READ ABOUT THE SOULFUL SERENDIPITY PROJECT…
• The LIVE LIMITED EDITION -- ONLY 2,000 COPIES AVAILABLE -- Recording from June 14, 2003, featuring the late pianist JAMES WILLIAMS & alto saxophonist BOBBY WATSON. It's their ONLY duo recording together!
• Net Proceeds for the sale of Soulful Serendipity benefit jazz education.
• Special 20-PAGE, FOUR-COLOR BOOKLET insert includes comments from Marian McPartland, Branford Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Christian McBride and Dennis Irwin, their fellow Jazz Messengers band mate
• Read about Bobby Watson & James Williams
• Read about the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series
THE STORY BEHIND SOULFUL SERENDIPITY…
It was, as the title suggests, serendipitous. Two of jazz’s favorite “middle generation” sons – pianist James Williams and saxophonist Bobby Watson (www.bobbywatson.com) – coming together for a special “House Concert,” produced by the Columbia, Missouri-based, not-for-profit “We Always Swing” Jazz Series.
Despite the purposely “dated” CD cover – a picture circa 1977 that Watson discovered during production taken at the time the two musicians were members of Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers – the special pair of concerts took place on June 14, 2003. As it turned out, the two musicians discovered they NEVER had performed as a duo – despite the hundreds of times they shared the stage during the previous nearly 30 years, despite having appeared on numerous recordings together including no fewer then 10 Blakey sessions. So, they decided to record their time in Columbia.
It was a magical evening: TWO informal living room concerts on the same night complete with banter, utter joy and a healthy dose of spontaneity. Joining in as a special guest was vocalist Pamela Baskin-Watson, Watson's wife who, like her husband, was long-time musical friends with Williams.
The now-documented historic proceedings, attended by some 150 patrons, would become bittersweet. Less then a year later Williams took ill and on July 20, 2004, at age 53, he succumbed to cancer.
After Williams’ death, Watson, at the suggestion of Jon Poses, Executive Director of the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series (www.wealwaysswing.org), revisited the recording. Poses left it up to Watson to determine whether the recording stood up from both musical and technical standpoints. If Watson felt any qualms about creating and releasing a recording it was that sonically the surroundings – a living room with marble floors and floor-to-ceiling windows – made creating the recording a technical challenge. However, Bob Katz, the award-winning engineer who runs Orlando-based Digital Domain (www.digido.com), answered the bell and solved that piece. “It’s a unique sounding recording,” notes Poses. It’s live, no question. It takes a minute to ‘self-adjust,’your ears. Anyone who knows Bobby and who knew James has described the 77-minute musical adventure as ‘beautiful,’ ‘heartwarming,’ ‘exceptional playing from two exceptional players,’ etc. We have had nothing but positive feedback.”
Watson, who is modest and humble about his highly respected accomplishments in a career that now spans 30 years, has no doubt that musically his and Williams’ work soared. The project proceeded with the alto saxophonist making compositional selections and picking among a few multiple takes of the same selection. Poses also assigned Watson the task of sequencing the project.
In all, the alto saxophonist chose seven compositions including his own “Wheel Within A Wheel,” which he wrote when serving as the Jazz Messengers musical director between 1977-1981. Also included is a reading of “Moanin’,” pianist Bobby Timmons’ great work that is as much a Jazz Messengers standard as there is. “We played it almost every night,” recalled Watson.
Also included in the set: Williams’ gorgeous “Alter Ego.” It’s a piece the pianist wrote shortly after he left Blakey in 1981 and one that many others have recorded since. Additionally, there’s an unaccompanied 11-minute-plus piano medley, which Watson and Poses posthumously titled “Spirit(ually) James.” According to Poses, “That title epitomizes JW, captures the essence of James. It’s a nearly 12-minute excursion where he covers everything from blues to gospel to classical to bebop and beyond. JW was so versatile and so adept. He relished knowing all the traditions.
The recording opens with the two musicians interpreting the Kurt Weill-Ogden Nash classic, “Speak Low.” The lengthy CD’s midpoint is marked by Baskin-Watson’s interpretation of Hoagy Carmichael’s and Johnny Mercer’s co-penned “Skylark.” Although unorthodox to do so, an additional spoken-word track, “Jamespeak/’Modesty’” was incorporated. Watson believes – and Poses agrees – it, too, underscores a piece of Williams’ personality: his optimism and humor all rolled into an original piece of commentary. While Soulful Serendipity is not a “tribute” album, it was agreed that the circumstances surrounding Williams’ death warranted such an interlude. “It only adds to the magic of this tremendously special CD,” says Poses, concluding, “Anyone who knew James, or heard him live making stage announcements, will love this passage.”
