Bobby Watson and the Charlie Parker centenary

Sebastian writes: On the day of the Charlie Parker centennial we published reflections by twenty-four alto saxophone players. (LINK TO FEATURE). One musician whom we were unable to reach in advance of the date was Bobby Watson, but we have now been able to put that right (*) and to ask him to reflect on the centenary. Bobby Watson had the distinction of leading the group which brought the main celebration in the place of Parker’s birth, Kansas City, to a close. The event was a 12-hour jam session from 7am to 7pm at the Gem Theater. “My set was from 5 30 to 7pm, we played a bunch of Charlie Parker stuff… it was fun,” he reflects.

Bobby Watson (second from right) on the stage of the Gem Theater for the Kansas City Parker Centennial Celebration (screengrab)

  What are your thoughts and feelings about the Parker Centennial? Gratitude to be alive during this time in history. It’s not so likely I’ll be there on the 150th or the bicentennial(!) …so this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to express my appreciation. And to show this through my understanding of what I’ve got from Bird over the years, ever since I was a teenager in high school, and indeed what I’m still learning from his music. He was an extension of what came before him, from Lester Young on… His style and subsequent innovations didn’t just come out of thin air. He’s part of the tree of the music. It’s amazing what he did in such a short lifetime. I remember him saying in an interview he felt he was just scratching the surface. And that’s amazing: because I feel like on the 100th anniversary of his birth we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what he brought to the world: his style of playing, his phrasing, his spontaneity, his spirit… it is just mind-blowing. For the next 100 years we’ll be still trying to learn. A lot of it is beyond analysing and theory. It is about his spirit and the way he thought about music, about his instrument, what it meant to him – and his gargantuan imagination Is there a track of yours where you have the feeling of being under his shadow.. ? Pianist Walter Davis Jr who played with Parker once said if Charlie Parker came back and heard us trying to play exactly like him, he’d say something like ‘You sound good – but I did that already. Do you have anything of your own?’ I try to play like he might walk in on one of my performances, and I always try to give him something of my own. For my latest record Keepin it Real I re-worked one of his songs, “Mohawk” with a ‘Trane meets Bird’ concept. I’m quite proud of that one!
(*) With thanks to Verne Christensen. LINKS: Full details of the American Jazz Museum / Gem Theater Celebration Stream of the Charlie Parker centenary jam session on Bobby Watson’s Facebook page

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