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JULIUS WATKINS AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE JAZZ FRENCH HORN GENRE
PATRICK GREGORY SMITH
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Patrick Gregory Smith
This dissertation is dedicated to the memory of Donald A. Carlson (1948-2001).
In my efforts to "channel Julius" I have had support and guidance from numerous
individuals who deserve my heartfelt thanks and personal gratitude. I cannot overstate my
appreciation for my degree supervisor, Dr. David Z. Kushner. With his enthusiasm,
teachings, and inspiration, he has helped to increase my passion for music history and, in
turn, made me a more competent educator. Throughout my dissertation writing period, he
provided support, sound advice, good company and plentiful commentary. I would have
been lost without him.
I would like to thank Dr. Paul Basler for his guidance, mentorship, empathy and
musicality. His encouragement for the performance of non-traditional repertoire for our
instrument has caused a significant broadening in my own musical tastes. He has been a
teacher and a colleague, and because of him, I am a better horn player and, ultimately, a
I would like to thank the other members of my supervisory committee, Dr. Art
Jennings, Dr. Leslie Odom, and Dr. Eldon Turner, for their individual help and insightful
teachings over the previous semesters. I am grateful to Dr. John Duff whose endless
encouragement and generosity in supporting my musicological endeavors has been most
appreciated. I am also indebted to Dr. David Waybright, who has been unwavering in his
dedication to help me become more adequately prepared for a career in higher education
and the professional music world.
I would like to thank all of those in New York who offered assistance with this
endeavor. I thank Tom Varner for his endless encouragement and unquenchable
enthusiasm of this project, "WIS" Smith and Vincent Chancey for their openness in
sharing memories of Julius with a total stranger, Peter Hirsch and Mark Taylor for their
valuable insights, and Dolores Beck-Schwartz for her love and support to ensure that
Julius' story was finally told. Also, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Linda
Aginian and Philip Zoellner, registrars in the admissions office at the Manhattan School
of Music, for their cooperation and assistance.
I am eternally grateful for the love and support of my parents who have been at
my side through every tumultuous step over the past year. Their financial assistance,
compassion, encouragement and (brotherly) love have been integral items which have
helped to propel me forward along this journey. I thank my entire family, aunts, uncles,
cousins, grandparents, and especially my son, Riley, for endless prayers, patience and
understanding. Finally, I thank my own "Harriette Davison," Kristin, who has not only
been literally at my side through the course of my research, but more importantly has
been the wind in my sails, my lifesaver, and a living example of unconditional love.
Over the past eighteen months, I have immersed myself in the life details of Julius
Burton Watkins. At times, I have felt as though he was with me on this journey; guiding
me to seek answers to the countless questions surrounding his mysterious time spent on
Earth. I feel as though something or someone, perhaps Julius himself, guided me to the
Woody Home for Services to meet director John Lee, to the Manhattan School of Music
Admissions Office and to the United Memorial Gardens outside of Detroit. The presence
which I felt at Julius' grave in Plymouth, Michigan, remains to this day one of the most
unforgettable moments of my life. I would like to thank Julius posthumously for breaking
new ground in the world of music, promoting awareness for new styles of musical
appreciation, and inspiring me to become a better human being.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
LIST O F FIG U R E S .... ...................................................... .. ....... ............... ix
ABSTRACT .............. .................. .......... .............. xi
1 IN TR OD U CTION ............................................... .. ......................... ..
P purpose of Study .................................................................. ............................ . 2
M methodology .................................................................................................. 3
R review of Literature .................. .................................. .......................3
2 THE MAN BEHIND THE MUSIC................................ ......................... ........ 30
3 THE M U SIC BEH IND THE M AN ................................................. .....................61
4 THE EVOLUTION OF THE JAZZ FRENCH HORN GENRE SINCE 1977 ..........75
5 SUM M ARY AND CON CLU SION S ........................................................................99
A CHRONOLOGICAL DISCOGRAPHY OF ALL ALBUMS FEATURING
JU LIU S W A TK IN S ............................................................. .. ............... 104
B A RECORDED INTERVIEW OF JULIUS WATKINS AND CHARLES
ROUSE, CO-LEADERS OF THE JAZZ MODES, BY GARY KRAMER OF
ATLANTIC RECORDS ............. .... ................................. 159
C A RECORDED INTERVIEW OF WARREN "WIS" SMITH, PERCUSSIONIST,
AND FRIEND OF JULIUS WATKINS, BY PATRICK SMITH, RECORDED
O N M A R C H 11, 2004 ......... .. ............ ......................................................... 165
D A RECORDED INTERVIEW OF TOM VARNER, JAZZ HORN PLAYER
AND STUDENT OF JULIUS WATKINS, BY PATRICK SMITH, RECORDED
O N M A R C H 11, 2004 ......... .. ............ ......................................................... 184
E EXCERPTS FROM A RECORDED INTERVIEW OF PETER HIRSCH,
JOURNALIST, HORN PLAYER AND COLLEAGUE OF JULIUS WATKINS,
BY PATRICK SMITH, RECORDED ON MARCH 11, 2004 ...............................198
L IST O F R EFER EN CE S ........................................................................... ..............206
A article s ...................................... ..................................................... 2 0 6
B o o k s ............................................................................ 2 0 8
E electronic Sources ...................... ...................... ... .................. 209
Interv iew s ...........................................................................2 10
L in er N otes .............................................................. 2 10
P h o to g ra p h s ....................................................................................................2 1 1
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................................ .............. 213
LIST OF FIGURES
2-1 Cass Technical H igh School .............................................................................. 33
2-2 Julius Watkins, from his Sextet vol. 2 session, March 20, 1955. Photo taken
from Blue Note Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff, p. 145, ...............................41
2-3 Undated photograph of Julius Watkins and Charlie Rouse...............................44
2-4 Quincy Jones' Big Band on the set of Free and Easy at the Paris Alhambra,
1 9 5 9 ........................................................................... 5 0
2-5 Apartment of Julius and Harriette Watkins, 136 Lincoln Street #A-10,
M o n tclair, N J ..................................................................... .. 54
2-6 Home of Julius and Harriette Watkins, 20 Nishuane Road, Montclair, NJ ............55
2-7 Headstone of Julius Burton Watkins with horn of Patrick G. Smith ..................58
2-8 Undated photo of Julius Watkins with his Miraphone brand French horn ..............59
3-1 Julius Watkins and Les Spann during the 1960 Gemini recording session. ............63
3-2 Julius Watkins performing on his Miraphone French horn. Note the extra-large
bell and body of the instrument......... ............ ................ .............. .... 71
3-3 Examples of Julius Watkins' embouchure in live performances ..........................72
4-1 Photo of Tom Bacon, courtesy of the artist and his photographer, Michael
Schw artz. ............................................................................76
4-2 New York based jazz horn player, Vince Chancey............... ....... .........79
4-3 Pictured from left to right are jazz horn players Marshall Sealy, Tom Varner and
V in ce C h an cey ..................................................... ................ 84
4-4 Contemporary jazz horn soloist Tom Varner................................... ... ..................85
4-5 Ken Wiley (right) with Jim Patterson, Eldon Matlick and Bill Bernatis .................89
4-6 Russian jazz horn player, Arkady Shilkloper, performing with alphorn..................91
4-7 Mark Taylor performing selections from his Circle Squared album in Calgary,
A lb erta ...................................... ......................................................9 5
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
JULIUS WATKINS AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE JAZZ FRENCH HORN GENRE
Patrick Gregory Smith
Chair: David Z. Kushner
Major Department: Music
Julius Watkins was the first prominent jazz French horn player in the history of
American music. Although his performance capabilities were comparable to those of
other significant performers of traditional horn repertoire, Watkins has received little
attention from music scholars, jazz artists, and other performers of his instrument since
his death in 1977. The purpose of this study is threefold: to document his complete life
story for the first time in biographical form, to determine his performance characteristics
within chamber jazz ensembles of various instrumental combinations, and to explore the
development of the jazz French horn genre from 1977 to 2005. In writing this
dissertation, it is my goal to create not only an awareness for this style of French horn
playing, but to educate other musicians and potential audience members about Julius
Watkins, his professional accomplishments and performance style, and this rare artistic
The French horn has often been stereotyped as an instrument incapable of playing
jazz. This common misconception is due primarily to the instrument's heritage and
frequent use in symphonic orchestral venues. In the early portion of the 20th Century, this
instrument had no place in any jazz forum and students of the horn could only pursue
orchestral careers. By 1940, as jazz music grew increasingly popular, a need for new
styles and instrumentation became evident. Within a decade, jazz musicians had adopted
instruments not traditionally associated with the genre, and the French horn appeared
among them. This instrument was frequently used by several arrangers of big band
repertoire, including Gil Evans and Stan Kenton, and although the horn was rarely
featured as a lead solo instrument in these ensembles, use of the horn in jazz settings
When traditional orchestral horn players learned of this new artistic movement,
some chose to abandon their symphonic lifestyle to pursue careers as jazz horn soloists.
The first of these was John Graas who left his appointment with the Indianapolis
Symphony in the late 1940s, moved to California, and began recording solo jazz albums
of his own. Graas never achieved jazz fame and was criticized for not performing proper
jazz with regard to articulation, tone, and performance style. It seemed as though Graas'
efforts to prove that his instrument was worthy of a soloistic jazz reputation had failed,
and the jazz world would never see the day when the French horn would become the lead
instrument in chamber jazz ensembles. This notion changed when Julius Watkins, an
unassuming, yet dignified and determined, young African-American teenager from
Detroit, chose to abandon his high school education in order to pursue a career as a
French horn playing jazz soloist.
Julius Watkins is often referred to as the founding father of jazz horn playing not
because he was the first to play jazz on the instrument, but because he brought to it an
extraordinary virtuosity. He was to the realm of jazz horn playing what Joseph Leutgeb,
Franz Strauss and Dennis Brain were to the traditional realm. Simply put, he was the
superior performer of his instrument in his specialized field of performance. While
printed information regarding Leutgeb and Brain is plentiful, the opposite can be said for
Julius Watkins. Rarely does his name appear in a jazz encyclopedia or journal article.
When Watkins' accomplishments appear in such sources, they receive no more than a
scant paragraph. Press clippings regarding Julius Watkins are just as scarce. There exists
little biographical data and no complete biography of Julius Watkins. Despite over one
hundred recordings to his credit, a chronological discography is nonexistent. Likewise,
neither a clear written description of his performance style nor any rendition of his ideas
regarding instrumentation within chamber jazz settings exists. Inattention to his
accomplishments among "Classically" trained horn players is all the more surprising, as
few have ever heard of his existence. Many horn players and jazz musicians reference
Watkins' style and instrumentation in their own playing. Yet, they hardly realize that in
their playing, they bring to their audiences Watkins' vision for a musical world featuring
solo jazz music on the horn has been realized.
Purpose of Study
The purpose of this study is to create a complete biographical documentation of
Watkins' life, to pinpoint specific performance characteristics which made him
comparable to other virtuosos on his instrument, to determine scope of variety in
instrumentation which Watkins favored in chamber jazz ensembles, and to trace his
impact on the development of the jazz French horn genre from 1977 to 2005.
The methodology used in the biographical portion of this study was grounded in the
analysis of journal and magazine articles, newspaper stories, and material contained in
the liner notes of sound recordings featuring Julius Watkins. Seven interviews were
conducted with persons who worked or studied with Watkins, or knew him in some other
sort of capacity. These personal interviews were vital in order to fully understand the
personal side of this artist. Sound recordings of The Jazz Modes and The Julius Wlu kii\
Sextet served as the foundation for stylistic analysis in addition to recordings which
featured Julius Watkins in nontraditional instrumental ensembles with fewer than ten
performers. Artists who receive attention in chapter three were selected based on their
prominence as a jazz horn soloist, dedication to teaching jazz or non-traditional horn
repertoire, and possession of an international reputation.
Review of Literature
The Review ofLiterature is composed as an annotated bibliography. Each entry
contains the complete bibliographic citation along with a synopsis of the material
presented in the source as it relates to professional career of Julius Watkins. Some articles
contain a great deal of biographical data while others simply place Julius at a particular
location at a certain time. Some articles do nothing more than place Julius in the company
of other prominent artists, and these articles are included to help determine the level of
prominence Julius enjoyed as a jazz French horn performer. Articles regarding particular
shows and performance engagements in which Watkins performed are also included,
regardless if the article makes any mention of Watkins or not.
Agrell, Jeffrey. "Jazz Clinic: There'll Be Some Changes Made." The Horn Call, vol. 18
no. 2, 1988, pp. 39-42.
This is a pedagogical article in two parts. In part one, the author presents an
introductory tutorial on how to play through chord changes through particular patterns.
Two methodologies are presented: (1) playing vertically through the changes, and (2)
playing horizontally. Agrell clarifies the differences between vertical and horizontal
patterns and presents actual music notation to reinforce these concepts. Graphs and charts
are also included to offer the reader a visual connection to the two methodologies. Part
two contains the biographies of three lesser-known jazz horn players from the year of
publication: Matt Shevrin, Claudio Pontiggia and Arkadi Shilkloper. In addition to the
short biographical section, Agrell includes specific data on the performance style of each
of these personalities, a discography and performance characteristics which differentiate
these three individuals from other jazz French horn notables and each other. Jeffrey
Agrell is currently Professor of Horn at the University of Iowa.
Agrell, Jeffrey. "Jazz Clinic: The Art of Noise." The Horn Call, vol. 21 no. 1, 1990, pp.
In a further effort to teach non-jazz playing French horn artists about proper
stylistic interpretations of a jazz work, Agrell presents a lexicon of descriptive noises for
brass players in this pedagogical contribution. The sounds listed herein include the many
effects which jazz artists, specifically those playing brass instruments, create in live
performances. Two problematic issues involving these sounds are (1) how to define each
sound with a term and definition, and (2) how to musically notate these sounds on the
staff. Agrell attempts to resolve both of these topics in this article. He presents a total of
seventeen different terms. Each entry includes a definition of the sound, a "how-to" guide
on methods of sound production, and notated musical symbols from actual jazz pieces.
The finished product presents beginning jazz musicians with both written and visual
answers to that never-ending question, "how do I do that?"
Anonymous. "Concert at Carnegie Hall." Downbeat Magazine [on-line]._June 2, 1961.
12; internet; accessed 4 March, 2004.
The author recalls a jazz concert attended at Carnegie Hall on the evening of March
4, 1961. The concert featured Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry as the headlining soloists
and a long line of supporting artists, including French horn players Gunther Schuller, Jim
Buffington, John Barrows and Richard Berg. The unknown author offers great praise for
the soloists and is quite complimentary of many aspects of the concert, including the
French horn playing. Conversely, criticism is offered regarding problems occurring when
French horns were used in Big Bands during the1960s, specifically in this concert.
Examples of criticism include the mentioning of problems with ensemble balance, clarity
of the actual horn parts, articulations and wrong notes. The author also gives reasoning
for the inclusion and exclusion of the French horn in a Big Band setting.
Anonymous. "Ex-Hampton Ace Records for MGM." The Carolinian, 11 February, 1950.
This is a brief, yet powerfully supportive article informing the general public of the
upcoming release of a new album by Milt Buckner, and it is particularly relevant to a
study of Watkins. This album, Milt Buckner and His Orchestra," featured Julius
Watkins as both sideman and soloist. Moreover, it earned him widespread acclaim for
one solo performance, the tune "Yesterdays." Although Watkins name, along with other
musicians', does not appear in the article, his musical contribution is noteworthy and
important to a study of his influence
Anonymous. "Julius Watkins, 55, Played Jazz on the French Horn and was Music
Teacher." The New York Times, 8 April, 1977.
This eight-paragraph obituary appeared in The New York Times four days after the
death of Julius Watkins. In what may be a surprise to many, it serves as an excellent
starting point for anyone conducting research on this artistic figure. The article lists
Watkins' place of residence in New York City and place of death, Montclaire, New
Jersey. It also includes a brief biography, mentions teaching and performing
engagements, and contains the names of survivors. There are discrepancies in the
spellings of numerous people in this obituary, errors which have caused great confusion
regarding next of kin up to the present day. Nonetheless, this article goes well beyond the
average scope of an obituary and lends credence to the importance of Julius Watkins as
he was viewed by his contemporaries during the late 1970s.
Anonymous. Liner notes from Smart Jazz for the Smart Set. Seeco Records, CELP-466,
Contained on the back of this album are words of praise and support for what was,
at the time, a budding new jazz group with a great deal of promise: The Jazz Modes. A
brief synopsis of the ensemble's conception combines with background information on
the Watkins and Rouse duo to create a majority of the data on the jacket cover. There are
no photos of the ensemble; however, there is a great deal of commentary regarding
instrumentation, chamber-like jazz, assisting artists and short program notes. A complete
playlist is included along with a list of other jazz records produced by Seeco, some of
which include Watkins and Rouse.
Anonymous. "Milt Buckner in Quaker City." Baltimore Afro-American, 9 July, 1949.
Julius Watkins' first 'big break' as a jazz artist occurred when he joined Milt
Buckner's band in 1949. This quasi-review of a Milt Buckner concert places this artist
and the famous ensemble, including Watkins, which toured during the summer of 1949.
