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Bobby Watson's Inspiration in Life and Music

Watson’s father instilled love and respect of music and family
Bobby Watson with saxophone

Bobby Watson, renowned saxophonist and retired UMKC jazz studies professor, grew up with four brothers all one year apart. His father, who quietly and consistently taught his children to create an interesting life and value their relationships with each other, has been his lifelong inspiration.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and the Kansas City, Missouri City Council issued a resolution for Watson at the Feb. 27 meeting. The resolution stated: “Honoring Bobby Watson on the occasion of his retirement for his twenty years of dedicated service to the Conservatory and UMKC as the Distinguished Professor of Jazz Studies.” He thinks his father’s influence was critical to his success. 

Who was one of your greatest inspirations when you were either a child or young man?

My father. He flew airplanes and taught pilots to fly at ground school for the Federal Aviation Administration. He was an artist and an inventor – he held patents on several of his inventions. But everything centered on his love of music. He played saxophone in church and at home. He would stand in a corner and play because he thought the sound was the best there.

What about his accomplishments inspired you?

He wasn’t a boastful man. He taught us humility. As young black men he wanted me and my four brothers to be good public speakers, so we had Toastmasters at home. We stood at a podium and spoke with no microphone.

"He really taught me how to listen."-Bobby Watson

He kept us safe. When we wanted to play basketball, he built a basketball court for us and our friends at home. When we wanted to play pool he put a pool table in the basement so we wouldn’t go to pool halls. When we wanted to ice skate, he made a skating rink in the yard.

Usually, I thought he was right. There were five brothers in my family and he taught us that you don’t fight with your brother.

Once when we were young, I got in a tiff with one of my brothers. He told us to sit on the sofa and hug each other. Then he went out to cut the grass. And then he trimmed the bushes. Then he stopped and fixed himself a glass of lemonade – all while we were holding each other looking out the window and crying and wondering when he was going to let us let go. We didn’t fight after that.

How have you incorporated his values into your life?

He really taught me how to listen. When I talk to people, I listen. If you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next, you’re not listening. I don’t want to go back and forth like you see today. I’ll talk, you listen. You talk, I’ll listen.

Published: Feb 24, 2020
Posted In: Our People