PROCEEDS FROM SALE OF SOULFUL SERENDIPITY GO TO JAZZ EDUCATION…
From the outset Poses and Watson agreed that net proceeds from Soulful Serendipity would go entirely toward jazz education and would be shared equally between the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series and the program that Watson directs at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music (www.umkc.edu). In fact, upon Williams’ death the Jazz Series formally named its educational component the James Williams Jazz Series Education Program and Scholarship Fund.
The limited edition recording – only 2,000 copies were pressed – enjoyed a “pre-release of sorts during the 2006 IAJE – the International Association for Jazz Education – whose conference took place in New York that January. “Anyone who knew James knows that history and education were extremely important to him,” notes Poses. James paid close attention to what he called 'the great masters' who preceded him and believed, likewise, that he should pass what he had learned on to others.”
Both Watson and Poses want to re-emphasize that Soulful Serendipity is NOT a tribute recording. “This is about two great musicians getting together and playing creatively and capably,” says the jazz administrator. “It’s about Bobby Watson and James Williams improvising and executing on all musical fronts and levels in unassuming fashion. They are two of the best musicians of their generation and at the peak of their technical prowess when we recorded this on that Saturday night in mid-June 2003. It only stands to reason that this is a great CD – an historical CD in as much that it’s the ONLY time Bobby and James recorded a duo together in their illustrious careers.
SPECIAL 20-PAGE LINER NOTE BOOKLET INCLUDED…
Because of the special nature of this project, the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series wanted to include in-depth commentary. As such, an outstanding 20-page, four-color liner-insert is included with pictures from noted jazz photographer Jimmy Katz (www.jimmykatz.com) and from Lafiya Watson (www.fotogirl.net), Bobby’s and Pam’s daughter.
Poses, who first met the two musicians in 1989, contributed an in-depth essay; Bobby and Pam Watson each contributed heartfelt commentary. Because the project began in earnest after Williams’ death, a few of the many artists who knew the pianist well were asked to contribute. Thus, the booklet includes brief comments from bassist Dennis Irwin, a fellow Jazz Messenger during Watson’s and Williams’ tenure; Branford Marsalis, who worked with both Williams and Watson; Christian McBride who Williams “discovered” by most industry accounts; Marian McPartland, who first met Williams when he was in his early 20s; and Pat Metheny, who first met Williams when the two were in jazz band camp together as teenagers. “It’s a heck of a booklet,” notes Poses. “It’s a great collection of thoughts from people who really care about Bobby and James and respect them greatly and honestly as peers and colleagues. The booklet alone makes this CD worth purchasing.”
ABOUT THE PLAYERS…
BOBBY WATSON is one of the pre-eminent players of his generation. Overall, the saxophonist-composer has accumulated an impressive body of work since becoming a leader in the early 1980s. He successfully teams remarkable Bird-like facility and bristling energy with an inherent soulful quality that comes directly out of the church. Born August 23, 1953, in Lawrence, Kan., Watson began by playing clarinet in the church before switching to the alto sax at age 13. He began arranging and composing for school bands and later studied formally at the University of Miami. Upon graduating in 1975, Watson moved to New York joining the Jazz Messengers from 1977-1981, ultimately becoming musical director for the group. The saxophonist has been showcasing his considerable talents since his debut release, E.T.A., which arrived in 1977. After leaving the “University of Art Blakey” Watson played with and led a number of varied groups.
In the 1980s he co-led groups with Curtis Lundy and also co-founded the highly acclaimed, all-horn-driven 29th Street Saxophone Quartet. Working with Victor Lewis, Watson launched Horizon, which would become a seminal 1990s post-hard bop quintet.
Watson’s recorded output to date covers a wide spectrum of expression in a variety of settings – from solo saxophone to big band endeavors as well as producing a string of adventurous projects with the 29th Street Saxophone Quartet. As for Horizon, it became one of the seminal post-Blakey small hard-bop groups of the day. The group released numerous recordings – both studio and in live situations – first for the Blue Note label and subsequently for Columbia/Sony.