The article recounts a concert which took place on July 4, 1949 at the 421 Club in
Philadelphia, Pa. Praise is given to many of the tunes, including Buckner's arrangement
of Jerome Kern's Yesterdays, which featured Julius Watkins on a sweepingly lyrical solo.
The article also mentions future radio show appearances which featured Buckner's
ensemble. Although brief, this article lends credibility to the impressive performance
ability of Buckner's group. Moreover, it provides insight into Watkins own abilities (and
his good fortune) in that he had landed his first job among such a renowned collection of
Chancey, Vincent. Liner notes from Next Mode. DIW Records, DIW-914, 1996.
Released almost twenty years after the death of Julius Watkins, Chancey's Next
Mode recording features an ensemble which bears a striking resemblance to Watkins'
Jazz Modes. In these liner notes, Chancey describes the formation of this new ensemble
and the specific effect that Julius Watkins has had on his career. He provides a brief
autobiography before diving into program notes regarding the works on this compact
disc. Six of Chancey's original compositions are included on this album in addition to
Linda Delia, a work originally composed and recorded by Julius Watkins. The specific
program notes include references to the people and events which inspired the conception
of these works and are helpful in understanding a personal view of this artist.
Collier, James Lincoln. The Making of Jazz: A Comprehensive History. pp. 408-420.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1978.
Despite its date of publication, 1978, this text is widely recognized as one of the
best jazz histories in print. This overview of jazz history traces the genre from its origins
through the mid-1960s. Collier combines historical and social aspects with academic,
musical, literary and psychological perspectives to create this unbiased timeline of jazz
history. Of particular interest are the pages related to Bop music and the performance of
this art by musicians known as boppers. This section on Bop allows the reader to firmly
understand and comprehend the details of this genre. Moreover, the information on Bop
helps connect Watkins with the art style, and it thus fills out a significant aspect of his
own development. To understand the performance style of Julius Watkins as a soloist,
one must understand Bop music and the styles which evolved into Bop. This history will
assist in the achievement of that goal.
Ephland, John. "Bio: Julius Watkins." Downbeat Magazine [on-line]. Available from
Watkins; internet accessed 23 July, 2002.
Ephland offers a brief and basic summary of the life achievements regarding Julius
Watkins. Although by no means a complete and accurate list, this biography does offer
assistance to someone intending to pursue further study of this jazz French horn icon.
This biography contains very broad generalizations and a summary of this artist's life
while offering birth and death dates, early jobs, a brief mention of Les Jazz Modes, and
other performance opportunities. Surprisingly, this biography of one of the greatest jazz
musicians, featured in one of the leading magazines regarding jazz music, is less than
one-half page in length. Of course, such a brief summary is necessarily incomplete, and it
cannot give Watkins due credit for a lifetime of significant achievements.
Evans, Gil. "The Birth of Cool." Downbeat Magazine [on-line], 2 May, 1957. Available
from http://www.downbeat.com/default. asp? sect-
stories&subsect=story_detail&sid=279; internet accessed 12 April, 2005
French horns began to appear in jazz bands in the 1940s during what became
known as the Cool Era. One of the foremost arrangers of jazz at that time was Gil Evans,
the Canadian native and founder of the famous Gil Evans Orchestra. In this article, Evans
reminisces about his jazz inspirations and memories of the Cool Era and discusses
specific items regarding the use of the French horn in Cool Jazz orchestras. Topics
include the use of the horn in the Claude Thornhill Band, the horn as a soloistic
instrument in this ensemble, tone colors and sonorities of the group before and during the
incorporation of the horn in the ensemble, and other pertinent historical data.
Feather, Leonard. The Book ofJazz: A Guide to the Complete Field, pp. 142-143. New
York: Horizon Publishers, 1957.
In this general overview of jazz styles, eras and instrumentation, the author presents
an eye-witness account of the jazz world from his perspective in 1957. What this text
lacks in scholarly writing, it makes up for with detailed information regarding a wide
spectrum of topics in a manner easily understood by the average reader. Specifically
regarding the topic of jazz French horn lore, Feather provides a focused view of the jazz
horn scene in the mid-1950s by mentioning the names of jazz horn artists, arrangers, and
bands which featured the instrument. Included here, but left out of many other sources, is
commentary regarding the use of the Mellophone in jazz ensembles. Feather offers
reasoning for including the mellophone instead of the traditional horn, and gives evidence
of the instrument's success along with praise for the mellophone by many prominent
band leaders from this era. The author also mentions the establishment of many other
unusual instruments as regular members of jazz ensembles.
Feather, Leonard. Liner notes from John Graas! Mercury Records, SR 80020, 1957.
These are the original liner notes from the first long-play record featuring John
Graas exclusively as ajazz horn soloist. The notes are split into two sections. The first is
a biographical sketch of John Graas including birth information, schooling and pre-jazz
professional engagements. : It includes a list of Grass' teaches, along with commentary
regarding his duties while an enlisted man in the United States Army. Part two features
program notes on the eight works on this recording. In some cases, a brief analysis of the
work may be presented. Included in these analyses are descriptions of rhythm patterns,
chord progressions, and instrumentation.
Feather, Leonard and Michael Cuscuna. Liner notes from Julius Wuikini Sextet, vols. 1
&2. Blue Note Records, BLP 5053 and 5064, 1954 and 1955.
Originally appearing as two separate recordings, these two albums were re-released
on one compact disc in 1998 by Capitol Records. The liner notes of this disc include
original commentary by Feather in addition to supporting commentary by Cuscuna.
Feather's writings describe Watkins' early career and include some biographical material
including birth date, early horn studies and public schooling. Following this short
summary of Watkins' life up through 1954, Feather offers critical insight into the nine
works which appeared on the two original recordings and offers criticism for four
selections: "Linda Delia, Perpetuation, Leete," and "I Have Known." A list of
contributing artists is included along with two black and white photographs taken of
Watkins during the recording sessions for these two volumes.
Frey, Kevin. "Jazz Horn Interaction." The Horn Call, vol. 22 no. 2, 1992, pp. 57-59.
Frey's submission appears as part of the Jazz Clinic, a column appearing in the
Horn Call periodically during the 1980s and 90s. In an attempt to reach pre-professional
horn players, the author stresses that this instrument has crossed over many boundaries
between different musical genres and that today's performers of the horn must be
prepared for any type of performance style. Specifically in regard to jazz, Frey offers a
list of advising tips for jazz horn novices who are looking to interact with this
increasingly popular genre. Suggestions include ways to familiarize oneself with basic
fundamentals of jazz, practicing strategies, standard repertoire, performing outlets and
other resources. A bibliography of Jazz Clinic columns appearing in the Horn Call from
1982 through 1992 is also included.
Gioia, Ted. West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California, 1945-1960, pp. 176-179.
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998.
On the whole, this text offers a detailed glimpse into the West Coast Jazz scene
during the mid-1900s. This overview is important due to the changes in style and
instrumentation which took place. In the mentioned pages, Gioia provides specific
information regarding Gil Evans, John Graas, the inclusion of the French horn in a jazz
orchestra and reactions to such an inclusion from other jazz artists. This overview is vital
to the understanding of jazz French horn usage and repertoire and the progression of the
horn as a jazz-playing instrument. Numerous names of bands and band leaders are
provided along with a chronological chain of events which led to the inclusion of so
many instruments with Classical foundations.
Girard, Paulette. Liner notes from Mood in Scarlet. Seeco Records, DLP-1117, 1957.
In what appears to be more a newspaper article than a list of traditional liner notes,
Girard presents a wealth of information to the reader/listener in a highly pedagogical
manner. These notes are not broken into historical and programmatic sections as is the
case with many other albums. Rather, Girard intertwines numerous aspects of history and
program detail into one complete story. The article does offer a glimpse into the
Watkins/Rouse duo and features a black and white photograph of the two men playing
side-by-side. A playlist featuring composer and publisher information is included as are
brief biographical details concerning the sidemen appearing on this album.
Gottfried, Martin. "Raisin." Women's Wear Daily, 19 October, 1973.
This racially charged diatribe focuses on many negatives which surrounded the
show's production. It is obvious from the article's first sentence that Gottfried was less
than enthusiastic about practically every aspect regarding the performance. He offers
harsh criticism of almost every part of the production, including the set design,
costuming, song structure, and overall mood present in the production. Gottfried goes so
far as to criticize the show for not being 'black' enough and even accuses the composer,
Judd Woldin, of writing 'white jazz' instead of 'black jazz.' The ramifications of these
accusatory remarks are enormous when considering the strides that had been made since
the Equal Rights Movement of the 1960s. Gottfried calls the show "embarrassing to those
of African descent," due to the lack of "black rhythms and moods." Amid all of this
negativity, no mention is given to the pit orchestra. There is neither criticism nor praise
for the instrumentalists. Nonetheless, this article allows the reader a glimpse into the
heated battle of the races which lingered well into the late 20th century artistic world.
Graas, John. "The French Horn Has Won a Place in Jazz." Downbeat Magazine, 2
December, 1953, p. 34.
John Graas was a classically trained French horn player who performed with the
Indianapolis Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra in the 1940s before moving to
California to pursue a career in the jazz idiom. He was the first documented jazz French
horn artist and made numerous attempts to include his instrument in jazz settings on a
permanent basis; however, his career never achieved the greatness which he initially
envisioned and his life came to a tragically suicidal end.
In this article, Graas argues that by 1953 the French horn had successfully become
an instrument accepted by performers in jazz circles. He makes numerous references to
the warmth of sound possessed by the instrument and the willingness of certain jazz
arrangers, specifically Claude Thornhill and Stan Kenton, to feature the instrument
permanently in their orchestras. Graas give a great deal of attention to the use of the horn
in chamber jazz settings and references are made to the use of the horn as a woodwind-
type instrument. In addition, Graas argues that the instrument is capable of performing
fast technical jazz music in addition to just being featured in ballads, thereby concluding
that the instrument is just as well rounded and suited for the genre as any other
'traditional' jazz instrument. However, he makes no reference to how concert-going
audiences reacted to the inclusion of the horn in these ensembles.
Henahan, Donal. "Music: Black Composers' Vocal Works." The New York Times, 2
September, 1977, p. 52.
Few American orchestras have programmed concerts which feature only the music
of black composers. Although this idea has received increasing attention in recent years,
it was a source of social division in the 1970s. Nonetheless, the New York Philharmonic
performed a week-long concert series featuring the music of numerous black composers
in May of 1977. Although Henahan's article documents the specifics of the week's
events, including location and performance venue, it does not provide a complete list of
the composers whose work the orchestra performed. Even so, it pays special attention to
the social reactions to various concerts, in that he emphasizes the demographics and attire
of the audiences. Similarly, he criticizes some aspects of the bill, rather than assessing the
quality of the whole. Of particular note is the mentioning of works composed by Harriette
Davison. Davison was a violinist and composer in New York and was married to Julius
Watkins from 1971 until his death in April of 1977. This article confirms her status as an
active composer in the New York scene during the mid-late 1970s.
Jack, Gordon. "CD Review: Julius Watkins and Charlie Rouse." Jazz Journal
International, 1 September, 2001, pp. 42-43.
This is a review of two albums which were re-released on compact discs. The two
discs both feature the famous quintet founded by Julius Watkins and Charlie Rouse: Les
Modes (known later as Les Jazz Modes and The Jazz Modes). The article gives a brief
synopsis of the group's brief existence and comments specifically on the performance
style of Julius Watkins. Included are comments regarding Julius' five-octave range,
lyrical playing style and improvisational achievements. A complete track list is included
for the two reviewed discs, MoodIn Scarlet and Les Jazz Modes, and the names of some
prominent sidemen are included. This jazz review frequently references other classically
trained musicians and horn players, and is an interesting review which begins to bridge
the classical and jazz worlds.
Jones, Quincy. Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones. 412 pp. New York: Broadway
Over the past sixty years, Quincy Jones has led one of the most inspiring of musical
lives in America. This book allows the reader to gain valuable insight into the world of
Quincy Jones through the actual recollections given by the author and chapters written by
numerous other individuals. The novel begins with Jones recalling his childhood years in
Chicago, descriptions of his family life and household, his teenage years in Seattle, his
first trumpet, and countless other stories up through the turn of the century. This book is
deeply personal: it presents the life of Quincy Jones not as an untouchable icon of the
music world, but as a genuine human being.
Specifically in regard to Julius Watkins, this autobiography is of the utmost
importance. Watkins was a member of Jones' orchestra for the European tour of the
musical, Free and Eay. An entire chapter is devoted to this tour and provides the reader
with an almost daily log of events from that escapade. Amongst the numerous photos in
this book is one taken of this very pit orchestra. Members, including Watkins, are dressed
in full costume and each has their instrument in hand. In all, Jones makes seven
references to Julius "Phantom" Watkins ranging from professional to personal.
Keepnews, Orrin. Liner notes from Gemini: Les Spann. Jazzland Records, JLP 935S,
Gemini was the name of a small jazz ensemble led by the multi-talented artist, Les
Spann. The notes from this recording offer a glimpse into Spann's world of performing in
chamber-like jazz ensembles which often featured less than traditional instrumentation.
In addition to a brief biography of Spann, the liner notes contain numerous references to
Julius Watkins who performed on four of the eight featured tracks. The topic of astrology
is discussed which is important due to the mystical beliefs possessed by this artistic duo.
Insight into Spann and Watkins' previous collaboration with Quincy Jones is also
provided. One of the great highlights of the album jacket is a black and white photograph
of Watkins performing alongside Spann in a recording studio. Pictures such as this help
to breathe life into the history of jazz artists who have long been forgotten.
Koral, Burt. Liner notes from The Jazz Modes. Atlantic Records, Atlantic LP 1306, 1959.
Data presented on the jacket of this album are broken into two parts. The first half
contains detailed and accurate biographical information regarding the performance career
of Julius Watkins up until 1959. The liner notes make references to information taken
from interview with Watkins in addition to historical records of recording dates and tour
engagements. Part two is a personal commentary by Koral regarding the ensemble's
performance style. As this was the first recording featuring The Jazz Modes, the notes
carry a pedagogical tone in an attempt to educate a new jazz audience about the abilities
and styles of the ensemble. A playlist is included with timings of the eight tunes and
names of publishing companies who had rights to the specific works.
Kramer, Gary. Jacket notes from The Most Happy Fella. Atlantic Records, Atlantic LP
Jazz artists frequently arranged tunes from Broadway musicals and released these
newer renditions on albums of their own. Such is the case with this recording which
features nine selections from 1957 production. The notes feature a track list with timings
of the performances in addition to scene references from the original Broadway show. A
personnel list is also included. The inclusion of an interview with Julius Watkins and
Charlie Rouse is what makes these jacket notes so valuable. Watkins and Rouse answer
numerous questions about the art of making jazz arrangements from Broadway tunes, in
addition to answering many questions regarding the formation of their ensemble, The
Jazz Modes. Watkins offers his own perspective on the inclusion of the French horn in
jazz ensembles and reminisces about the early days in his own playing career.
Liebman, David and Tom Varner. Liner notes from Tom Varner: Jazz French Horn. Soul
Note Records, 12176-2, 2000.
This album was originally released in 1985 and contains a plethora of information
from both authors. The initial words from Liebman include a brief history of Varner's
career in addition to a very personal statement regarding Liebman's respect and
admiration for the artist. A short description of Varner's Bebop style separates the
introductory comments from a paragraph of heaping positive criticism for Varner and his
ensemble. The playlist includes composer and publisher information along with
commentary from Varner for each selection. Concluding the notes are links to internet
websites for numerous jazz French horn artist and record numbers for other recordings.
Line, Les. "Blue Note 10" Rarities." 52nd Street Review, Available from
accessed 23 July, 2002.
Les Line informs his readers about numerous 10" long play records which were
schedule to be re-released by Blue Note Records. One of those albums was a 2-record set
featuring the Julius Watkins Sextet. The article features a brief review of the record, an
incomplete song list, an extremely brief biography of Watkins, and an abbreviated list of
artists with whom Watkins performed. A color photograph of the record jacket cover is
also included. This picture shows Watkins and Rouse playing side-by-side. The photo
itself is priceless. Attention in the article is given to the modern wave of jazz French horn
players who were inspired by Watkins; specifically, John Clark and Tom Varner.
Lopes, Paul. The Rise of a Jazz Art World. pp. 242-251. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2002.
This book offers a unique glimpse into the development of jazz during the 20th
Century. Through analysis of representative works and reviewing of numerous primary
source materials, Lopes depicts how musicians and listeners helped to transform the jazz
world over the course of the century. Numerous aspects of social reaction are examined,
including cultural politics, social diversity, the ongoing feud between high art and
popular art cultures, racial stereotyping, segregation, and changes in the jazz world that
helped to influence or were influenced by changes in the social climate. This book is just
as much a social history of American culture as it is a history of American jazz, and
includes valuable insight from specific musicians, critics, producers and audience
Magelssen, Nels H. A Study of the French Horn in Jazz Through an Analysis of the
Playing Style of Julius Watkins. 41pp. University of Maryland, 1984
Although the title of this paper indicates an enormous scope of study, Magelssen is
actually offering a pedagogical guide for jazz band directors and French horn players on
how to make the instrument more apt for participation in jazz settings. The paper does not
trace a history of the French horn use in jazz, nor does it thoroughly examine the
performance career of Julius Watkins. This paper does, however, give a thorough
analysis of the mechanical and technical limitations possessed by the instrument in
addition to paraphrasing the interview of Julius Watkins which appeared in Downbeat
Magazine in 1957.
