Jazz Orchestra — his nationally recognized group of jazz students who has previously traveled to Europe as well as domestically to perform. This fall Watson will take the band to Japan for a series of concerts; part and parcel with that effort is the fact that Watson says the group will also perform other dates in support of the forthcoming CD.
Premiered on the UMKC campus in December 2008, Watson says of his work, “The Gates BBQ Suite is inspired by my grandparents Jesse and Daisy Wilkes who ran a barbeque establishment in Merriam, Kansas.” Watson also says that he dedicated the suite to the now-legendary Gates Barbeque — one of the city’s most famous establishments of its ilk — that similarly is a family-owned restaurant that has served as a key landmark and tourist attraction since its 1946 founding.
“When I returned to Kansas City permanently in 2000,” says Watson, “I mentioned to Ollie Gates, owner of the world renowned Gates Barbeque [enterprise], my intention to write this piece.” As word gradually spread throughout the community that the veteran saxophonist was composing an extended big-band work partially in celebration of the proprietor, people began to assume the highly successful Gates, who oversees multiple locations in the Kansas City area and who has released his sauce commercially in supermarkets and elsewhere, had commissioned Watson to write the suite. This was, as Watson notes emphatically, not the case. He has created this piece as he has all of his music during the course of his 35-year career: from the heart.
“I was not commissioned,” says Watson. “I told people that the way I compose is similar to the way Duke Ellington composed, which is to find a theme, not necessarily a musical one. Barbeque has always represented a celebration in my life. Whenever my parents took me and my brothers for a visit to my grandparents’ place, I always looked forward to having some of their barbeque. As I grow older,” says the saxophonist who, at press time, is on the precipice of turning 57, “smoking meat remains near and dear to me. It is relaxing and exciting at the same time.”
The release of The Gates BBQ Suite is merely the next and latest chapter in Bobby Watson’s life-long pursuit of making great music and creating great musical situations for both musicians and audiences alike. As many know, Watson’s career, which has seen him participate in and lead numerous notable ensembles — large and small — has been going strong ever since he graduated from the University of Miami in the mid-1970s.
The Bobby Watson “bio” found him landing in New York soon after graduating. He solidified his place as a first-call musician almost immediately, however it was his more than four-year stint with Art Blakey — including credits on more than a dozen Jazz Messengers recordings during his stay — that permanently placed him on everyone’s radar. Even at that age — 20-something — Watson demonstrated great promise as a bandleader; it is hardly an accident that he served as the legendary drummer’s musical director for much of his time in that ensemble. Many of the tunes he composed then — such as “Wheel Within A Wheel” and “In Case You Missed It” have become in essence present-day standards.
After leaving the Jazz Messengers in 1981 Watson began to work with an array of the world’s finest musicians – including established elder-statesmen such as Max Roach, Louis Hayes and George Coleman. In addition to working with a variety of instrumentalists, Watson served in a supporting role for a number of distinguished and stylistically varied vocalists including: Joe Williams, Dianne Reeves, Carmen Lundy, Lou Rawls and Betty Carter.
Later, in association with bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Lewis, Watson launched the first edition of Horizon, which would become one of the most important and enduring small groups during the 1980s and 1990s. Watson unleashed an acoustic quintet modeled in many ways after the Jazz Messengers, but one with its own identity, and with a distinct slightly more modern twist. Eventually the group anchored by Watson and featuring Lewis, evolved to incorporate a trio of exceptional musicians: pianist Ed Simon, trumpeter TereIl Stafford and bassist Essiet Okon Essiet. By all critical accounts, Horizon, which still performs together on occasion — including appearances at the 2010 Detroit International Jazz Festival and Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (Jazz at Lincoln Center) — remains one of the most influential, straight-ahead latter-day small groups. The high-powered quintet — sometimes known as “The Happy Band” for its upbeat approach — recorded several highly acclaimed titles for the Blue Note and Columbia record labels including Post-Motown Bop (Blue Note), the all-star big band- Tailor Made (Columbia), and Midwest Shuffle, Live! (Columbia), a compendium that captured the group in concert at a number of locations circa 1993.
In addition to his work with Horizon, Watson also led a 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 all-horn, four-piece ensemble the 29th Street Saxophone Quartet.
And so now it is on to The Gates BBQ Suite, clearly a labor of love — and a project that is extremely gratifying to Watson. “During the 25 years that my family lived in NYC, I had a small Weber grill that I kept on our terrace 27 floors above the streets of Manhattan. I would work my magic out there on my terrace, accompanied by the sounds of the New York City traffic.”
The extended play obviously has great personal meaning to Watson, who compels you to listen to his story as much as his music. “Between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s, my wife Pam, our children Aaron and Lafiya and I would drive to Kansas City to spend the summers with our families. We wanted to give Aaron and Lafiya the opportunity to know their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. However, as soon as we got to town our first stop would always be Gates Barbeque — either a beef sandwich or ‘short end’! This has become a family tradition for us that continues to this day. Even now, whenever Aaron or Lafiya — or both — come back to visit us from New York where they still live, their first stop — it’s always Gates. After they make that stop, their visit can begin. So,” says Watson, concluding his thought: “Let’s begin our musical journey into the world of Gates’ Barbeque.”
Upcoming Bobby Watson Events:
· September 6: Detroit International Jazz Festival, Detroit, MI(w/Horizon)
· September 29- October 3: Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York, NY (w/Horizon)
Bobby Watson’s The Gates BBQ Suite · Lafiya Music
Release Date: September 14, 2010
For additional information on Bobby Watson,
please visit http://www.bobbywatson.com/.
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Jordy Freed · DL MEDIA
Bobby Watson is booked and managed
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