Yesterday, Bill Watrous passed.
I had no intention of writing about this. This just came to me. I doubt that I could do any better than any of the established writers and journalists that cover jazz music; many of which have had innumerable personal experiences with him, and have seen his greatest performances.
I had just one.
San Antonio, TX.
Circa 1994. Or 1995.
I was a college student at this time, and was in San Antonio to attend the Texas Music Educators Association conference, better known as TMEA. I was in attendance because, I had auditioned for the Texas Junior College All-Star Jazz Band, and had made it as an alternate. Basically, one of the individuals who had made it into the band ahead of me couldn’t make it, I’d be his/her sub.
The convention has lectures, masterclasses, concerts, manufacturers and their reps hawking everything from instruments, to sheet music, to lapel pins, pencils, CDs (it was the ’90’s!), banners, t-shirts and coffee mugs. If you’re a band geek, live in Texas, are a musician or music educator, AND you have a pocket full of loot, this is your Vegas….minus the booze, gambling, and escort business cards littering the sidewalks.
I remember walking into the main exhibit hall and seeing the polite, eggshell colored, possibly flimsy cubicle purgatory that sprawled across one side of this voluminous room. Each cubicle had a rep or spokesperson, and varying items of merchandise. Many of these items are instruments, so as you’re walking by, you’re seeing and hearing people playing. The other side of the room featured the crested waves of open piano lids, keyboards, and stage audio. The only thing keeping the competing waves of cacophony separate was a wide walkway that served as the main thoroughfare. It intersected with smaller walkways, that led to different places, and of course, different exhibits. In order to get to the room where I was supposed to rehearse with the Texas Junior College All-Star Jazz Band, I, along with everyone else, had to pass through.
Aaaand of course, it’s crowded. The group of guys that I was with decided to cut through one of the smaller avenues in this room to get to our destination. As I hurriedly barged through this pathway, in my peripheral vision, I see the silhouette of someone standing in one of these cubicles by himself with a trombone. So I take a second look. With this second look, I realized who this was: Bill Watrous.
I stop in my tracks. I point my index finger in his direction. Immediately, the first thing that I could think of tumbled from my lips: “Hey!” (as if I knew him!)
His response: (chuckling) “Hey!”
I stride toward him and ask: “What do you do to maintain your range?”
Bill Watrous: “You got your horn?”
“Take it out of the case, and I’ll show you.”
I have not assembled a trombone that fast henceforth. We stood side by side, and he demonstrated a few exercises, of which I followed suit. Before I was aware, a small crowd had formed, and people were taking pictures.
Shortly thereafter, I finally got around to introducing myself, and thanked him. He was ever so gracious.
And then, I trudged on to the rehearsal.
I was late. I didn’t care.
Here’s Mr. Watrous doing his thing, via YouTube.