Meadows, Eddie S. Bebop to Cool: Context, Ideology and Musical Identity. pp. 250-261.
Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.
Jazz scholar Eddie Meadows follows the cultural and ideological events that
inspired Bebop and eventually led to the establishment of the Cool Era. Attention is given
to many of the more notable jazz musicians from the 1920s and 30s, including Miles
Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk. Special attention is given to
the inclusion of the French horn in the pages listed here. Hornist John Graas is mentioned
at great length as are the arrangers and leaders who welcomed the instrument into their
orchestras. Portions of interviews with John Graas are also included. Connections are
made between societal changes and the inclusion of the French horn and other
instruments, along with social reactions to performances featuring this newer
Ormsby, Verle Alvin. John Jacob Graas, Jr.: Jazz Horn Performer, Jazz Composer and
Arranger. 119pp. D.A. Dissertation, Ball State University, 1988.
This paper documents the life of John Graas and provides special insights into his
career as a jazz French horn artist, composer of jazz French horn literature and arranger
of jazz band music. The work is divided into two large sections or parts. Part one outlines
the life and career of this artist primarily through an examination of the contents found in
the John Graas Memorabilia and Memorial Library. Most of the specimens found
therein are photo albums, newspaper clippings, records, tapes, some original
compositions by the artist and some written correspondence between Graas and his co-
workers. Part two focuses on and analyzes some of Graas' original compositions for the
jazz horn and larger ensembles. Compositional growth and development are traced by
analyzing the increasing complexity of melodies found in some selected works. Ormsby
offers a detailed account of Graas' life, a glossary of pertinent musical terms relating to
the paper, and a comprehensive bibliography for further research on Graas, West Coast
Jazz and Jazz Horn performance.
Schaughency, Steven Michael. The Original Jazz Compositions ofJulius W1alklin\ 88pp.
D.A. Dissertation, University of Northern Colorado, 1994.
This paper deals with Julius Watkins' compositional contributions to the jazz horn
repertoire and focuses primarily on his compositional style and characteristics. This 38-
page discussion creates an understanding of the artist's jazz writing techniques and
highlights elements from his traditional Classical music education which appear in
Watkins' jazz compositions. The author pinpoints specific traits within each examined
work, including the development of motivic material, contrapuntal writing, Romantic Era
harmonic movement, unusual tone colors, mood variations and rhythmic accompaniment.
This paper does not include biographical data regarding Julius Watkins, but does include
fourteen transcriptions of the composer's original works for a chamber-like jazz setting, a
discography containing many recordings which feature Watkins performing improvised
solos, a glossary of jazz terms and a bibliography for further study.
Tanner, Paul O. A Study ofJazz, 2nd Edition, pp. 92-95. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown
This chapter allows the reader to grasp an understanding for the Cool Era. This
pedagogical summation details the events and styles which influenced this new jazz era
and traces these styles through their existence in the jazz world from 1949 through 1955.
Special attention is given to tonal concepts, new ideas in tonality, softer sounds, chamber-
like jazz settings and other concepts which led to a softer form of this musical genre.
Tanner mentions numerous jazz figures who played significant roles in the era's
establishment including arrangers, conductors and soloists. Of particular interest is the
author's description of how certain traditionally non-jazz instruments worked their way
into jazz settings during this time. Tanner describes these events in regard to the flute,
tuba, flugelhorn and French horn and lists the names of some of the more prominent
artists on those instruments. Black and white photographs are included of some of these
Varner, Tom. "Jazz Horn: Post Julius Watkins." The Horn Call, vol. 19 no. 2, 1989, pp.
In a follow-up to his previous article on Julius Watkins, Varner describes the
growth in the jazz French horn scene since Watkins' death in 1977. Varner focuses on
jazz horn players living in the United States; however, he does mention the contributions
of three internationally acclaimed artists. The remainder of the article contains
biographical information on four prominent New York based performers of the jazz horn:
Vincent Chancey, Sharon Freeman, Alex Brofsky and Peter Gordon. A discography of
selected jazz horn artists is also included. Recordings featuring Brofsky, Chancey, Clark,
Gordon and Freeman are listed in addition to those by other jazz horn artists.
Discography items are separated depending on the artist's role as a leader or a sideman.
Varner, Tom. "Julius Watkins: Jazz Pioneer." The Horn Call, vol. 19 no. 1, 1988, p. 21.
Varner is one of the leading authorities on jazz French horn history and repertoire.
Although somewhat outdated and incomplete, this article offers an introductory glimpse
at the founding father of jazz French horn playing. Special attention given to biographical
data includes birth and death information, record dates, performances with bands, the
Jazz Modes, the Watkins-Rouse relationship, and other prominent historical events in the
artist's life. Presented here, for the first time in print, is a transcription of an original work
by Julius Watkins, allowing scholars and jazz musicians alike to witness a physical
testimony to the significance of this often glossed-over figure. A partial discography
appears at the conclusion of the article. While this article is by no means complete, it
serves as the foundation for further research into the life of Julius Watkins and the
completion of a void in the history of Jazz music in America.
Watrous, Peter. "A One-Night French Horn Festival." The New York Times_ 27 January,
1994, p. C-20.
Watrous offers readers an account of the First Julius Watkins Jazz French Horn
Festival. This concert was the first of its kind and featured four artists, three of whom had
studied with Watkins himself. The performances of Mark Taylor, John Clark, Vincent
Chancey and Tom Varner, the festival organizer, are reviewed and the titles of some
works are included. Criticism is offered on the performances of the four artists as are
photographs of some of the night's events. Surprisingly there is hardly any mentioning of
the festival's namesake. This jazz review is written in a way which assumes that the
reader holds knowledge and appreciation of Watkins' musical achievements.
Watrous, Peter. "Charlie Rouse, 64, a Saxophonist Known for Work in Monk Quartet."
The New York Times, 2 December, 1988, p. D-16.
The life of Charlie Rouse is thoroughly recounted in this obituary by Watrous. This
lengthy article is much more significant in length and content than that of Julius Watkins
and ads further speculation as to why the obituary of the Rouse's partner is significantly
lackluster. Rouse's obituary is separated into two sections: his early career up through
1950 and his career from 1950-1988. A brief synopsis of his partnership with Julius
Watkins is mentioned, along with documentation of Rouse's great career with Thelonious
Monk, Count Basie and many other well known jazz personalities. The obituary includes
a black and white photograph of Rouse taken in 1983.
Watt, Douglas. "Raisin: A Black Period Musical, Brings Back Raisin in the Sun." New
York Daily News, 19 October, 1973.
This is a critical review of a performance of Raisin which occurred on the evening
of October 18, 1973. The musical was a re-make of the 1959 novel, A Raisin in the Sun,
by Lorraine Hansberry and followed the original version quite closely. After offering a
brief plot summary, Watt offers great praise to the cast and the pit musicians. A complete
cast list is presented, however the names of the pit musicians is omitted. It has been
confirmed that Julius Watkins performed in this pit orchestra and that this was his last
professional engagement. Thus, Watt's comments regarding a first-rate cast and
outstanding orchestra reaffirm the level of performance maintained by Watkins later in
Wilson, Edwin. "Putting Miss Hansberry's Play to Music." The Wall Street Journal, 22
Similar to the review by Watt, this article paints a favorable image of the new
musical show for the reading audience. In addition to offering numerous positive
statements about the show, including the praise of the score, lyrics and overall
production, Wilson provides a short history regarding the status of "Black Musicals."
These shows were written, produced and predominantly performed by African-American
artists. This article mentions not a single cast member directly (other than the producer
and musical directors), but further establishes the nature of racial segregation in the fine
arts during the mid-1970s.
Wilson, John S. "Asadata Dafora Dancers Seen with Les Jazz Modes Quintet." The New
York Times, 24 January, 1959, p. 12.
Wilson describes a rare mixture of two artist media types. A program called "Afra
Ghan Jazz" featured Watkins' Les Jazz Modes providing the musical accompaniment for
the primitive dancers in the troupe. The short article highlights the strengths possessed by
the two groups and describes the extreme differences in style between the ensembles.
Brief descriptions about the dance troupe and quintet are provided alone with
commentary regarding the musical selections. Wilson includes the names of some jazz
sidemen; however, the names of dancers are omitted.
Wilson, John S. "Jazz Ensembles Sound Seasonal Note With an Easter Festival at Town
Hall." The New York Times, 31 March, 1956, p. 13.
This is a detailed account of an all-star jazz concert taking place on March 30,
1956. Highlights of the evening included performances by the Oscar Pettiford Orchestra,
Thelonius Monk and Art Farmer and commentary is provided on the featured selections
performed by each of these artists. Wilson offers much positive criticism for Pettiford's
ensemble; an orchestra which featured two French horns. Wilson mentions that Julius
Watkins was one of the hornists, but the name of the other performer is not included. This
article lends further credibility to the prominence of Julius Watkins as a jazz artist, places
Watkins in a high-profile type of venue and helps to fill in the voids in the timeline of this
Wilson, John S. Liner notes from Four French Horns Plus Rhythm. Elektra Records,
Popular jazz columnist, John Wilson, authored this list of historical and program
notes this unusual type of jazz horn album. A brief history of the horn in jazz begins the
article and includes some interesting data regarding the identity of the first performer of
jazz on this instrument. Wilson also offers insight into the origins of this album and the
individuals associated with the album's creation. Following this historical section, a
complete playlist is presented along with program notes for each of the nine featured
works. Composer and arranger names are presented along with short biographies of some
of the contributing artists.
Wilson, John S. "Milt Jackson Gets Big-Sound Backing." The New York Times, 3
September, 1966, p. 12.
John Wilson presents an extremely positive review of a Milt Buckner concert
which took place on September 2, 1965. Not only is credit given to Buckner himself, but
praise is heaped upon specific members of his 15-person band, including Julius Watkins,
whose performance is described as "splendid." Wilson provides a detailed account of the
evening's activities and captures the mood and atmosphere of the concert surroundings in
this article. What is particularly noteworthy about this newspaper clipping is the fact that
Watkins was still in demand by some of the great headliners of the 1960s and still had a
positive working relationship with Buckner seventeen years after the vibraphonist gave
his horn-blowing apprentice his first professional touring engagement.
Wilson, John S. "New Jazz Group Full of Promise." The New York Times, 6 April, 1970.
In this review of a new jazz sextet, Wilson documents the return of Julius Watkins
to the active jazz scene following a three-year hiatus. Wilson mentions that "the
Phantom" returned from three-year teaching engagement; however, no mention of an
actual school or institution is provided. In this performance at the famous Village
Vanguard, Watkins appeared along side drummer Keno Duke, saxophonists George
Coleman and Clifford Jordan and other members of the Jazz Contemporaries. Wilson
remarks at the fascinating voicings produced by the ensemble and mentions one solo in
particular featuring Watkins on French horn. The author mentions the ensemble's future
dates at the Vanguard in addition to highlighting the strengths and weaknesses possessed
by this new ensemble.
Wilson, John S. "Opera Explores Racial Questions." The New York Times, 23 May, 1971,
Wilson presents a review of All Cats Turn Grey When the Sun Goes down; an opera
which received three performances in the Spring of 1971. The opera, dedicated to the
great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, seems to be a source of confusion for Wilson who
describes the work as having little or no connection to the life of that artist. The author
does not give much detail regarding the actual music from this opera. Instead, he explores
the racial tension between a pair of black gravediggers and their interaction with two
white lovers, a white family on a picnic, white tourists, and two white teenage
adolescents. What is particularly valuable in this article is the concept that artists,
specifically theatrical personalities, were exploring racial stereotyping, conflict and
misrepresentation in the early 1970s. The article concludes with the surprising
mentioning of two members of the opera orchestra: Jimmy Owens on trumpet, and Julius
Watkins on horn. Therefore, proof exists that Watkins was performing in at least some
classical music venues later in his life and remained an active performer of all types of
music throughout his life.
Wilson, John S. "The Horn Nobody Wants." Downbeat Magazine, 17 September, 1959,
This article is, in reality, an interview with Julius Watkins and provides a rare
glimpse into the personal life and professional career of the artist up through date of
publication. This comprehensive insight into the early career of Julius Watkins firmly
establishes Wilson's work as groundbreaking and Earth-shattering since there exists no
other written documentation of Watkins' life up through the present day. Wilson
predominantly focuses on Watkins' professional career from 1939-59, mentioning tour
after tour with various ensembles featuring prominent headliners. In doing so, Wilson
presents a chronological list of events from Watkins' life and allows the reader to
visualize a progressive timeline through the artist's own words. More important, he
answers several questions that a student of jazz history would ask. These range in
importance from biographical information on Watkins choice of the French horn to why
he pursued a career in jazz and how he formed his important relationship with Charlie
Rouse. Equally valuable, Wilson moved from the past to the future by asking Wilson this
revealing question: What is your [Watkins'] vision for the future of the jazz French Horn
and its sound?
Wilson, John S. "Trumpeter Serving Many." The New York Times, 14 January, 1962, p.
The biography of trumpeter Clark Terry is featured in this article by John Wilson.
The article does not offer traditional biographical material such as birth date, education,
teachers, etc. Rather, Wilson divides the article into four sub-sections, each devoted to a
certain aspect of the career of the renowned trumpeter: Freelancer, Recent Recordings,
Theatre Scores and Supporting Accent. Wilson makes two connections between Terry
and Julius Watkins in this article by mentioning their work together on the Free andEasy
tour in 1959 and their combined efforts on a Terry album, Color Changes. Attention is
given to the use of different tonal combinations on this album and the addition of some
newer instruments such as flugelhorn, flute and the French horn. The article serves as a
source of further credibility establishing Watkins as an equal when compared to other
Woods, Phil and Nat Hentoff. Liner notes for The Rights of Swing. Candid Records,
The words contained in these liner notes give incredibly detailed insight into the
creation and performance of Phil Woods' first large-scale composition. The notes are
divided into two sections. The first, authored by Hentoff, traces the development of
Woods' style and details the performer's vision for creating this work. Part two, authored
by Woods, is split into two sub-sections. Section one contains a personal reflection on the
work, the work's creation and conception. Section two is a brief analysis of the work's
six movements including references to key, meter, instrumentation, form and tempo. In
all, these notes provide a Classical review of a classical jazz work.
THE MAN BEHIND THE MUSIC
To trace the story of this relatively unknown musician, one must begin in Detroit.
This town which had given birth to so many great jazz figures of enormous prominence
was the very location for the beginning of a career which has been overlooked and
underappreciated for the past twenty-eight years. The artist was Julius Watkins, his
instrument was the French horn, and his love was jazz. Over the course of his thirty-four
year career, Watkins toured throughout the world, performed on over one-hundred
recordings, played in Broadway shows, and was the founder of two unique musical
ensembles. He was a son, a brother, a father and a husband. He was a teacher and friend.
Most importantly, he served as an inspiration to those who heard him play. Credentials
such as these would often earn the individual numerous awards and great fame; however,
this was not the case with Julius Watkins. He was a carefree man with a free and easy
outlook on life, and his personality mirrored the same qualities which have drawn
audiences to the very instrument on which he performed. He was calm, peaceful, and full
of warmth. "We are a special group of people," said the renowned jazz hornist Vincent
Chancey. "We don't choose the horn, the horn chooses us."1 As rewarding and significant
as Watkins' career became, it had an unsuspecting start in an unassuming place. The horn
did choose him, and it happened in the Motor City.
1 Personal interview with Vincent Chancey, March 11, 2004.
Julius Burton Watkins was born on October 10, 1921, and was the second of four
children. His father, Lucius, was originally from Illinois and worked in Detroit as an
electrician. His mother, Mattie, was a Georgia native whose only occupation was that of a
housewife.2 They lived in a large, three-story house located at 6037 Scotten Avenue on
west side of Detroit. The neighborhood was, and still is, dominated by blue-collar citizens
with strong family values.3 By 1930, the Watkins' house was bursting at the seams.
Lucius and Mattie resided with their four children: Lucius, Jr (b. 1920), Julius, Olivia (b.
1925) and Janice (b. 1926), along with any number of "roomers" or boarders.4 The 1930
United States Census named four of these individuals as Andrew Wilson, Howard
Patterson, Harold Marshall, and Maxine Prentess. These three men were employed by a
motor assembly factory, while Prentess worked as a stenographer in a law office.5 All
four of the Watkins' children attended neighborhood schools and it was in the public
school system that Julius came into contact with the instrument which possessed him for
the remainder of his life.
