Monday, December 2, 2013

Bobby Watson Speaks: Part 2

In November of 2013 I sat down with one of the greatest living champions of jazz, Bobby Watson, for an interview for JAM Magazine. I've been a huge fan of Bobby's music since my formative early teenage years. I studied saxophone with Bobby at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance for five years, and over the years he has become an important mentor and friend. As a student of Professor Watson, our lessons often consisted of no playing at all--just conversing and philosophizing. Countless times our meetings would start with a simple question or two, and once you got him going, he would end up saying some of the most profound things you'd ever heard. Some of them resonated right then, and others years later. My idea for this interview was, essentially, to re-create the vibe that led to so many heavy discussions when I was his student. 

Bobby gave me nearly five hours of dynamite material, but unfortunately I had under 2,000 words to work with in the JAM article and a lot of great pearls of wisdom and insight were left on the cutting room floor. I didn't want any of that to go to waste, so over the next few days and weeks I'll be posting a potpourri of "deleted scenes" from the interview. They'll be mostly unedited and maybe in random order. Parts of these ran in the JAM article, as well. 

If you were moved by any of this in any way, or you found it thought-provoking or interesting, I would encourage you to share this on social media and send to your friends. So many of the things that go viral in jazz these days are transparently and purposely controversial, and sometimes just downright negative. I found this conversation to be uplifting, so how's about we make something uplifting go viral for a change?

The second installment deals with the influence of youth on the Kansas City jazz scene, and Bobby's experiences with the business side of music.

"I think the Kansas City scene has gotten so much better, and a lot of it is because of the alumni that have come out of UMKC since I’ve been here. They’ve all stepped up and have done their thing and have made a presence on the scene."

"Some of the older guys in town started hiring the students…they ended up embracing the students. They realized our students show up on time, they play their ass off, they read…there’s no prima donna crap or baggage. Here’s this new pool of talent, and they jumped on it. And it changed the whole dynamics of the city. It just sort of changed everything. I think I can take credit for setting a vibe for what it means to be a musician and have certain morals, but I have to give a lot of credit to Dan Thomas. He has this expertise in academia that I don’t have, and he has the right spirit."

"I like the awards, but I like the reward, now, more. I wanna get paid. It’s like that with any profession. Do you work for the job or does the job work for you? I started to see a lot of things pile up…artifacts, posters, trinkets, and then you put them in a box and then you go back out on the road, and all of the sudden you’ve got all of this stuff that you’ve lived for, but do you ever actually look at it? I’m at the point now where I’d like to unpack and look at my life and see where it is. I’m trying to get to the point where I can go fishing and have a little boat out back and have time to use it. Anything that you do with work should support your down time. You know? Time with your family, maybe a season ticket to the Royals or whatever, because I’ve been working on the road and now I’ve got time to go to the games. Because I’m a musician I've got time to do other things. That’s been my whole philosophy my whole life: Your music should bring you that enjoyment in your life to stop and smell the roses.  Artistry should bring you some quality down time. There’s a balance I think that’s been missing in some of the cats that I’ve seen. Some of these cats are on the treadmill, and they’re working and working, and they’re so career-driven, but it’s like 'What about your life?' "

"And that’s one of the things that was so beautiful about getting back to Kansas City. I have a house. I have a front porch, and a backyard. If you’re going to do all this work and toil, shouldn’t you be able to come back to that? That’s the balance of artistry, ultimately. But you have to go through a certain stage of toil. I would be in certain countries and I would get invited to musicians’ houses. And I’d go over to their house after the gig or on a day off and they had these beautiful little houses and they were living nice lives, and they were still artists. And that’s what I want. I still want to be respected and get gigs and be creative, but I want to have a place to live. A place where I can burn some meat, you know?"

"I had done three records for Columbia, three records for Blue Note, and I figured where are you going to go from there? And as my grandmother said, 'all that glitters isn’t gold.' I’ve been to those places, and in certain ways it was a disappointment. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. They didn’t support me in the way that I thought that Columbia should."
"The whole thing about being an artist is about publicity. You get a PR person and then you make the rounds. When I was on those labels, I went through that cycle. That’s part of being an artist, you’re doing all these promos and interviews. I told them what I wanted. I wanted to be on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, I had been telling people that for years. Nobody ever made it happen, and now she’s dead. I always wanted to have a Jamey Aebersold play-a-long. That was on my bucket list, man. Everybody has a bucket list. I thought when I got with those record labels, I thought I would be able to clear out my bucket list, and some of them didn’t happen."

"The whole thing about the business is, can you sign your own check? Elvis couldn't sign his own check. He was a superstar but he didn’t own himself. Our whole thing when we were coming up was, we want to own ourselves. And we did stuff for certain labels, but if you look at all my records, the one thing I always insisted on was, I was producer. I didn’t get any extra money for it, but it says in print 'produced by Bobby Watson.' And that established me as a producer."

"I was going into semantics. Post MoTown Bop. What do you play? PMB. I got that from Steve Coleman, with M-Base. He said you gotta name your own music, or else they’ll name it for you. We branded it. I learned years ago that branding is the way of the future. You put a brand out there and live by it."

"What about George Coleman? George Coleman was probably the only guy that didn’t benefit from recording with Miles Davis. My Funny Valentine, Four and More…I mean, what happened to George Coleman, you know? I’m just saying, I’ve been there, I saw what these guys did and did not get from a publicity standpoint."

"I was with Art Blakey, and it helped get me where I am. But I’ve met so many individuals in many different cities who you’ve never heard of, who are great musicians. And when you hear them, they give you goosebumps, and they make you cry, and they make you fill up with emotion. And you’re going, ‘I’ve never heard of this guy. He’s so powerful, oh my God.' You know? And he’s not on any records that I own. This guy is the real deal."

"This music is so deep, man. It’s not about the Downbeat covers. It’s not about the jazz poll. I’m lucky I got a little taste of it, but everything that glitters ain’t gold. I was there, I saw it, I was on the mountaintop, but it doesn’t mean anything. If you’re going to go that way, you’re going to give up part of your soul, and part of your independence."

"Being on a major label was an advantage because I learned about the mechanism. I go in the studio, I record the album, then you get somebody to do the artwork, then somebody to do the mastering, and then somebody to do the PR. Then you have a radio guy. So I saw the mechanism. If I put a record out, I make sure I’ve got enough money to pay the cats, do the record, and have a PR guy and a radio guy. A lot of radio guys are the guys I met when I was with Blue Note and Columbia. But now they’re independent too, because the whole brick and mortar structure of records is falling apart."

"I learned what it takes to promote. A lot of people put out records but they don’t do the other two steps. You need radio and PR, and it’s hard if you don’t have a name. The whole thing about this business, is there’s a lot of people that do it one time.  But you gotta do it more than once. You gotta do it again and again and again, and then they go ‘Oh, this guy is serious, I think we need to listen to him.’ It may take three or four times. If you’re going to do this, you gotta be committed, you gotta do it more than once."
"Kickstarter is BS, man. Everybody’s doing that. Save your money, and put it out on your own, on your own dime. Even if it’s $2 a day. Put it in a drawer. You’ll be happier."

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