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Saxophonist Watson says Horizon's so good, it's almost too good

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 6:34 p.m.

Bobby Watson has been looking at a bright horizon since 1983.

“Whenever I walk on the stage with these guys, I say to myself, ‘Man, this is what I want to do 24/7',” the saxophonist says about the band Horizon that emerged that year.

The current version of the band — with one exception — will perform April 12 at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild on the North Side.

Watson says the substitution for this concert points to one of the strong, but sometimes frustrating, points of the band. Its members are so good, so involved in other things and so in demand that getting together to work as Horizon can be difficult.

“That's what it is when you have an all-star band,” he says with the hint of a sigh — but an appreciative one.

During the concerts here, bassist Essiet Essiet will be in Paris, recording an album, Watson says, and Peter Washington will stand in for him. He will join drummer Victor Lewis, trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist Edward Simon and Watson.

Watson, 60, says he regrets not having Essiet, but adds Washington will fit in well because he is a player of a high enough caliber and has enough familiarity with the rest of the band.

The one minor drawback is that Washington is not part of the musical interchange in the band that produces original, and ever-developing, conceptions of the music. He says such thinking creates outlooks on songs that “get deeper and deeper and deeper,” even if the tunes are old ones that threaten to be overused.

That sort of musical growth, he says, has been part of Horizon from the beginning, even though it had greatly different members in 1983. But the quality was the same, he says, remembering the days with the first band that included pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Curtis Lundy, trumpeter Melton Mustafa and Marvin “Smitty” Smith.

The current band has been together since 1988-89, Watson says.

Like the other players in Horizon, Watson also is in demand for various jobs. For instance, he was part of a 2011 release of a jazz version of Kurt Weill's “Three Penny Opera” recorded in Europe. In 2012, he was one of the guest artists at the University of Pittsburgh Jazz Seminar.

Watson grew up in Kansas and attended music school at Florida's University of Miami, which has produced such stars as Pat Metheny and Bruce Hornsby.

He was a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers from 1977 to '81, and then emerged as a solo artist and in groups with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, drummer Max Roach and others.

He has been director of jazz studies at the University of Missouri in Kansas City for 13 years, a position that he says is great for its security as well as artistic possibilities. In 2010, for instance, he recorded “The Gates BBQ Suite,” a big-band tribute to a Kansas City barbecue maker, with the university's jazz concert orchestra.

But being with Horizon is where he wants to be.

“We have such a big repertoire and we know each other so well, we really don't have to rehearse,” he says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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