Julius was nine years old when the horn6 lured him away from the saxophones,
trumpets and drums; instruments which were significantly more popular than the horn
amongst beginning bandsmen. He was considering tutelage on the guitar or trumpet when
Francis Hellstein, Principal Horn in the Detroit Symphony, presented a guest
2 Taken from family data listed on Julius Watkins' 1950 application to the Manhattan School of Music.
3 Personal interview with Henry Jackson, resident of Scotten Ave, in April, 2004.
4 There is no written record of any income generated by the letting of rooms to boarders in the Watkins
household. There is speculation that the presence of extra roomers in the house would have produced some
added financial assistance for the family and compensated Mattie Watkins for her services as a house
manager or proprietor.
5 Information taken from the US Census of Wayne County, MI, April 2, 1930. There is no data regarding
their length of stay in the Watkins' home and it is not known whether or not these individuals are still
6 In 1990, the International Horn Society officially dropped the "French" connotation from the instrument's
title. For the remainder of this discourse, this same instrument will be referred to simply as "horn."
performance at Julius' school. He finalized his decision upon hearing the horn's call. "I
liked the sound," said Watkins. "I don't know exactly why, and I still can't explain it
satisfactorily. But I fell in love with the sound and with the instrument."7
He attended McMichael Junior High School on Linwood Street from 1933 to 1936
and was a dedicated member of the school band which, at the time, was under the
direction of William Filbee.8 Although little is known of Julius' personal life during this
time, it is known that the romance he shared with his instrument was quite robust. Each
day, young Julius made a 15-minute walk to school with books in one hand, and horn
case in the other. "I was very small, and the case was very heavy," recounted the once-
novice player. "I used to drag it along the ground. I must've worn holes through a couple
of 'em at least!"9 This peripatetic routine continued for three years, and his performance
ability grew at astronomical proportions as a result of daily practice and dedication.
In 1936, after completing his Junior High School education, Julius opted not to
attend the neighborhood high school with his classmates and, instead, applied and was
accepted into the Cass Technical High School in downtown Detroit. Cass Tech at that
time was a place that offered more than just the average technical education. "Cass
offered a wide variety of technical types of courses," said Cass Technical High School
Music Teacher, Ms. Pat-Terry Ross.10 "Sure you could come here to learn electronics or
engineering, but you could also specialize in other areas (such as) music, art, law, and
medicine. All of these were options for study at Cass. It was a specialty school for people
with a wide variety of specialty areas, including music."
SJohn S. Wilson. "The Horn Nobody Wants." Downbeat Magazine, September 17, 1959, p. 15.
8 William Filbee, Band Teacher, appears in the faculty listing of the 1936 McMichael Jr. High Yearbook, p.
9 Paulette Girard. Liner notes from Mood in Scarlet: The Jazz Modes. Seeco Records, DLP-1117, 1957.
10 Personal interview with Ms. Pat-Terry Ross on April 25, 2004.
Figure 2-1 Cass Technical High School. Photo Courtesy of the Detroit Public Schools
Watkins spent the 1936-37 and 1937-38 school years at Cass Tech and immersed
himself in the college-preparatory style of education. He took courses in harmony, music
appreciation and piano, sang in the chorus, and played horn in the orchestra. Ironically,
he received traditional orchestral horn training from Francis Hellstein and also took
courses in English literature, world history, and algebra." Students were allowed to
specialize in one area of study; however, basic core curricula were required of all
students. Watkins' first semester at Cass was somewhat successful academically and
musically. He earned average grades in the core curriculum and above-average marks for
the music classes, but despite his success, Julius was not satisfied with the direction in
which his studies were taking him. As a sixteen-year old African-American horn player
in the 1930s, his chances of earning a position in a symphony orchestra were effectively
nil.12 The repertoire for the solo horn at that time was not nearly as diversified as it is
presently. Certainly Julius was familiar with Mozart's four horn concert along with
1 Data taken from the student record of Julius Burton Watkins, released by the Detroit Public Schools.
12 Warren Smith commented in a personal interview on March 11, 2004, that African-American musicians
at that time were denied membership in professional symphony orchestras because of their race.
Richard Strauss' "First Concerto." He was undoubtedly instructed in other significant
solo and chamber works featuring the horn, but the repertoire was much more limited
than it is today. By the summer of 1937, Julius had determined that his musical career
path would be different from that of any other performer of his instrument up until that
time. "I wanted to be a soloist," said Watkins in an interview with Downbeat Magazine.
"There is very little repertoire in Classical music for solo horn. So, I learned to jazz."13
Known for being a stubborn individual,14 Julius was obsessed with becoming the
first great jazz horn soloist ever. His thirst for listening to jazz and playing jazz was
unquenchable. His grade report for the 1937-38 school year bears evidence that his focus
was not on scholastic excellence. His tenure at Cass Tech was forfeited as a result of this
academic debacle, and Julius was encouraged to transfer to neighboring Northwestern
High School. Julius refused and devoted himself even more strongly to the pursuit of a
career in jazz. "Soloing was so important to me that I didn't get my high school diploma
because of it. At (what would have been) my graduation, my big moment came when I
got up and played my solo. While I was doing this, everybody else marched up and
received their diplomas, but I forgot all about mine. I never did bother to go back and get
it."15 According to his transcript, Julius Watkins remained in school only through the 10th
Grade and dropped out during the summer of 1938. For many individuals, the act of
quitting school marks the beginning of an unpromising life. For Julius, the end of his
academic career served as the catalyst for great success. One man's trash certainly was, in
this case, another man's treasure.
13 John S. Wilson "The Horn Nobody Wants." Downbeat Magazine, September 17, 1959, p. 15.
14 Warren Smith stated that Julius Watkins was the most stubborn individual he had ever known. Personal
interview with Warren Smith, March 11, 2004.
15 John S. Wilson. "The Horn Nobody Wants." Downbeat Magazine, September 17, 1959, p. 15.
By the summer of 1939, Watkins found himself in quite a conundrum. He was an
immensely talented horn player in a city with strong jazz roots, but there were no models
on which he could teach himself how to play jazz on his instrument, nor were there parts
for him to play if he desired to join a band on his own. After listening to a number of jazz
trumpeters and saxophonists, including Chu Berry and Buster Baker, Julius began the
slow journey towards jazz stardom. He began performing with a neighborhood band and,
since no horn parts existed, he transposed trombone or saxophone parts. "He could read
any part in any key correctly the first time through," said Julius' longtime friend, Warren
Smith. "It was remarkable! He had something in his mind that just clicked in regard to
anything musical. You could give him a trombone part, sure. An E-flat part, bass clef,
treble clef, it just didn't matter. He could do it all. He knew these relationships and knew
everything about the parts."16
Later in 1939, Watkins joined and toured with Ernie Fields' band. Although Julius
did take his horn on the tour, he found himself playing a trumpet and was relegated to
playing extra trumpet parts "as needed" while his horn remained in its case night after
night. His eyes were opened to the realities of life on the road as a jazz musician as the
band toured across Texas and Oklahoma that year. Many of the jobs on that tour were
"one-nighters"; concerts every night in different towns, different bars, different clubs, and
the whole time, Julius was stuck playing an instrument other than his horn. He gradually
became bitter and incensed as did many of his colleagues. They were frustrated in having
excessive time off from playing during long layovers in strange towns in between gigs.
Julius needed an outlet. "When you're laying off in a strange place, you seek any outlet
16 Personal interview with Warren Smith, March 11, 2004.
you can get," said Julius. "Usually it turns out to be some form of dissipation. So
sometimes there was that, and other times I'd lie in bed all night, practicing (my horn)
until 7 o'clock in the morning. At times I thought I was turning into a genuine maniac."17
Watkins spent three years touring with Ernie Fields before returning to Detroit in 1942.
His homecoming was uneventful, although his family must have been elated to see him
and hear about his musical journey. From all written accounts, Julius was the only
member of his family with any musical ability, although the headstone on the grave of his
brother, Lucius Jr., does bear an embronzed set of drums similar to those found in jazz
Julius desired to remain in Detroit for an unspecified amount of time and hoped to
form dance bands with his old cronies. Dance bands usually played jazz, but were more
accurately described as "...bands with a rich voice. These were lush dance bands that
veered toward the sweet side and a steady stream ofjazzmen ran through it."19 Upon
discovering that his musical contacts were no longer living in Detroit, Julius set his sights
on Denver, CO and moved there in 1942 with the hopes of playing his horn in a jazz
dance band. He moved to Denver and celebrated in his first successful endeavor. Julius
joined a six-member band20 and played his horn on numerous occasions. During the year
spent in Denver, Julius gradually became the group's leader, at least in his own eyes. He
was content performing his horn in a congenial group; however, relations within the
group eventually led to the disbanding of the ensemble. "It was a young group," said
17 John S. Wilson. "The Horn Nobody Wants." Downbeat Magazine, September 17, 1959, p. 37.
18 Lucius Watkins, Jr. is buried in the United Memorial Gardens, Garden of the Masonic, Plot 105, space
D3, Plymouth, Michigan.
19 John S. Wilson. Liner notes from Four French Horns Plus Rhythm. Elektra Records, EKL-234-X, 1958.
20 Numerous references mention this band in Denver; however, not a single one provides an actual name for
the group. More research is needed in this area to determine the identity of this ensemble and names of
other musicians who performed in the group.
Watkins. "The fellows got interested in girls, they became lazy about rehearsals and I'm
nutty about rehearsals, about starting on time and being strictly business."21 The lack of
dedication from other band members enraged Julius, and, in 1943, the group dissolved.
Once again, Julius returned home to Detroit.
Ironically, the following three years were a mixture of girl(s) and business for
Watkins. He fell in love and married his first wife, Ella,22 who gave birth to fraternal
twins, Julie and Julius, Jr.23, on December 6, 1943. The financial pressures of parenthood
undoubtedly forced "Papa-Julius" to re-examine his career choice as a freelance traveling
jazz musician. He joined the United States Naval Reserve in May of 1944 in an effort to
be a devoted husband with a physical presence in the household and to provide steady
income for his family. After receiving his training at the United States Naval Training
Center in Great Lakes, Michigan, Seaman 2nd Class Watkins was assigned to the reserve
station in Detroit. Two Navy medals were awarded to Julius; however, his experience
was short-lived due to unspecified events and Watkins was discharged after just three
months of service.24 Frustrated, yet undeterred in the pursuit of his ultimate goal, Julius
continued to practice his horn and play in occasional dance bands with the hope that a
profitable career as ajazz artist would materialize.
In the early months of 1946, fellow Detroiter Milt Buckner phoned Julius and
asked him to join his big band. Watkins accepted and, in doing so, found himself
21 John S. Wilson. "The Horn that Nobody Wants." Downbeat Magazine, September 15, 1959, p. 37.
22 There is no mention of Ella's complete name in any located documentation. She is the only family
member not buried in the family plot in Plymouth, MI. More research is needed to determine her exact
23 There exists no data regarding the lives of these two children, other than their birth and death dates.
Efforts were made to obtain obituaries, school records, and other data to no avail. Questions were posed to
Chancey, Varner, and Smith during personal interviews and all three had no knowledge of the children's
existence. More research is needed to determine the relationship which Julius, Sr., had with his children.
24 This information was released to the author by the United States Navy under the Freedom of Information
Act of 1974. The United States Navy would not cite the reasoning for or type of discharge.
suddenly transformed to the center of the jazz universe. Instantly, Julius and his horn
were in great demand. He began performing on record dates with Buckner's big band and
also with Milt Jackson's small group. Julius' prominence was magnified soon thereafter
when he recorded his first featured solo in the tune "Yesterdays" with Buckner's band on
the MGM label.25 For the next three years, Watkins continued to perform and tour with
Buckner's ensemble, The Beale Street Gang, performing on horn, trumpet, and
As elated as he must have been to finally have made a significant breakthrough in
the jazz world, Julius was not entirely pleased with the manner in which his instrument
blended with the rest of the ensemble and, more specifically, with the big-business of jazz
recording. He surmised, "It seemed too alone, as though it wasn't integrated properly into
his (Bruckner's) arrangements. Maybe it was because I had a bad horn or was playing out
of tune. I don't know. I got disgusted with the whole business and went to school."27
Watkins set his sights on New York City as did many others who took part in that great
By August of 1950, Julius Watkins had relocated to the upper west side of
Manhattan and established a residence at 195 St. Nicholas Avenue. On the 30th day of
that month and year, Julius submitted an application to study at the Manhattan School of
Music. His acceptance was based on three items of criteria. First and most obviously, he
was a talented horn player whose foundation of musical knowledge and repertoire came
25 The record, MGM 10632, was recorded in New York City at WMGM Studio B, June 3, 1949
26 Savoy 731 features Watkins on trumpet, while Savoy 840 and 848 feature Watkins on trombone.
27 John S. Wilson. "The Horn Nobody Wants." Downbeat Magazine, September 17, 1959, p. 37.
28 Tom Varner discussed what he called the Great Migration during a personal interview on March 10,
2004. The migration to which he referred was the movement of hundreds of jazz musicians to New York
City in order to pursue careers in music. New York was, and still is, referred to as the land of opportunity
for many aspiring young artists.
from one of the most respected Principal Horn players in America. Second, he applied for
and was accepted as a "special student." This status allowed him to take the same courses
as the music majors at the Manhattan School, but with the understanding that no degree
would be conferred. Third, the Manhattan School of Music was one of two music schools
in New York City, outside of the universities, qualified by the government to accept
returning veterans both under the G.I. Bill of Rights and the Veterans Vocational
Rehabilitation Law.29 Due to his three months spent in the Naval Reserve, Watkins was
basically guaranteed a place in one of America's finest music schools.
Studying music at the Manhattan School had numerous benefits. One of the most
significant was the fact that students were not penalized for missing classes due to
professional musical engagements. Warren Smith commented on this issue and said, "All
of the jazz players would go to study at the Manhattan School of Music because
Manhattan would let you miss classes to go do a job and Juilliard would not. Most of the
people who were actually working would favor Manhattan over Juilliard. I guess that was
the case with him too."30 An energized Watkins took the Manhattan School of Music by
storm and earned a 4.0 grade point average during the Spring Semester of 1951. Julius
immersed himself in courses such as Diction, Sight Singing, Orchestration, Music
Theory, Music Literature, and private horn lessons with Robert Schultz, Third Horn in
the New York Philharmonic. "Julius was a charming man," recounted Dolores Beck-
Schwartz, a horn player and teacher in White Plains, NY, who attended the Manhattan
School of Music as a classmate of Julius Watkins. "He was such a positive person. He
29 This data was found in Watkins' application for admission to the Manhattan School of Music, released to
the author by Linda Aginian and Philip Zoellner, registrars at the Manhattan School of Music, on March 9,
30 Personal interview with Warren Smith, March 11, 2004.
always smiled and always tried to help his fellow students, even though they were
earning degrees and he was not. He wanted to make everybody around him better;
musically and personally. He was the kindest person I've ever met and a dar good
musician too! Nobody could play the way that he could."31
Julius' studies at the Manhattan School of Music concluded in May of 1953. He
failed to maintain the same level of academic progress with which he began and he
simply did not have the financial support required to remain affiliated with the school. It
is speculated that these financial constraints also led to the demise of his marriage to Ella;
however, more research is needed to confirm reasons behind their separation and divorce
which occurred around that same time.32
1954 marked the beginning of a new phase in Watkins' life. It was in that year
that he joined and toured with Pete Rugolo's band and recorded with Thelonius Monk.
Julius was quickly gaining a very positive reputation as a jazz horn player amongst his
peers and was in high demand as a sideman. As much as he enjoyed this new-found fame,
Julius desired something else; a new type of chamber jazz which possessed the same
intimacy found in more traditional "classical" chamber ensembles. His lifelong goal of
creating such a group was realized in July of that year with the formation of The Julius
The Julius Watkins Sextet consisted of Frank Foster on tenor saxophone, Perry
Lopez on guitar, George Butcher on piano, Oscar Pettiford on bass, Kenny Clarke on
drums, and the ensemble's namesake on horn. The members had known each other from
31 Personal interview with Dolores Beck-Schwartz, May 14, 2004.
32 Interviews with Smith, Varner, Chancey and Beck-Schwartz indicate that Julius lived alone following
this marital separation. Julius never discussed issues regarding his children with his colleagues. It is
speculated that Ella won custody of the children and returned to Detroit; however, more research is needed
to determine the exact details surrounding this situation.
numerous jobs and experiences. For example, Watkins and Butcher were students
together at the Manhattan School of Music and had played in Oscar Pettiford's Sextet
sporadically since 1953. The Julius Watkins Sextet recorded two albums featuring a total
of nine tracks, six of which ("Perpetuation, I Have Known, Leete, Garden Delights, Julie
Ann," and "Sparkling Burgandy") were original Watkins compositions.
Figure 2-2 Julius Watkins, from his Sextet vol. 2 session, March 20, 1955. Photo taken
from Blue Note Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff, p. 145, Universe
Great enthusiasm was generated as a result and an awareness of the French horn as
a jazz instrument was beginning to take shape. Further, Julius was beginning to make a
name for himself as one of the greatest horn players of all time. Numerous personalities,
including music critics Leonard Feather and John Wilson, remarked at his pure tone and
authoritative command of the instrument's range, while other professional horn players
were taking note of Julius' accomplishments. "There were other French horn players in
town who were doing a lot of record dates and various other things," said Warren Smith.
