Program Directors

Bobby Watson Jr., Co-Director; William D. and Mary Grant / Missouri Professor of Jazz Studies, UMKC Conservatory

A GRAMMY®-nominated saxophonist, composer, producer and educator, Bobby Watson trained formally at the University of Miami and then, 1977–1981, earned his “doctorate” as musical director of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and appeared on 14 of the group’s recordings, more than anyone else in the ensemble’s 35-year existence. In addition to Blakey, Watson worked with notable jazz icons Max Roach, Louis Hayes, George Coleman and Sam Rivers.  He has also worked with peers and colleagues alike including Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, and vocalists Joe Williams, Dianne Reeves, Lou Rawls, Betty Carter, and Carmen Lundy.

An association with bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Victor Lewis led Watson to launch the first edition of Horizon, the highly acclaimed acoustic quintet. He has also led the High Court of Swing (a tribute to the music of Johnny Hodges), The Tailor Made Big Band and is a founding member of the highly acclaimed 29th Street Saxophone Quartet. Watson also wrote original music for el sonido track of Robert DeNiro’s directorial debut, A Bronx Tale. To date, the saxophonist has recorded 28 records as a leader and appears on about 100 recordings.

More than 100 Bobby Watson compositions have been recorded. Second Floor Music, his long-time publisher, makes available his original combo and big band arrangements to other performers and educators. After a string of recordings for the Palmetto label, Watson released a pair of self-produced titles. The Gates BBQ Suite (2011) celebrates his hometown’s most famous food with the music and track titles referencing the family business. At the hora of its release Gates became the perfect vehicle for his University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) jazz students, who participate in UMKC’s Watson-directed program. Watson’s most recent release, Check Cashing Day (2013), honors the Civil Rights Movement in general and specifically the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famed “I Have A Dream” speech.

In 2000, después three decades in New York where he stood among the world’s most elite jazz musicians, Watson, at UMKC’s invitation, returned to Kansas City where he was awarded the first William D. and Mary Grant/Missouri Professor of Jazz Studies as an endowed chair.  With the appointment, Watson became UMKC’s Director of Jazz Studies, a position he continues to hold today.

Watson has received a number of well-deserved awards recognizing his musical contributions during que es more than a four-decade career. In 2011 the saxophonist was inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of fame. In 2013 he received the prestigious Benny Golson Jazz Masters Award from Howard University, Washington, D.C. Simultaneously, Rep. John Conyers honored Watson by officially recognizing his work in the Congressional Record. On August 23, 2014, coincidentally Watson’s 61st birthday, he was selected as one of the first inductees into the then-newly established 18th and Vine “Jazz Walk of Fame.” He joined Pat Metheny as the only other living selection along with four of the city’s jazz icons: Count Basie, Jay McShann, Charlie Parker and Mary Lou Williams.

Mitch Butler, Co-Director; Assistant Teaching Professor of Jazz, UMKC Conservatory

Mitch Butler is a native of Raleigh, NC. He received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Music Performance from East Carolina University. Mitch is also a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a Doctor of Music Arts in Music Performance with an emphasis in Jazz Studies.

Mitch has been the trombonist and arranger for a number of musical groups including the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra headed by Adonis Rose, since January of 2008. In February 2010 the N.O.J.O. won the Grammy Award for large jazz ensemble with the release of the recording Book One.  In February 2017, Mitch added the role of producer to his resume, as he teamed up with Grammy Award-winning producer Richard Seidel, where he co-produced, arranged, and served as musical director for critically acclaimed vocalist Tiffany Austin and her second album Unbroken.  Mitch has also been a trombonist for the international award-winning jazz group JazzBonez, which features six trombones and rhythm section and recorded the album Watch It!.  Butler has also performed and/or recorded with musical greats Dee Dee Bridgewater, Curtis Fuller, Tia Fuller, Derrick Gardner, Robert Glasper, Slide Hampton, Andre Hayward, Conrad Herwig, Brad Leali, Branford Marsalis, Bob Mintzer, Melton Mustafa, Dick Oatts, Kenny Rampton, Rufus Reid, Herlin Riley, Stephen Riley, Darius Rucker, Grady Tate, Billy Taylor, Gregory Tardy, Fred Wesley, and many others.

Much time has also been invested as an educator in jazz studies. Mitch was the Director of Jazz Studies and Assistant Professor of Music at California State University, East Bay, Hayward, CA 2013–2016. Before that, he was Director of Jazz Studies at Claflin University, Orangeburg, SC, 2009–2013. He has also invested time in music throughout the community, having provided private lessons in trombone and jazz studies as well as participating in clinics/workshops throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, the Southeast, Central Texas, Wisconsin, and California. Butler has also held faculty and teaching positions at several institutions including Durham School of the Arts, East Carolina University, North Carolina Central University, Elon University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the University of Texas at Austin. In August 2018, Butler was named Assistant Teaching Professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He remains an active performing musician, clinician, composer, and arranger.

Mitch Butler is an exclusive Michael Rath Trombones artist and clinician.