Bobby Watson inspires young jazz artists
Like several students in the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, independent jazz musician and alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw cites Jazz Studies chair and Grammy-nominated saxophonist Bobby Watson as a major inspiration.
When he was growing up in Philadelphia, Shaw first met Watson through a jazz workshop.
“I told him, ‘You’re my favorite,’ and he took me under his wing,” Shaw said. “I actually got to go up to New York and take a lesson from him. I think he was the person that drew me into the music.”
Today, with a graduate degree in Jazz Performance, a teaching career, performing career and his own record label, Shaw hopes to inspire jazz students just as Watson inspired him. In the spring semester of 2009, Shaw visited the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance’s Salisbury Memorial Scholarship Concert and Jazz Festival as guest artist.
At the annual two-day adjudicated festival, Shaw and Watson accompanied the UMKC Concert Jazz Band and gave students feedback about their performances. High school and other university bands also attended. The festival helps fund the George Salisbury Memorial Scholarship Fund, which honors former faculty member and jazz artist, George Salisbury.
“Performing with Jaleel Shaw and Bobby Watson gave me a lot of hope, because when I was younger I would always dream about playing on the same stage,” said Ryan Lee, sophomore performance major and percussionist.
Off-stage, Watson helps each student develop his or her individual sound. To help create a unique sound, Watson also composes music for the UMKC Concert Jazz Band and mentors a student-founded jazz band called Diverse.
“Everything stems from Bobby Watson,” said Ben Leifer, senior composition major and bassist. “Unlike most programs that I’ve seen, Bobby Watson offers a unique approach to teaching in the sense that he treats everybody as an individual instead of treating people as a whole. This really lets people develop their own sound and be totally unique. If you go to other programs, you hear people who sound the same or sound underdeveloped.”
“A lot of the reason that UMKC is such a special program is because of the students that decide to come here,” Leifer said. “I’ve gotten to know almost everyone of them, and I love them as if they were my family. At some bigger schools, you just don’t get that and a lot of it is due to Bobby founding a loving environment.”
In addition to the support they receive from Bobby Watson, students depend on Jazz Friends. Founded in 2000, Jazz Friends aims to encourage the creative artistry and talent of UMKC Conservatory students and faculty, heighten the eminence of the Conservatory’s Jazz Studies Program and celebrate the legacy of Kansas City jazz. Jazz Friends has provided scholarships, financial support for travel to national and international competitions, unique sheet music for the UMKC Concert Jazz Band and funding for guest artists.
To raise additional funds, Jazz Friends will host “Jazz & BBQ” on Sunday, Oct. 4 in the University Center’s Pierson Auditorium, 5000 Holmes, Kansas City, Mo. The barbeque dinner and silent auction begin at 6 p.m. and the concert begins at 7:30 p.m. To purchase tickets, call (816) 235-1561 or visit https://tickets.cto.umkc.edu/public/auto_choose_ga.asp?area=69.