"One of them was named Ray Allonge. He was working for the musician's union. Ray
told me that Julius could easily play an octave above what Ray could play. This really
was saying something in a number of ways because Ray was the first call Caucasian
French horn player who got all of the gigs. But even the French horn players in that
elevated level of money-making that's why I'm making that designation knew that
Julius had these capabilities."33 One of the more noteworthy statements in this excerpt is
in regard to the tessitura of Julius' instrument. Allonge and other professional players
undoubtedly could play up to the written C above treble clef. Anything above this pitch
pushes the threshold for note clarity and accuracy. Being able to produce a tone above
that C is a feat in itself, let alone being able to play an entire octave above this pitch. By
1955, Julius Watkins was just as talented, if not more so, than his fellow hoists in
symphonic and jazz ensembles, and was being recognized for such achievements by his
professional colleagues, many of whom were Caucasians.
The establishment of a chamber jazz group featuring a solo horn in the 1950s was
revolutionary, but not rare. The anonymous figure who authored the jacket notes for
Watkins' Smart Jazz for the Smart Set album stated the following:
1955 was one of the most productive years in jazz history and for the first time in
its 60-year lifespan, jazz had an audience. A real-live ticket-buying, record-buying,
listening learning and believing audience. New talent turned up on all sides, and
many newcomers served notice on the reigning giants that no leader is secure in
Jazzville unless he can improve constantly. From gin mills and Juilliard they came,
young guys steeped in the tradition of jazz and also in the techniques of the
Julius Watkins was no different than many others in his field, including Allonge,
who had originally received a Classical music education and later pursued a career in an
alternate musical realm. To be successful in jazz, an artist had to adapt quickly to changes
33 Personal interview with Warren Smith, March 11, 2004.
34 Anonymous. Liner notes from Smart Jazz for the Smart Set. Seeco Records, CELP-466, 1957.
in the field and could not take a lackadaisical approach to a performance career. Change
was a necessity for survival, and changing is what Julius did best.
During the post-Julius Watkins Sextet existence of 1955, Watkins performed with
Oscar Pettiford's Sextet. He adapted to the new sounds of this group and was a perfect fit,
personally and musically, for the ensemble. Another member of this sextet was tenor-
saxophonist, Charlie Rouse. Originally from Washington D.C., Rouse had studied
clarinet before switching to tenor sax a few years prior. In the closing months of 1955,
Rouse and Watkins met for coffee one evening and realized that they both shared an
unbridled enthusiasm over the possibility for a jazz group featuring a tenor saxophone
and horn in the front line. The two would frequently meet at Watkins' apartment and
have informal "jam sessions" during the wee hours of the morning. "We played very
softly," Watkins said. "There were no drums, no bass, nothing else. Just the two of us.
Playing very fast and very soft is ideal for me. Our horns blended so well that Charlie and
I began to talk about a group."35 The duo created a new ensemble called Les Modes; later
known as Les Jazz Modes.
Watkins began practicing and perfecting his art with a newfound level of vigor and
intensity. He increased the speed and fluency on an instrument that is usually devoted to
playing widely-spaced longer tones. Rouse was impressed with Watkins' dedication and
incredible technical abilities along with the actual colors of sound Julius could produce.
Rouse once said, "Most people associate a mysterioso sound quality that far-away
Alpine horn sound with the French horn. But that's just one of the sounds that Julius
gets from it. His horn has all the virility and hard masculine quality of the trumpet and
35 John S. Wilson. "The Horn Nobody Wants." Downbeat Magazine, September 17, 1959, p. 38.
trombone. There is so much more in the French horn than the symphony orchestra
players ever realized, and Julius is the person who has made everybody aware of this. 36
Figure 2-3 Undated photograph of Julius Watkins and Charlie Rouse. Photo contributed
by Peter Hirsch.
Watkins and Rouse recruited three other members to join Les Modes: pianist Gildo
Mahones, bassist Martin Rivera and drummer Ron Jefferson. With the frequent addition
of Eileen Gilbert's soprano voice37, Les Modes took the American jazz circuit by storm.
In a review of one of their performances, Paulette Girard commented, "The creators of
Les Modes have an outstanding flair for original design. Their musical offering is
identified at once by the sound of the French horn and tenor sax interwoven in an endless
array of patterns, and the unique manner in which Julius Watkins and Charlie Rouse
36 John S. Wilson. "The Horn Nobody Wants." Downbeat Magazine, September 17, 1959, p. 38.
37 Gilbert and Watkins were classmates at the Manhattan School of Music.
fashion their jazz."38 The group performed on Steve Allen's television show and gave a
short concert tour of their own. Finally, on January 3, 1957, the Les Modes Quintet
performed nightly for one week at Birdland; a jazz venue equivalent to Classical music's
Carnegie Hall. Newspapers and magazines praised the quintet on a wide variety of topics.
The New York Times reported, "The Rouse-Watkins group makes this event memorable."
Billboard Magazine wrote that the group featured, "... a hamper full of under-exposed
talent." "... Some of the most brilliant examples of jazz French horn ever put to use,"
reported High Fidelity Magazine. Finally, Downbeat ran the following clip: "The French
horn is very much a flexible jazz instrument in Watkins' hands. Rouse's tenor is strong
and swinging. Quill's Parkerized solos are heatedly impressive."39 This week of
performances, coupled with the engagements that followed, suggested that the new
ensemble was off to a fabulously successful start.
The group recorded four new albums over the course of that year: Mood in Scarlet,
The Jazz Modes, Smart Jazz for the Smart Set, and a jazz transcription of Frank Loesser's
musical, The Most Happy Fella.40 Record sales were slow, but people were talking about
this new jazz sensation. One issue which puzzled many listeners was the group's name.
Instead of a title bearing the name of the lead performer, Watkins and Rouse chose a
programmatic title for their band. At the advice of their personnel manager, Princess
Orelia Benskina, the Watkins-Rouse duo added the word "jazz" to their heading and
became Les Jazz Modes shortly after their debut at Birdland. When asked about the
group's name, Charlie Rouse stated:
38 Paulette Girard. Liner notes fromMood in Scarlet. Seeco Records, DLP-1117, 1957.
39 Excerpts from the original newspaper advertisement for Les Modes' one-week engagement at Birdland.
40 The production of jazz recordings of Broadway shows were common during the mid-1950s. A
compilation of jazz interpretations of show or movie scores by Will Friedwald in 1997 contained 169
entries including this recording by Les Jazz Modes.
For a time we were known as Les Jazz Modes. We used the French title because the
word mode in French has several meanings and connotations, all of which apply to
our work. It means current and stylish, fashionable. We are in the modern
vanguard, in touch with modern trends, though we don't go for anything that is
only faddish or sensational. Mode also is a technical musical term, referring either
to a method of arranging tones or to a kind of rhythmic scheme. And in French,
mode can mean mood. Modes, used in the plural, conveys the idea of a variety of
moods and musical subject matter.41
Watkins also commented on this issue.
We thought of calling ourselves the Moods, but that sounded like one of those little
singing groups. We hit on Les Modes because we thought it was French for the
Moods. Later on, we found out that it really means 'fashions,' but it was too late to
Les Jazz Modes continued to perform throughout 1958 and featured all of the
original members except for Eileen Gilbert. The soprano was replaced by Orelia
Benskina who sang with the quintet on occasional concert dates. Despite their
overwhelmingly strong start in 1956, support for Les Jazz Modes began to dwindle until
finally the doors closed on yet another opportunity for Watkins. Les Jazz Modes
performed with the avant-guard Asadata Dafora Dancers in a program titled "Afra-Ghan
Jazz" on the evening of January 23, 1959 in New York's Town Hall. The shockingly
primitive dances of the troupe had little in common with the hard-bop sounds of the
quintet and the end result left many in attendance pondering what exactly had just
occurred on the stage. Even New York Times jazz columnist, John S. Wilson, a long-time
supporter of Watkins and Les Jazz Modes, was perplexed at what transpired that evening.
In his article the following day, Wilson wrote, "The only common ground that the two
groups found was that of sophistication. Mr. Dafora's dancers were genial, loose-limbed
and smoothly rhythmic, but scarcely representative of the primitive rhythms from which
41 Gary Kramer. Liner notes from notes from The Most Happy Fella. Atlantic Records, Atlantic LP 1280,
42 John S. Wilson. "The Horn Nobody Wants." Downbeat Magazine, September 17, 1959, p. 38.
jazz is asserted to have sprung. Les Jazz Modes, in their best moments, reached into areas
that have only the dimmest connections with these rhythms.
The audience that night was left bewildered and confused, and with little support
from other sponsors, Les Jazz Modes had no choice but to cease their existence as an
ensemble. The usually unflappable Watkins clearly was frustrated with the demise of yet
another chamber jazz group which centered around the horn. When asked about the
group's unhappy ending, Watkins said, "I believe it's likeable music that we play. The
problem is to get club owners and people in the concert field to think the same thing."43
Unfortunately for Julius Watkins, club owners and people in the concert field did not
concur, and although he continued to perform exclusively as a sideman with occasional
solos, Watkins would never again initiate the creation of a chamber jazz ensemble.
The post-Jazz Modes years proved to be extremely beneficial professionally for
Julius. In 1958, he recorded twelve albums as a sideman with Johnny Richards, Gil Evans
and Miles Davis. Work was steady and Julius was still playing his horn in jazz groups,
continuing his mission of exposing new audiences to the possibilities of including the
horn in jazz settings. He formed a relationship with Quincy Jones in 1959; a relationship
which saw the creation of seven albums over the course of that year and a spot in the
orchestra for a touring production of Free and Easy; a jazzy musical recreation of the
play, St. Louis Woman. This tour would be one of the defining moments in Julius' life
and one which would ultimately initiate the chain of events which would lead to his death
some eighteen years later.
43 John S. Wilson "The Horn Nobody Wants." Downbeat Magazine, September 17, 1959, p. 38.
Quincy Jones was asked to form a band featuring the best players on every jazz
instrument, including horn, to perform the musical selections for this touring production.
Jones immediately called the biggest names in the jazz recording industry and quickly
formed what he referred to as "the United Nations." Jones commented on that band in his
book, Q! The Autobiography of Quincy Jones.
It was the best band I'd ever had. Two beautiful and gifted women, Melba Liston
on trombone and Patti Brown on piano; a "skai' brother, Ake Persson, Billy Byers,
Jimmy Cleveland, Clark Terry and Quentin Jackson; Benny Bailey; Julius
'Phantom' Watkins, the first-ever jazz French horn player; and saxophonists Phil
Woods, Jerome Richardson, Budd Johnson, Porter Kilbert and Sahib Shihab. This
was a super band. They sounded so good that when Basie dropped by our rehearsal
in Paris he graciously pulled me aside and, kidding on the square, he said, "Quincy,
don't you even think about bringing your band back to the states; you're fixin' to
mess up my thing, you hear?"44
The band finished recording the famous record, Birth of a Band, and was receiving
They were in Paris and the production of Free andEasy had lasted six weeks. From
all accounts, the members were enjoying the show and had the opportunity to perform on
stage in costumes along with the vocal cast. They were two weeks away from moving
onto London, then back to the United States for performances on Broadway. Jones met
with producer Stanley Chase on a Thursday evening and was stunned when Chase
informed him that the show was closing and the entire band was to be on a plane to New
York the following Saturday or risk being stranded in Paris during the middle of the
infamous Algerian crisis. Jones and the band voted to remain in France, performing club
dates at whatever venue would host them. The entire theatrical cast returned to New
York, leaving Jones and the band stranded. The band toured Europe for ten months on a
shoe-string budget, but the bonds formed between the members of the group were
44Quincy Jones. Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones. New York: Broadway Books, 2001, p. 137
stronger than those found in most nuclear families.45 On the tour, musicians passed the
time laughing, fighting, arguing, and drinking. They also teased each other about their
peculiarities. Julius once left his mouthpiece atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris just minutes
before a concert, requiring the stage manager to run back to the top to get it.46 "Money
was really tight," said Jones. "Sometimes, the proprietors at our concert venues were
broke too. So they paid us with pot, or as we called it, 'sweet wheat. ,,47 Financial and
living conditions were so deplorable that some band members renamed the tour "Free and
Some members received nicknames, as was the case with Julius Watkins, who was
given the nickname "Phantom" because he was so quiet and performed backstage more
quietly than a whisper. Tom Varner elaborated on the mysterious nickname:
People always thought that it was because of his sound, like he could come in with
this mysteriously soft high note. Others said it was because he wouldn't show up to
gigs. Other times, you're sitting around talking and you look around, and he was
gone. It was like, 'where did Julius go?' It is a nickname with numerous
Whatever the reason, the nickname stuck with Julius for the rest of his life, as did
his fondness for the consumption of alcoholic beverages.49 Negative connotations aside,
the Free andEasy tour was highly beneficial for Julius Watkins in that he was able to
firmly establish himself as the premier artist of the jazz horn world-wide. The
connections he made on that trip would lead to more record deals in years to come and
personal relationships with other artists with whom future musical collaborations would
45Quincy Jones. Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones. New York: Broadway Books, 2001, p. 141.
46 Ibid, p. 142
47 Ibid, p. 142
48 Personal interview with Tom Varner, March 11, 2004.
49 Warren Smith and Tom Varner mentioned that Julius, although not necessarily an alcoholic, continued to
drink liquor regularly up until the time of his death, despite orders from his physician to cease such activity.
Figure 2-4 Quincy Jones' Big Band on the set of Free and Easy at the Paris Alhambra,
1959. Photo courtesy of Q, The Autobiography of Quincy Jones, p. 112
Harlem Moon Publishers, 2001.
During the 1960s, Julius performed almost exclusively as a sideman and was
featured in dozens of recordings with his European touring cohorts. He recorded with the
flute and guitar virtuoso, Les Spann, and saxophonist, Phil Woods in 1960 and 1961
respectively. He played with Cal Massey, Jimmy Heath, John Coltrane and numerous
other jazz greats. He traveled to California in September of 1965 as a member of Charles
Mingus' famous Music for Monterrey festival. While in California, Watkins recorded
with Gil Evans who had long been a fan of jazz horn inclusion. In 1966, "The Phantom"
returned to New York for performances with the man who helped launch his career, Milt
Jackson. John S. Wilson reviewed the concert, which took place at Town Hall, and
remarked at the "splendid group of musicians on stage with Mr. Jackson."so Watkins was
in such high demand as a player, he even began to receive orchestral appointments.
50 John S. Wilson. "Milt Jackson Gets Big-Sound Backing." The New York Times, September 3, 1966, p. 12
According to his obituary, Watkins was frequently performing in summer symphony
concerts with the New York Municipal Orchestra. He seemed to have had it all: steady
employment, respect from his peers, reliable income; however, reality and perception
were at odds at this point in "The Phantom's" life and, unbeknownst to him, he had only
one decade more to live.
He was a proud man, always dressed with jacket and tie, and could perform any
type of music anywhere at anytime.51 But as proud a man as he was, Julius Watkins did
not keep himself in the best of health. Warren Smith stated the following:
Around 1968, "...Julius had dental problems. I had a studio, and in this studio
I had a lot of friends who came through. Max Roach had a friend who was a
doctor and a dentist at that. I forget his name, but he was interested in
musicians. I think that he had played trumpet at some point in his life. He
would walk around and find musicians that were having embouchure
problems because of teeth, and Julius was one of those. This guy fixed Julius'
mouth up for free because he was so fond of him. Julius told me personally
that after he got his teeth fixed that that increased his range by another octave
Dental problems were just the tip of the iceberg in regard to Watkins' personal and
psychological wellbeing. The kidney and liver problems which he endured beginning in
the late 1960s were further complicated with the onslaught of diabetes. He rarely allowed
others to see the physical pain with which he dealt on a daily basis. But despite his efforts
to conceal the truth, these dilapidating conditions negatively affected Julius' performance
ability and caused great concern among his peers. In 1968, his record production
dropped significantly.53 He disappeared and nobody seemed to know where he was.
51 Based on conversations with Warren Smith and Dolores Beck-Schwartz.
52 Excerpt from a personal interview with Warren Smith, March 11, 2004.
53 The chronological discography of recording engagements indicates that Julius Watkins was involved
with only three albums in that year.
Julius didn't seem to know where he was either. He was a captain without a ship. Julius
Watkins, sadly, was homeless.
Warren Smith recounted the following in regard to this traumatic era in Watkins'
Julius came to this record date and I gave him the new information about the
other record date and he said, 'Ok. I'll do it.' I asked him where he was
staying and he said, 'Well, I'm riding the subway at night.' I said to him,
'You're doing what?' I knew he had a studio somewhere uptown up there.
Well, he had lost the studio and lost his place to live. I told him to meet me at
this address (of my studio) around 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening, just as soon
as I could get down there after we finished that day's session. I ran down there
and waited for him and he came. He had his horn with him. I said, 'C'mon.