During the course of the nearly 30 years since he has amassed a discography that numbers more then 100 recordings, including 11 sessions, more then anyone else, as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Other credits, too numerous to name entirely, include sideman appearances with the likes of Sam Rivers, George Coleman, Lou Rawls, Rufus & Chaka Khan, Maynard Ferguson, Carmen Lundy, Bob Belden, John Hicks, Joe Williams and Wynton Marsalis as well as some 27 releases as a leader including two of the more recent additions: Live & Learn (Palmetto; 2000) and Horizon Reassembled (Palmetto; 2004).
In 2001 Watson and wife Pamela Baskin-Watson, coming full circle, moved back to the Kansas City area as the alto saxophonist was awarded the first “William and Mary Grant/Missouri Professor of Jazz” endowed professorship in jazz. He currently serves as the director of jazz studies at the University of Missouri/Kansas City Conservatory of Music.
JAMES WILLIAMS was born March 8, 1951, in Memphis and died July 20, 2004, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Although he didn’t begin studying the piano until he was 12 or 13, Williams proved to be a gifted artist. He attended Memphis State University – now University of Memphis – where he garnered a great deal of attention. By the time he was 21 he was asked to move to Boston and teach at the Berklee School of Music. From the outset Williams would gain a reputation as someone who brought people and groups together, something that would become a trademark for his entire professional career.
He felt comfortable among all generations of players – those younger than him and those great players who he would call “the great masters.” He worked and recorded regularly with legends, icons and elder states people such as Milt Jackson, Clark Terry, Milt Hinton and Ray Brown. Williams also had an eye to the future. He is generally credited with “discovering” the likes of pianist Geoffrey Keezer and bassist Christian McBride to name but two people who have since established themselves among today’s leading artists.
In 1977 Williams caught Art Blakey’s eye; the drummer-leader asked the pianist to join the Jazz Messengers on the West Coast for a tour. It turned out to be a four-year-plus association and it propelled Williams from Boston to New York and into the forefront of the jazz scene.
For the next 25-plus years until his untimely death from liver cancer, Williams was known as one of the primary pianists of his generation. He recorded some 30 times as a leader and appeared on close to 100 others in a supporting role. However, he was also considered one of the savviest entrepreneurs in jazz. Williams served as a producer of some 30 recordings, eventually gaining someone to issue them on LP and subsequently on CD. He was able to license several of these titles to labels in an attempt to garner recognition and overall awareness for those musicians he felt were deserving of more critical acclaim.
In 1999 he succeeded bassist Rufus Reid as Director of Jazz Studies for William Paterson University, in Wayne, N.J. Williams retained the position at the noted New York metropolitan-area institution until his death. He was considered among the best and most giving of jazz educators.
In addition to being known as someone who brought people together, Williams was also recognized as someone who could perform with equal passion and equal dexterity in any number of configurations. He held solo recitals and toiled in duo and trio contexts regularly. He also found and led Intensive Care Unit – or ICU – his gospel-meets-jazz, instrumental-and-vocal septet that featured, among others, Billy Pierce, Steve Wilson, John Lockwood and Tony Reedus, his nephew. He served as musical director and the force behind the Contemporary Piano Ensemble, the four-piano plus bass-and-drums rhythm section that included his Memphis-native cohorts and fellow pianists: Harold Mabern, Mulgrew Miller, Donald Brown and the aforementioned Keezer in addition to McBride and Reedus. He is a jazz figure who is sorely missed by family, friends and colleagues and peers alike.
ABOUT THE “WE ALWAYS SWING” JAZZ SERIES…
Founded in 1995 and granted 501(c)(3) non-profit status in 1999, the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series is administered by “We Always Swing,” Inc., a Columbia, Missouri-based, corporation. The Jazz Series, a concert producing and educational endeavor, was created to present, promote, preserve AND celebrate the great American art form known as “Jazz.” In addition to ticket revenue streams, the Jazz Series receives funds from the National Endowment for the Arts; Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the City of Columbia (Mo.) Office of Cultural Affairs through its Commission for the Arts; and area businesses and companies. Additional support comes from individual tax-deductible contributions. If you are interested in learning more about the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series or making a tax-deductible gift to the Jazz Series, please visit www.wealwaysswing.org.