Saxophonist Bobby Watson Becomes Jazz Professor

Former Jazz Messenger will take musical message to students at University of Missouri.

Bobby Watson, the fiery alto saxophonist who at 24 was musical director of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, has been named director of the jazz program at the University of Missouri–Kansas City Conservatory of Music.

"I need a new challenge, and this is perfect," Watson said on Monday. "This is a great opportunity to help myself grow and help some kids grow."

Watson, 47, will join the UMKC music faculty Aug. 14 as the William D. and Mary Grant/Missouri Distinguished Professor in Jazz Studies. He'll teach arranging and composition, lead ensembles and design new curricula.

Watson began his career in the mid-'70s with Blakey and has led groups ever since, recording more than 20 albums, including 1983's Appointment in Milano, which features the track "Ballando." He has played in bands with saxophonists George Coleman and Sam Rivers, and he was a member of the 29th Street Saxophone Quartet.

Watson's "enthusiasm for the music, his way of working with the students and his impact on the community will be such a bonus for us here," said Hal Melia, interim director of jazz studies at UMKC Conservatory of Music.

Watson also has served on the faculty of William Paterson University, and he has lectured at the Tri-C Jazz Festival in Cleveland and at the Glasgow International Jazz Festival in Scotland.

The Missouri Legislature created the Grant professorship with a $550,000 endowment, part of a program that matches private donations to support chairs and professorships in the University of Missouri system.