You're going to live here.' He lived with me there for about eighteen months
after that time. During this time he managed to straighten himself out.54
"The Phantom" had resurfaced, and the following eighteen months witnessed a
resurgence of energy in Watkins' professional and personal life. Word of Julius' new
residence spread quickly amongst jazz arrangers and producers who were elated that the
"Joachim of the Jazz Horn"55 had returned. In 1969, Gil Evans recorded Blues in Orbit
and contracted Julius to play in the band. That same year, Watkins recorded with Pharoh
Sanders and Mary Lou Williams. In Manhattan, the New World Symphony56 was formed
and Julius was often hired to play in the horn section. He formed new relationships with
others in his field and was reunited with some fellow musicians whom he had neither
seen nor heard from in years. The most important relationship formed by Julius at this
54 Personal interview with Warren Smith, March 11, 2004.
55 Hans von Bilow called Franz Strauss "the Joachim of the horn" because of his extraordinary
performance ability and his reputation as the best orchestral horn player of the 19h Century. Julius Watkins
was equally prominent as a jazz French horn soloist and is being referred under this guise by the author for
the first time.
56 The New World Symphony was a professional symphony orchestra in New York City and devoted itself
to playing music by black composers and hiring an ensemble containing primarily black musicians.
time in his life was not with a jazz musician. Rather, it was a physical, emotional, and
spiritual bond that was formed with a New Jersey librarian57 named Harriette Davison.
Harriette Davison was the salvation which Julius needed so desperately at this point
in his life. He needed someone to take care of him since he rarely took care of himself,
and Harriette was that someone. They met not by chance, but through common interests
and people, specifically Warren Smith. Harriette was a violinist and a composer who
frequently performed in professional and semi-professional musical groups around New
York City. She was a regular member of the New World Symphony's violin section and
there is speculation that she first met Julius in a rehearsal with that ensemble. Warren
Smith, when questioned, indicated that she and Watkins had known each other prior to
Julius' relocation to Smith's studio, but that the romance definitely soared soon
Julius and Harriette had much more in common than just a passion for making
music. They had both been married previously and each had a son and a daughter. They
were both African-American musicians struggling to make a career for themselves at
times in the Classical music business which tried to exclude women and racial minorities
at whatever the cost. Most importantly, they were both at a stage in their lives where they
wanted and needed to care for another human being in a loving and monogamous
Julius and Harriette were married in 1970 and lived in a ground-floor garden
apartment located at 136 Lincoln Street, #A-10 in Montclair, New Jersey.58 In recalling a
visit to this apartment, Warren Smith stated, "They had a garden apartment. I remember
57 The 1968 telephone book from Montclair, NJ lists Harriette Davison's occupation as that of a librarian at
the Union County Library.
58 According to the 1970 and 1971 telephone books for Montclair, NJ.
being out there one day and looking out the window around dusk and seeing a family of
raccoons. One would walk up to their front door and stand on his tiptoes. I'd say, 'Julius!
You have raccoons!' He'd say, "Oh yeh, they're here all the time. They live in that tree
right over there." He knew all about them. It was a nice place.
Figure 2-5 Apartment of Julius and Harriette Watkins, 136 Lincoln Street #A-10,
Montclair, NJ. Photo taken by Patrick G. Smith, March 14, 2004
Montclair and the surrounding areas of Orange and East Orange, New Jersey were
swarming with jazz artists at that time. "This place was crawling with jazz greats, some
known, some unknown," said John Lee, director of Woody's Home for Services in East
Orange, NJ.59 "You could walk out here on any one of these street corners and start
shouting, 'I want to start a band! Any takers?' And I guarantee you, in fifteen minutes,
you'd have a quartet, or a quintet or whatever you wanted. That's how many jazzers there
were here and still are."60 What made the area of Montclair particularly appealing to
Julius was that being a jazz artist there was like being an electrician or factory worker in
59 Julius Watkins' funeral took place on April 7, 1977 at Woody's Home for Services. John Lee was the
director of this funeral home at the time of Julius' death.
60 Personal interview with John S. Lee, March 14, 2004.
Detroit. Everybody did it. And for the first time in twenty-two years, Julius was living in
an environment where he could truly feel "at home," unthreatened and secure.
Figure 2-6 Home of Julius and Harriette Watkins, 20 Nishuane Road, Montclair, NJ.
Photo taken by Patrick G. Smith, March 14, 2004
On June 22, 1972, Mr. and Mrs. Watkins purchased the house located at 20
Nishuane Road in Montclair for the sum of twenty-eight thousand dollars.61 It was from
this location that Julius began to teach private lessons to students who wished to learn
how to play jazz on the horn. It was in this house where he taught Tom Varner and
Vincent Chancey, two of the foremost jazz horn players on the modern stage. It was in
this house where Julius spent the last five years of his life.
Between the years 1972 and 1977, Julius continued to play in jazz groups,
symphony orchestras and Broadway shows. He played with the New World Symphony
and was a member of the pit orchestra for the production of Dan Jaffe's All Cats Turn
Grey When the Sun Goes Down; an opera dedicated to saxophonist, Charlie Parker. In
61 Data taken from the original house deed, dated June 22, 1972 provided by the Essex County Records
1973, he joined the pit orchestra for Raisin, a musical rendition of Lorraine Hansberry's
play, A Raisin in the Sun, and remained a member of the orchestra cast for at least three
years. Jazz record contracts were slow but steady, as Julius recorded seven albums during
his last seven years of life.
Despite his persistent activity in musical endeavors during the 1970s, Julius
Watkins was not a well man and his level of performance slipped at an astonishing rate.
Hornist and librarian, Peter Hirsch, recalled the following details involving a
performance with the New World Symphony in 1972.
I was playing there, at least once, and I clearly remember playing Brahms'
Second Symphony. Julius was playing 3rd horn and I was either playing 4th or
2nd horn. I don't remember which, but I do remember that I was sitting next to
him. It was interesting because I heard the name and here he is next to me
playing classical music. He came in and warmed up. He sat down and took the
horn out and his register where he would start warming up was like a fourth
above my highest note. I was normally a low horn player so that made it even
more depressing. Here's this guy screaming up there and I was just trying to
get a second-line G to get focused. That's the way he played his jazz solos:
screaming high stuff almost all the time. But anyways, he didn't seem to be
totally comfortable playing in that sort of a classical setting. He didn't really
play with any confidence which was so surprising to me. Here was someone
who could sit down and play in front of a crowd without music and he was
having trouble looking at and reading the part. I would have panicked to have
been in the situations that he was in day-in and day-out. So, it was like, really
sad because he didn't really play all that well either. He missed a lot of notes.
It was just (pause) I don't want to say he was unfamiliar with the Brahms
Second Symphony, but it sure as heck sounded like it. He didn't really quite
know when to come in and when he did he missed notes. It was really too
The likelihood that a musician of Julius' stature, with his training, would be
unfamiliar with the Brahms' Second Symphony is quite slim. The reality surrounding the
issue of the decline in his performance ability involved the heightened status of his
diabetes and, unfortunately, his unwillingness to cease the consumption of alcohol.
62 Personal interview with Peter Hirsch, March 12, 2004.
Warren Smith stated that Julius had received orders from his physician to stop drinking,
but the stubborn Julius refused to comply.
The doctor's told him not to drink there near the end, but when we'd go into
the pit of the theatre everybody had a locker. He always took a little nip from
there, if you know what I mean. I went up to him one time and said, "Hey,
man, you know the doctor said you shouldn't do that." He'd say, "Aw, man,
c'mon now." He'd take his little nip before the show and after the show.
Nothing was going to stop him from the lifestyle he wanted to live. He could
be very comical and very secretive about those things, but you could see
where it was going to take him. He just simply would not change his lifestyle
for anyone or anything. He had everything going for him at the end: he was
working, he had a good wife who loved him, he had a good place to live, and
he was making that commute back to Jersey. But whatever lifestyle he had
established, he was going to keep living it whether it was detrimental or not.63
He continued to rage war against his diabetes. Still, the proud Julius tried to shield
those around him from witnessing his internal struggle. Vincent Chancey said, "I
remember in a lesson one time at his house, he just started shaking. I mean, he was
shaking really badly. He literally fell out of his chair. I tried to help him back up, but he
refused. He got up on his own, struggled around the corner, took a shot of his insulin and
came back a few minutes later. 'Sorry about that,' he said to me. 'Now, where were
His health not only affected his reliability to play at a certain high level, it affected
his reliability to simply show up to rehearsals and performances. "I should tell you this:
when he got too sick to play, the conductor and all of us liked Julius so much that we
covered for him. Eventually somebody at the union caught up with us. We just wouldn't
say anything if he didn't show up or arrived to the gig late or whatever."65 This statement
serves as testimony to the level at which Julius was respected, admired, and loved by his
63 Personal interview with Warren Smith, March 11, 2004.
64 Personal interview with Vincent Chaney, March 12, 2004
65 Personal interview with Warren Smith, March 11, 2004.
peers. Those who worked so closely with Julius, those whose lives were touched by his
angelic personality, were the very personalities who were willing to risk their own
reputations and career status to protect the dignity of a dying giant. On April 4, 1977,
Julius Burton Watkins suffered a massive heart attack and died at the St. Barnabas
Hospital in Short Hills, NJ. At the time, he was survived by his two children, his father,
brother, and two sisters.66
Figure 2-7 Headstone of Julius Burton Watkins with horn of Patrick G. Smith. Photo
taken by Patrick G. Smith, April 28, 2004.
66 Mattie Watkins, his mother, died in September, 1975
He was a grandfather of five, but was more special to none other than his beloved
wife, Harriette. "She took care of him, but when he began to fail, her nervous system
broke down. She literally lost her hair worrying about him. I can't say that these things
are psychosomatic, but she eventually succumbed herself to some kind of debilitating
disease that took her. But man, oh man, did she love him. They were perfect together."67
Memorial services for Julius were held at the David D. Woody Memorial Home68 at 11
o'clock in the morning on April 8, 1977. Following the service, Watkins' remains were
transported back to Detroit, Michigan. He was and remains buried in the family plot at
United Memorial Gardens, Garden of the Masonic, Plot 119, space A-4, in Plymouth,
Figure 2-8 Undated photo of Julius Watkins with his Miraphone brand French horn.
Photo supplied by Peter Hirsch.
67 Personal interview with Warren Smith, March 11, 2004
68 This funeral home is now known as Woody's Home for Services.
69 The only remaining survivor in Julius Watkins' immediate family is his sister, Janice. Lucius, Mattie,
Lucius, Jr., Olivia, Julius, Julius Jr., Julie, and numerous aunts and uncles are all buried in the family plot
or in neighboring plots at United Memorial Gardens. Exhausting research was unable to determine the
whereabouts of remains for Ella Watkins and Harriette D. Watkins.
Julius Watkins was an unflappable man. His optimism and passion for his art
caused him to achieve the status which he enjoyed as the leading performer of jazz
French horn music. He was a man of honor and integrity who believed in that old-school
philosophy of conveying a positive impression regardless of any physical or mental
turmoil occurring within. His witty personality and sense of humor would, at times,
hysterically infuriate those with whom he worked. He was a man of complex
peculiarities. He sought neither fame nor glory, he avoided the spotlight and rarely drew
unnecessary attention to himself. He loved jazz and the horn and quietly went about his
life in an unassuming manner. "It's not a profitable life, but I like it," said Watkins. He
was loved by many with whom he worked and inspired countless others in his field to
achieve recognized greatness. Despite the disheartening events surrounding the final
years of his existence, his career was arguably the most successful in the history of the
jazz French horn genre.
THE MUSIC BEHIND THE MAN
A musician's performance style is as unique as a fingerprint. Regardless of
similarities in musical traits, every individual has their own inimitable sound. Julius
Watkins' performance characteristics and preferences were, by far, some of the most
interesting ever to be heard by jazz and classical audiences. The sounds which he created
in his chamber jazz ensembles were exceptionally different from those produced by
others who worked within this genre. Although Watkins was not the first horn player to
bring jazz music to the French horn, he is nevertheless regarded as the founding father of
this genre. Why this is so forms an interesting and telling question. Simply put, his
musical thumbprint includes a unique set of musical ideas and practices. First, he brought
the experience of chamber jazz ensemble playing to his jazz performance. Second, he
structured a unique combination of instrumental preferences. Finally, as an individual
component, Watkins himself created unique performance characteristics that influenced
the genre. But before these items can be explored, one must first gain an understanding
for the conditions which preceded Watkins' arrival on the jazz stage.
Bebop was a musical style which consumed the American jazz culture in the
decade following World War II. With the inception of this new form, jazz earned a new
artistic status and lost its aura of low-brow music. More changes occurred with the
formation of bebop than at any other time in the history of jazz, specifically in the areas
of harmonic construction, melodic activity, theoretical expertise, and ensemble
instrumentation. These changes occurred, primarily, as a result of the World War II
military draft. Swing Jazz players became soldiers and musical instruments were replaced
with a variety of weaponry. With so many artists being removed from the American
musical culture, society as a whole in the United States was left without a musical
identity. As a result, a wave of new, young talent was thrust to the forefront and an
entirely new group of musicians were able to obtain regional and national exposure.
Substantial changes were made in performance techniques. These alterations
caused a shift in the attitudes of performers and audiences of jazz. Bebop was a type of
jazz which encouraged audiences to listen more and dance less. As a consequence of this
shift, new repertoire was created for this new genre. Smaller combos replaced larger big
bands, and ensembles of varying instrumentation began to emerge literally overnight.
Players in these new combos developed a greater sense of chord recognition, stronger
theoretical skills, and improvised in ways that were faster and more complex than their
predecessors. During the eleven years in which Bop dominated the American jazz world,
musicians began to place artistic jazz music ahead of commercial goals. They favored
change over uniformity, and made significant efforts to move forward artistically rather
than to practice an outdated and nostalgic form of music. Contrary to critics of Bebop,
these artists were not seeking audiences comprised of academicians and artistic elitists.
Their desire was to educate and expose Americans to a new kind of North American Art
Music and to establish an appreciation of jazz for its own sake and not for its potential for
By 1950, the stage was set for Julius Watkins who excelled in this new realm of
artistic innovation. Clearly, through an analysis of his professional achievements, it can
be concluded that Julius was one of the unique and successful members of this cultivated
artistic realm. But to say that Watkins' only mark of individuality was that of a jazz
musician playing the French horn would be an erroneous miscalculation. There were
many pieces to the puzzle which comprised the overall musician within the man. When
these parts are examined individually, they provide a detailed analysis of "The
Phantom's" musical blueprint.
Instrumentation within chamber jazz ensembles was one of these pieces. Certainly
the inclusion of a tenor saxophone, drums, and bass within the Julius Watkins Sextet and
Les Jazz Modes was not uncommon. But in adhering to the unwritten guidelines for
bebop performance and the advancement of this art, Julius often incorporated instruments
not traditionally associated with jazz performance. It was not uncommon to hear a harp or
an accordion in performance with Watkins, who also performed frequently with the flute
and guitar jazz virtuoso, Les Spann.
Figure 3-1 Julius Watkins and Les Spann during the 1960 Gemini recording session.
Photo courtesy of Concord Records.
Some of these instances of instrumental inclusion suggest that the "classically"
trained Watkins was attempting to create a fusion between the worlds of Jazz and
Classical music, or at the least was greatly inspired by the Classical chamber works
which he studied in his youth and during his studies at the Manhattan School of Music,
chamber music pieces which would feature the horn in a woodwind or brass quintet,
sextet or octet.70 An exploration into some of these ensembles and compositions will help
to illustrate this kaleidoscopic approach to instrumentation.
In February of 1961, Watkins was a member of an unusual quintet which released
an album called Change ofPace. In addition to Julius' horn, the quintet featured tenor
saxophonist, Johnny Griffin, drummer, Ben Riley, and was completed with the addition
of not one, but two string bass players, Bill Lee and Larry Gales. The resulting sounds
produced by this ensemble were nothing short of extraordinary. Works on this album,
such as "Soft and Furry," feature bizarre instrumental combinations such as a string bass
duet accompanied by drums, a horn and bass duet accompanied by tenor saxophone, and
a string bass duet accompanied only by tenor saxophone. The solemn vibrations of the
bass' strings create a heavy and weighted mood which is alleviated by the addition of a
saxophone or horn solo. The initial measures of the album's seventh track, "Nocturne,"
illustrate this specific effect. Near the end of track eight, "Why Not," the basses perform
a rhythmic ostinato accompaniment to one of Julius' most profound solos.
The sounds produced by the two basses, tenor saxophone, and horn, are
surprisingly similar to those produced by a quartet of instruments from the same family in
that all four of these instruments blend impeccably well together. Griffin's saxophone
and Watkins' horn each share a warmth of sound which anchor the overall aesthetic
quality possessed by this rare consort. It can be understood that Watkins was fond of this
type of instrumental combination because he was able to mimic the sounds of a string
quartet or a woodwind quintet in ajazz ensemble. He probably would have heard and
70 Examples of larger ensemble works which Julius would have known include the Horn Quintet, K. 407 by
W. A. Mozart, the Sextet in E-flat, op. 81b by Beethoven, and Schubert's Octet, D. 803.
studied chamber music repertoire during his years at the Manhattan School of Music. As
a pioneer of new musical concoctions, it is arguable that he desired to perform in jazz
ensembles which contained aesthetic qualities similar to those found in Classical chamber
Watkins never again recorded an album with an ensemble of this exact
instrumentation, but he did continue to seek out and organize groups which favored new
sounds and styles over those considered to be the norm. In an effort to modernize the
traditional Bebop combo, Watkins often included textless parts for a female soprano
voice in his compositions. Two examples of this sort of vocal inclusion can be heard in
"1-2-3-4-0 In Syncopation" and "Princess"; two original Julius Watkins compositions
which were featured on his 1959 Les Jazz Modes recording. The use of a soprano voice
was also a commodity on the ensemble's 1958 album, The Most Happy Fella. In these
works, the soprano voice is treated as though it were an alto saxophone, trumpet, or other
instrument capable of projecting a melody over an ensemble. The use of vibrato is
frequent as the singers, Princess Orelia Benskina and Eileen Gilbert, project through the
group with their array of vowel sounds.
Watkins' treatment of the human voice in this manner was influenced by one of
two scenarios. First, as a member of numerous dance bands in Detroit, he undoubtedly
heard a multitude of female vocalists and desired to incorporate a soprano part in his
chamber music which would be reminiscent of this earlier style. The second scenario is
grounded in the tradition of rebellious Romantic Era composers like Richard Wagner.
Wagner frequently used human voices as instruments in many orchestral works. For
example, in his Overture to Die Walk/ire, a chorus of sopranos sings textless syllables as
they double the melodic lines played by the strings and high brass. Benskina and
Gilbert's use of operatic quality vibrato combined with the textures and colors of sound
produced by Les Jazz Modes, leads one to favor the influence of the latter scenario over
The most significant example of Classical music influencing the jazz style of Julius
Watkins' chamber jazz can be found on his 1958 record, Four French Horns Plus
Rhythm. The horn quartet, as a performance genre, has been in existence since the mid-
17th Century, and hundreds of works have been written for the genre by many of the great
composers from previous musical eras. Being a student who absorbed anything musical
at Cass Tech and the Manhattan School, Watkins most likely would have participated in
quartet reading sessions and rehearsals and would have become familiar with the
repertoire for such an ensemble.7
Four French Horns and Rhythm was the brainchild of Mat Mathews, a prominent
set drummer and founder of the Mat Mathews Quintet during the mid-1950s. Mathews
contacted Watkins and asked him to play principal horn in the recording session. This
was an invitation which Julius enthusiastically accepted. To dispel any insecurity he
might have had regarding the formation of a jazz playing horn quartet, Mathews sought
after the three other prominent jazz horn players: David Amram, Fred Klein, and Tony
Miranda. Amram had performed with Oscar Pettiford and Charlie Mingus in addition to
1 Dolores Beck-Schwartz indicated that she and Julius frequently read horn quartets with other members of
the Manhattan School of Music French horn studio.
numerous other recording artists. Fred Klein was a member of the CBS Symphony72
while Tony Miranda was one of New York City's most prolific Caucasian sidemen.73
The idea for an album such as this was unquestionably novel. Mathews' decision
for creating this album was not for financial gain resulting from some sort of circus-type
sideshow. Rather, "He has always been attracted to the sound of the horn in Classical
music. The horn is clearer than the trumpet and not as bogged down as the trombone. He
chose the four horns because of the opportunities for harmony and unison work that this
Jazz horn quartets, use of soprano female voices, and stupefying instrumentation.
These were the foremost examples of Julius Watkins' taste for chamber jazz ensembles
during the middle portion of the 20th century. Julius' fondness for seeking out new colors
of sound produced by unusual combinations of instruments caused him to be highly
sought after by the creators of new chamber jazz ensembles. Many of the ensembles in
which Julius performed contained instrumental combinations which were similar to those
more commonly associated with Classical chamber music. This being said, a
conceptualized view of a neo-bop world was just one aspect which separated Julius from
his colleagues. There were specific performance practice qualities of which Julius had
total and complete command. These qualities helped to further elevate Watkins to a
higher level within his own artistic world.
Julius was, by far, one of the greatest "high-horn" players ever to play the
instrument. Where most professional players have a range from the written C above
72 Bill Crow. "Bill Crow's Band Room" Local 802 News, Publication and Press Release. September, 1999.
73 Jeff Silberschlag. Interview with James ( hlon.!,. Accessible online at
74 John S. Wilson. Jacket notes from Four French Horns Plus Rhythm. Elektra Records, EKL-234-X, 1958.
treble clef to the C four octaves below, Julius could easily play within the octave above
this acclivous boundary. Some of the more significant examples of excessive high range
playing include the following:
A 1961 recording of Phil Woods' The Rights of Swing which features Julius
playing nine high D-flats and two high D-naturals without an ounce of difficulty
or change in tone quality.7
A solo in "Why Not?" on the 1961 album, Change ofPace, features a slur up to
an F an octave above the top line of the treble clef.
A performance of "Let's Call This" with Thelonius Monk's band in which Julius
plays countless pitches between the G and C above treble clef within rapid
The performance of "Worthington Valley" from the Four French Horns Plus
Rhythm album in which Julius soars above three other horn players, a piano, and
an accordion as he performs a hunting motif endlessly in this excessively high
A recording of"Julie Ann" from his 1955 Julius Walkini Sextet vol.2 album
features Julius holding a high C before slowing descending to a third-space B-flat.
A 64-bar solo in the 1972 recording of "Think of One" at the Village Vanguard
features just three measures of solo activity below the third-space treble clef C.
Reading about these solistic instances does not suffice in attempting to grasp the level
of performance which Julius possessed. A hearing of these examples best exemplifies the
mastery with which Julius could play and the efforts he made to preserve the pure, warm,
75 Magelssen, Nels H. A Study of the French Horn in Jazz Through an Analysis of the Playing Style of
Julius Watkins. University of Maryland, 1984, p. 17.
mellow sound which has made the instrument so audibly desirable. Rarely in these
recordings did he ever chip a note and he never missed one entirely.7 Muscular
endurance was not an issue which seemed to hinder his performance. Two questions must
be answered in regard to this virtuosic style of performance. First, why did Julius spend
an overwhelming majority of his performance life playing in the instrument's highest
range? Second, how did he accomplish such a command of that range?
Julius Watkins admitted that he always wanted to be a soloist, and soloists want to
be heard. Due to restrictions caused by the horn's overtone series, Watkins would have
experienced great difficulty in projecting through and above the other voices with which
he was performing if he were to play in the normal performance range on his instrument,
that is, from the third-line F in the bass clef to the G atop the treble clef. Certainly his
volume could have been enhanced through the use of a microphone, but such a
manipulation could distort the tone and pitch of the instrument. As Julius desired to
preserve the natural purity of the horn's sound, his only option was to play in the high
range on his instrument, a range where the notes would project and the melody would be
The answer to the second question, regarding how Julius produced high notes with
effortless clarity, can be found at the source of tone production on all brass instruments:
the embouchure. It is common for horn players who frequently play in the high range for
significant periods of time to use what are known as descant horns. These instruments are
pitched in the keys of B-flat and High-F, and possess smaller bore sizes; this allows for
76 Chipped notes occur when the actual attack of the note is not precise and pure, and the note above or
below the desired pitch can be heard in addition to the correct pitch. Instead of a clear attack described as
"dah," a chipped note would sound "bah-dah."
greater ease for high range production. Julius did not use a descant horn. In fact, the horn
which Julius used would probably be the last choice for most horn players in his
situation. Julius Watkins played a horn made by the Miraphone company and was
commonly referred to as a "Miraphone" horn.
"A Miraphone? I played one of those as a kid," recalled Nashville Symphony
Principal Hornist, Leslie Norton. "It was big and bulky and I could hardly get a sound out
of the thing. My teacher told me that they made great orchestral horns with big sounds,
but wow, I had a lot of problems making mine sound good. I finally had to switch to
something easier."78 Miraphones were large-bore double horns manufactured for use in
professional symphony orchestras. Playing this type of instrument was quite beneficial
for those who desired an exceptionally dark, warm sound. But as warm and glorious a
sound as Miraphone horns could produce, these instruments did have some limitations,
the most significant of which was the range in which the instrument could effectively
function. Playing on a horn with a large bore size will allow the player a great deal of
fluidity and ease through the instrument's lower and mid-ranges. But as the player breaks
into the upper range and beyond, as did Julius, the player could encounter less than
desirable results such as pitch inconsistency and problems with note accuracy. It seems
that Julius was not only fighting to promote awareness for the instrument in jazz, but was
doing so on a horn which was mechanically working against him. Nonetheless, Julius
developed a type of embouchure which allowed him to pass beyond the normal tonal
7 Information regarding the instrument on which Julius Watkins performed was discussed in a personal
interview with Vincent Chancey on March 12, 2004.
8 Personal interview with Leslie Norton, July 13, 2004.
boundaries of his instrument and play in a high range with fluidity and ease while still
preserving a natural beauty of sound.
Figure 3-2 Julius Watkins performing on his Miraphone French horn. Note the extra-
large bell and body of the instrument. Photo courtesy of Capital Records.
There exist two principal methods for embouchure formation in the realm of horn
pedagogy. The first is commonly referred to as the puckering method; a manner in which
the player speaks the syllable, "tew," while forming the lips as if to blow through a straw
or to whistle. This style of embouchure formation usually results in the production of a
warm, full sound with dark aesthetic qualities so often utilized by professional symphony
horn players and the students under their instruction. While it would seem likely that
Julius would have learned this method and used it to create his unforgettable timbres, he
defied the odds and utilized the secondary strategy.
Figure 3-3 Examples of Julius Watkins' embouchure in live performances. [Left] Julius
Watkins during the Julius Wulkiiin Sextet recording sessions. Note the smiling
type of embouchure and the position of the mouthpiece on the lips. Photo
courtesy of Atlantic Records. [Right] Julius Watkins in a live performances in
1959. Note his "smiling" embouchure and almost total lack of upper lip usage.
Photo courtesy of Downbeat Magazine.
This second method of embouchure formation is referred to as the smiling method;
a manner in which the player retracts the corners of the mouth, thereby stretching the lips
over the front teeth. Like a stretched rubber band, the lips under these conditions would
be able to vibrate very quickly at a high pitch frequency, thus allowing the player greater
maneuverability in the upper register. Perhaps Julius' dental problems allowed him some
extra flexibility or space to produce a dark vowel sound in the mouth to compensate the
bright "eee" sound which should have been produced as an outcome resulting from this
type of embouchure. Photographic evidence, however, clearly shows Julius Watkins
performing with the smiling embouchure during his most prolific years of performance:
1956 and 1959.
In addition to his mastery of the horn's upper register, Julius Watkins possessed
other playing characteristics which added to his uniqueness. His sense of articulation is
particularly worthy of discussion. While most of the melodies in his ballads such as Julie
Ann feature a slurred style with cashmere smoothness, Julius' rapid articulation skills
were exemplary. Tonguing is often a challenge for horn players and brass players in
general. If the tongue is place too far forward in the mouth, the initial attack will have a
harsh "tah" quality. Conversely, if the tongue falls towards the back of the mouth, a lack
of articulor clarity could be the end result. Julius' articulation method was one of clarity
and sensitivity which can be replicated by saying the syllables "doh" and "dah."
Although he never divulged his "secret recipe" to his students,79 his former understudies
were able to decipher an acceptable strategy which they have, in turn, used and passed on
to their own students.
Julius' soloing style was another trait for which he gained admirable recognition,
and the method in which he performed melodies was particularly notable. Julius was a
master improviser. Certainly he had a great deal of experience in this skill from his
earliest days playing in bands without horn parts. Watkins loved different colors of
sound. And just as he was constantly in search of ensembles with varying
instrumentation, he frequently sought new ways of manipulating sounds on his horn
when he played. During a solo, Watkins would often manipulate the pitch with his hand.
Tom Varner recalled the following events from one of his lessons with Watkins in 1976.
Another thing he showed me was he would sometimes do this right-hand
technique that wasn't stopped, but he would split the inside of the bell into
two compartments. His hand would be very flat as if you were making the
sound come out in two opposite ways. This made it have more of a piercing
sound approximating the sound of a harmon mute except you're doing it
with your hand. That's the best I can come up with. The sound would change
from an "ahhhhhh" to an "awwwww" in color. It was a little more piercing.80
79 Tom Varner and Vincent Chancey both stated that Julius rarely gave technical advice during lessons.
Rather, he taught by modeling solos in lessons and asked his students mimic or copy the manner in which
80 Excerpt from a personal interview with Tom Varner, March 11, 2004.
This fondness for tonal manipulation remained with Watkins late into his life. From
the 1972 album, Reasons in Tonality, critical listeners can hear numerous types of
manipulative methodologies at work. These include hand stopping, half-stopping, use of
half-valves, and oral manipulations. Whether these manipulations were done intentionally
or were the result of on-the-spot experimentation, we simply do not know. What is
important is that Julius Watkins never accepted the status quo as an artist. Rather Julius
was constantly in search of new performance opportunities and ways for expanding the
role of his instrument in a musical culture with a growing acceptance for new and
progressive artistic classifications.
The end result from this combination of elements was a man with a revolutionary
outlook regarding how chamber jazz music should in the United States. He allowed his
listeners an opportunity to experience jazz not as a venue of entertainment, but as an
artistic art form. His ability to broaden the expressive range of the horn as a jazz
instrument has opened the door to new generations of artists in this medium. Julius
Watkins performed in a manner which has frequently been emulated, but never
successfully duplicated. This should come as no surprise, for an artistic thumbprint is
unquestionably a one-of-a-kind.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE JAZZ FRENCH HORN GENRE SINCE 1977
Since the middle of the twentieth century when Julius Watkins transported the horn
from the symphonic stage to that of the jazz band, the broadened use of the instrument in
jazz has become more widely accepted throughout the world. During the 1960s and early
70s, solo jazz horn playing took a backseat to chamber jazz groups of all sizes. Artists of
the instrument were not featured as headlining soloists. Rather, they were often cast into
supporting roles, playing back-up to pop musicians, rock stars and prominent jazz
recording artists. The environment changed somewhat during the mid-1970s when a
dormant breed of jazz horn playing became revitalized. This was a style that featured the
instrument not in a supporting role, but rather, as the lead instrument in a middle-brow
culture. Nevertheless, Julius Watkins' vision of solo jazz horn playing was re-born.
Despite the seemingly low number of active international jazz horn performers, the
interest in this art is not dwindling. Traditionalists in jazz and classical realms tend to be
unsupportive of this unique performance genre. Julius Watkins' vision of a jazz style
which embraces this chameleonic wind instrument as a solo voice is being realized by an
intimate group of horn artists with a wide assortment of backgrounds and modus
Tom Bacon is widely regarded as one of the most prominent figures in the modern
day horn world. Born in Chicago in 1946, Bacon achieved early recognition for his
capabilities on the horn when he was appointed to the Principal Horn position in the
Chicago Civic Orchestra at age 18. This early success was complimented with
Figure 4-1 Photo of Tom Bacon, courtesy of the artist and his photographer, Michael
subsequent Principal Horn positions in numerous ensembles nationwide, including the
Syracuse and Grant Park Orchestras. In the years preceding his orchestral appointments,
Bacon followed a traditional approach in his horn studies with private lessons and
chamber music coaching session from four icons of brass pedagogy: Arnold Jacobs, Dale
Clevenger, Max Pottag and Verne Reynolds.81
Despite his love and passion for orchestral and chamber music horn performances,
Bacon has interests in more progressive musical facets and often performs on other
instruments. From 1969 to 1974, he was a member of Metamorphosis, a rock group
comprised of Detroit Symphony musicians. As a member of this group, he performed on
horn, trumpet, piano, organ, percussion and harmonica in addition to composing and
arranging for the ensemble. Bacon has established himself as a leading performer of
avant-guard chamber and solo repertoire. More than fifty works have been dedicated to
81 Arnold Jacobs was the former Principal Tuba player of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1944-
1988. Dale Clevenger is the current Principal Horn Player of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Max Pottag
was a member of the Chicago Symphony Horn Section from 1907-1944. Verne Reynolds was the Professor
of Horn at the Eastman School of Music from 1959-95.
and premiered by this artist, including Arthur Gottschalk's "Concerto for Tom" and "T.
Rex" by Mark Schultz. An established composer in his own right, Bacon has numerous
titles to his credit, including a number of jazz works for horn and piano.
Bacon's colorful and multi-talented approach to horn playing and performance
practice has helped to establish him as one of the preeminent hoists worldwide; his
efforts have been appropriately recognized. Reporting for the Houston Chronicle in 1997,
writer Charles Ward commented on Bacon's multitude of talents. "Thomas Bacon has
long had a different musical point of view. Music can be serious and must be taken
seriously. It doesn't have to be deadly."82 Ward's references to deadly musical ideas refer
to those with a limited view which constrict and restrain a musician into playing one and
only one type of music for years on end. Bacon's idea of creating a well-rounded
musician, one who can perform in any style, is what sets him aside from so many others
in his field.
Although not trained in jazz performance during his collegiate tutelage83, the "20th
Century's most influential and prominent brass soloist"84 performed for and was inspired
by numerous jazz greats including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Glenn Miller. In
the realm of jazz horn music, Bacon's contributions to the field lie primarily in the
recording and publishing sectors in addition to his own live jazz performances on solo
recitals. With numerous solo recordings to his credit, The Flipside is the album which
consists entirely of solo jazz horn literature. This CD contains seven works written
exclusively for Tom, including two works by the artist himself.
83 Bacon studied at various collegiate institutions including the Eastman School, Syracuse University, and
The disc opens with the aforementioned "Concerto for Tom," a work which
combines elements of big band and blues with a traditional concerto for horn and jazz
orchestra. Gottschalk's piece features three jazzy movements in the fast-slow-fast pattern
expected in a Classical era concerto. Other works of interest on this album include two
pedagogical jazz studies for horn and piano by Bacon himself: "Listen Up!" and "Lorna
Doin'." "Listen Up!" is an athletic challenge for the player and contains a tempo marking
of "Real Fast quarter note = 190." To ensure a quality performance of this tune, the
soloist must have a strong command of the instrument's range and masterful technical
abilities. "Lorna Doin"' is a bit more relaxed and laid-back compared to its exhilarating
counterpart. With the tempo marking "lazy swing dotted quarter note = 112" the
performer has numerous opportunities to "blues it up" by adding effects such as wah-
wahs and scoops. One of the highpoints of this bluesy tune occurs at measure marking A4
where the composer quotes the famous (or infamous) leitmotif from Richard Strauss' own
symphonic foolery, "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks." Bacon's inclusion of this quote
in the score is not coincidental, for he himself is famous for a witty and empathic sense of
Through publications86, performance and teaching, Tom Bacon has firmly
established himself as a musician who is comfortable performing any style of music.
Despite his capabilities as a horn player in traditional orchestral and chamber music
venues, Bacon feels most at home with the non-traditional genres including jazz. He
encourages improvisation and spontaneous creativity from his students and continues to
teach his "think outside the box" approach to those under his instruction. Undoubtedly,
86 Tom Bacon is the editor of Jazz Cafe; a two-volume collection of printed works for horn and piano.
by thinking outside the box, the tradition of jazz horn playing has a considerable
opportunity to grow and prosper in the years to come.
Although Bacon has employed a versatile methodology to his art, others in his field
have accepted a more specialized and focused approach to performing strictly jazz. This
is not to say that they are any less of a musician or are lacking in talent whatsoever. For
some artists, the perfection of one particular field or genre has proven to be a successful
professional strategy. Such is the case for Chicago-born and New York-based Vincent
Chancey, a man whose career development has taken on a striking resemblance to that of
Figure 4-2 New York based jazz horn player, Vince Chancey. Photo contributed by
Upon joining the school band in his pre-teen years, Chancey initially played the
cornet, trumpet and flugelhorn; however, upon hearing horn players during band
rehearsals, he succumbed to the horn's call and abandoned piston-valved instruments all
together. During his high school and collegiate years, he found himself in what he called
a state of "musical schizophrenia." Although playing and studying the traditional
classical repertoire for the horn, he developed a great fondness for jazz. After completing
undergraduate studies at Southern Illinois University in 1973, Chancey relocated to New
York City in order to receive jazz horn instruction from Watkins himself. Chancey earned
no degree from his private studies with Watkins and actually secured financial support
for this endeavor through a grant provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Vincent successfully turned his focus of study from classical music to jazz, and was hired
as a horn player for the Sun Ra Arkestra. This ensemble is still in existence today and is
renowned for its efforts in promoting the free-jazz movement. During the twenty years
that followed, Chancey made countless recordings with Sun Ra, the Carla Bley Band,
Bowie's Brass Fantasy, and other groups associated with more progressive styles of
avant- pop and free jazz.
"By 1992 or 93, I began to feel the cool breezes of change sweeping over my
performance life and career," said Chancey in a 2004 interview. "I had established myself
as a horn player capable of performing jazz with numerous ensembles, but I desired a
different outlet in which I could express artistic ideas on my own terms. It was like, 'so
long, sideman. Hello jazz horn soloist.'"87 Since 1993 he has released two solo jazz horn
recordings: Welcome Mr. Chancey (1993) and Vincent Chancey and Next Mode (1996). 8
Having organized many jazz groups of his own, Vincent has toured Europe every
year since 1976 promoting the cause and awareness of jazz horn playing. Critics and
audiences seem to have been moved by numerous aspects of the artist's performing
abilities, mainly tone color, improvisatory skill and expressive, emotional playing. Neil
8 Excerpt from a personal interview with Vincent Chancey, March 12, 2004.
88 Chancey dedicated this recording to Julius Watkins and The Jazz Modes.
Tesser of the Chicago Reader wrote, "Vincent Chancey's tone, strong and comparatively
rough, dovetails with his swingy control of the instrument's tough fingering system,
while his respect for the horn's idiosyncrasies lets him play pure jazz." Peter Watrous of
The New York Times said of Chancey, "He was a dramatic improviser with big interval
leaps and silences underscoring his ideas." While tone and skill are two important aspects
of instrumental music performance, many in the field will argue that true musicality
occurs when the performer adds his or her own emotions to the performance. A review of
Chancey by Cadence Magazine's Steven Loewy praises the artist for that very
achievement. "Chancey maneuvers his ax in a wonderful relaxed way. He plays
naturally, as though the horn were simply a vessel through which his thoughts and
feelings are expressed."89 Comments such as these from critics have helped to fan the
flames of Chancey's burning desire to promote a wider recognition for the horn as a jazz
instrument. One chart from Chancey's first solo jazz album, "The Man Say Something,"
best exemplifies the critics' opinions and adds credibility and reliability to their reviews.
Another prominent jazz horn artist on the modern stage is Rick Todd. A native of
Salem, Oregon, Todd is often referred to as a "star among the present generation of jazz
hornists."90 Like so many others, Todd's background lies firmly in the classical horn
playing tradition, but with a few extra twists. Following performance engagements with
the New Orleans and Utah Symphonies, Rick returned to his collegiate stomping grounds
in Los Angeles where he has become one of the most sought after freelance musicians in
Hollywood television and film studios. With over seven hundred film performances to his
credit, including blockbusters such as Men in Black, Mission Impossible, Jurassic Park,
90 Gunther Schuller. Liner notes from Rickter Scale. GM records, 3015cd, 1989.
and Independence Day, one might wonder why such an accomplished and successful
musician would venture outside the traditional playing field in search of new
performance venues. Simply put, Todd has been badly bitten by the jazz bug.91
As a sideman, Todd has performed with Barbara Streisand, Michael Jackson,
Madonna, Woody Herman, Clark Terry and a multitude of other pop and jazz artists. In
1984, he released his first jazz recording, New Ideas, which featured classical and jazz
tunes combined into one setting. Works by Gunther Schuller and Jean Francaix were
contrasted with charts by Charlie Parker and Kurt Weil. The disc was followed by Rickter
Scale, an all-jazz horn recording released in 1989.
Despite Todd's efforts to promote the awareness of his newfound passion, he was
still significantly under-appreciated for this style of playing well into the following
decade. This perception changed at the 25th International Horn Symposium hosted by
Florida State University in the summer of 1993. After a full day of traditional classical
concerts, recitals and the like featuring some of the world's most acclaimed solo and
orchestral figures, Todd presented an outdoor jazz horn jam-session to a rousing audience
of his own peers. He wowed those in attendance with his performance of Chick Corea's
"Got a Match," the initial track from Rickter Scale. The work features chromatic runs at
supersonic speeds, mastery of articulation, and fluidity of harmonic motion. "Shock and
awe" had an entirely different meaning a decade ago.92
For Todd, technique and style are not problematic issues when it comes to
performing jazz. Although critics are divided over his three jazz albums, most recognize
91 J. Robert Bragonier. A review of Todd's With a Twist which appears at www.gmrecordings.com.
92 The author was an undergraduate sophomore and attended Todd's session at this workshop. It was his
first time witnessing an international symposium and ajazz performance featuring the horn.
Todd for his spectacular feats of high register playing, clear articulation, and a strong
grasp of jazz improvisation. Some jazz critics, who attempt to squash the potential
uprising of this new breed, criticize Todd for playing with an unconventional horn sound
and writing tunes which sound somber and weighted. Nonetheless, Rick has promoted the
awareness of jazz horn artistry through his recordings and teaching activities. Currently
on the faculties of the University of Southern California and the Henry Mancini Institute,
Todd leads his students by example and precept. He has demonstrated that, if nothing
else, it is possible to perform in a virtuosic jazz style on this beast of all musical
Horn players are often looked upon as being different or unusual in some manner.
Theirs is the only instrument in the orchestra which points backwards, has the highest
frequency of missed notes, and is the only brass family member in a woodwind quintet.
To be an accomplished jazz horn player in the 21st Century, one must be unique. This
term is no stranger to an individual who is arguably the most renowned jazz horn player
on today's international stage, Tom Vamer. Tom knew he was different early on in his
approach to musical performance when, in elementary school, he chose the horn from a
photo rather than from those found in his elementary music classroom. Being different
does not a horn player make, and Varner knew that, in order to differentiate and
distinguish himself from the others in his field, he had to become a virtuoso. Thus, he
took appropriate measures to realize such a goal.
Tom received a bachelor's degree from the New England Conservatory where he
studied horn with Thomas Newell and jazz composition with Ran Blake, George Russell,
93 Gunther Schuller. Liner notes forRickter Scale. GM records, 3015cd, 1989.
and Jaki Byard. Such a variety of influential teachers helps to explain the eclectic
character of Varner's music, which thrives on the blending of numerous jazz styles.
Throw private horn lessons with Julius Watkins into the mix and you have the perfect
recipe for Tom's musical souffle.94 With such a diverse array of stylistic influences, it is
no wonder that Varner's compositions and performing styles have proven to be some of
the most flavorful and enlightening on the circuit.
Figure 4-3 Pictured from left to right are jazz horn players Marshall Sealy, Tom Varner
and Vince Chancey. Mark Taylor is seated behind Varner to the right. Photo
courtesy of Vince Chancey.
Tom's performance abilities on the horn are unquestionably virtuosic to the "enth"
degree. One needs only to listen to the title track from his 1999 release, S. illining. to
experience his mastery of the instrument. What separates Varner from his fellow musical
athletes in the "tour de cor" is his dedication to composing for jazz horn and restricting
his performances to such a medium. For Tom, there is no balancing act between classical
94 Frank Tafuri. Liner notes from Swimming. Omnitone CD-11903, 1999.
and jazz careers; no trips to Hollywood recording studios or sound stages. Varner's life
revolves solely around his horn and the world of jazz. As a composer, Tom has sought
inspiration from some of the most unlikely sources. "Biblical themes and spirituality,
science and sci-fi, mythology and folklore, down-home Americana and urban kitsch,
James Brown and twentieth-century music are frequent threads in the colorful, cinematic
Tom Varner weave."95
Figure 4-4 Contemporary jazz horn soloist Tom Varner. Photo contributed by Terri
The title track of Swimming was composed in the summer of 1998 at the Blue
Mountain Center, a famous artistic getaway located deep in the Adirondack Mountains.
On vacation from his normally hectic life in the big city, Varner spent a month in higher
elevation and immersed himself in a variety of rest and relaxation techniques. "I
practiced. I composed. I read a lot. And the lake, wow, the lake. It was just spectacular,"
said Varner. "It was Heaven. Every day I swam in this beautiful lake, and every day I
95 Frank Tafuri. Liner notes from Swimming. Omnitone CD-11903, 1999.
wrote new music. 'Swimming' grew out of that. In fact, so did most of the album."96 Upon
listening to a portion of this track, one can instantly hear a style of jazz different from any
other for this instrument. This type of small-group jazz presents the listener with a variety
of sounds and tastes which could leave the listeners scratching their heads as to the true
identity of this music. "It is fairly complex stuff," said Tom. "It has hints of Webern and
Berg, a little bit of Monk, and other influences too."97 It would come as no surprise if
audience reactions to this music were as different as the artist himself, for in
differentiation, there lies distinction.
Some members of the current solo jazz horn scene are pushing the boundaries for
the inclusion of their instrument in this medium. Two artists in particular, Ken Wiley and
Arkady Shilkloper, have taken the instrument to performance realms never before
deemed possible. Although both of these artists possess unique performance and
compositional styles, Wiley and Shilkloper have combined traditional horn tonal
concepts with 21st Century electronic media to produce an entirely new sub-genre of
chamber jazz horn performance.
The career path of Los Angeles hornist, Ken Wiley, bears numerous similarities to
that of the late phantom. For Wiley, the horn became his instrument of choice, but only
after the introduction of that instrument from a second party. Recalling his early days on
the horn, this native of St. Joseph, Missouri said, "When I was in sixth grade at Mark
Twain, I thought I wanted to play the drums. But, the director said he had too many
drummers and he sent a French horn over to the house that sat under the piano most of
96 Frank Tafuri. Liner notes from Swimming. Omnitone 11903, 1999.
97 Personal interview with Tom Varner, March 11, 2004.
the summer."98 Like Julius, Wiley held little interest in playing the horn until he heard its
warm, mellow sounds. In Ken's case, the sounds came from a record player in his
childhood home rather than from a guest performance by a symphony player at his
school. He began playing the horn in the school band at Bliss Junior High and continued
during his studies at Central High School in his hometown. After high school, Wiley
attended the Manhattan School of Music before setting out on a jazz career of his own.
Wiley's defense for choosing to play jazz on the horn sounds remarkably similar to
that of Julius Watkins. "There is not a lot of music written for the French horn, "said
Wiley. "I have always had to create my own and have striven to showcase the natural
beauty possessed within this instrument."99 From listening to selections from his solo
albums, Visage and Highbridge Park, one can easily grasp the artist's concept for natural
beauty, as practically each work features haunting colors of sound, soaring melodies, and
transcendental rhythmic and harmonic qualities.
Ken's early jazz career placed him as a soloist and sideman with some of the great
figures in American jazz lore. He has appeared with bassist Charlie Haden's Liberation
Music Orchestra and has also performed with bassists John Patitucci and Jimmy Johnson,
guitarists Mike Miller and Grant Geissman, and, perhaps most notably, with Julius'
former partner, saxophonist Charlie Rouse: a connection which links Wiley in a deeply
personal manner to the founding father of jazz horn playing.
There is a great deal of complexity surrounding the style in which Wiley plays.
Album reviewers have labeled him as a champion of "generic, new-agey, fusion jazz,"'10
without specifically pigeonholing Ken's music into one particular genre. Most people
who listen to his music, however, have agreed that his unique compositions featuring the
horn possess jazz, new-age, rock, Afro-pop and world music influences. His album,
Highbridge Park, released in 2002, offers an overview of this performer's eclectic style.
Tracks on this album are dominated by the use of electro-acoustic instruments, ethnic
percussive instruments such as rainsticks, congas and djambes, new-age sonorities similar
to those used by the German band, Tangerine Dream, and, of course, the hauntingly
reverberated sounds of Wiley's instrument.
Ken has been an active clinician and educator and has been promoting awareness
for jazz capabilities on the horn for the past twenty years. In February of 2005, Wiley
released Ken's Jazz Lounge; a book of twelve easy solos for beginning jazz horn players.
The book comes with a CD which contains the accompaniment tracks performed by a
jazz combo, allowing novices in this style the ability to perform in a complete medium.
One of the most notable of his educational outreach sessions occurred during the
2004 Western Horn Symposium in Las Vegas, NV. At this workshop, sponsored by the
International Horn Society, Wiley gave a masterclass on jazz horn improvisation and
performed with the University of Nevada at Las Vegas Jazz Trio. Joining Wiley on stage
that evening were Bill Bematis (Assistant Professor of Horn, UNLV), Eldon Matlick
(Professor of Horn, University of Oklahoma) and Jim Patterson (Owner of Patterson
Hornworks). This quartet of pedagogues performed a number of jazz horn selections
including Clare Fischer's "Morning" and Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time." What made
this occasion particularly noteworthy was the invitation by the International Horn Society
to include a prominent jazz artist in one of their sponsored workshops. Although this
organization waves the banner for furthering the cause for all activities which include the
horn, the focus of this organization tends to highlight artists steeped in the traditional
orchestral and soloistic approaches to horn playing. Rarely are jazz artists included in
official I.H.S. events; however, Ken's art has earned him praise from the organization.
John Dressier, a frequent reviewer for The Horn Call wrote the following about Wiley's
This CD was a very enjoyable listening experience. Ken Wiley's music
sounds like a blend of many different influences and hearing it has caused me
to listen to this CD in two ways. Play it while you're doing some chore that
needs doing, and the job will be less trouble. Then later, play it with no other
sounds interfering, simply letting the music work on you. Each time I listen to
this CD, I find a different favorite tune, and I like that. I don't find this music
deeply profound, but some really good music that is very enjoyable to hear
again and again. Wiley should be encouraged to continue writing and
recording similar discs.101
Figure 4-5 Ken Wiley (right) with Jim Patterson, Eldon Matlick and Bill Bernatis. Photo
contributed by Ken Wiley.
Ken Wiley has assisted in the advancement of jazz horn playing by including the
instrument in his own compositions and by reaching out to new listening audiences. His