We are #RooReady for fall semester classes. Learn more about the UMKC response to the global COVID-19 pandemic and get the latest updates and safety information from the CDC.

Donors Strike a Chord with New Scholarships Honoring World-Renowned Faculty

Individual and foundation giving have common theme for UMKC Conservatory student success
Bobby Watson with Sarah and Jim Weitzel

Bobby Watson and Vinson Cole have been influential professors at the UMKC Conservatory in addition to being internationally recognized musicians.

Cole recently retired from his role as Professor of Voice and Watson will step away from his role as the William D. and Mary Grant/Missouri Professor and co-coordinator of Jazz in the fall of 2020. In recognition of their outstanding commitment and contributions to the UMKC Conservatory, local donors have created scholarships in their honor to provide future students the opportunity to follow their passions. 

Bobby Watson

A renowned saxophonist, composer and native Kansas Citian, Watson has worked with jazz icons such as Max Roach, Louis Hayes and Wynton Marsalis. For three decades, Watson lived in New York City and performed with and composed for some of the most acclaimed jazz performers in the world. He has recorded 28 records and appears as a leader on dozens of recordings. 

In 2000, he returned to Kansas City and joined the faculty of the UMKC Conservatory. While teaching at the Conservatory has been a passion – “I bleed blue and gold,” he says – it has never been his intention to stay forever. 

"I bleed blue and gold." - Bobby Watson 

“I thought after 20 years I’d stop and reflect,” Watson says. “It seems like the right time. I’m still young enough to go on the road. And we’ve brought the school to a high level.”

Long-time Conservatory and Watson enthusiasts, Sarah and Jim Weitzel, have shared a passion for music since they first married. When they learned of the musician’s retirement, the news was bittersweet. 

“When Bobby announced that he was retiring so that he could play, we wanted to honor that,” Sarah Weitzel says. 

Wanting to recognize Watson’s contribution to the Conservatory and provide opportunities for future students, the couple decided the timing was right to establish an endowed scholarship in Watson’s name.

“We didn’t need to name the scholarship after us,” Weitzel says. “We don’t have a legacy in jazz – Bobby does. We are hoping other people will contribute to the scholarship in his honor.”

Watson was overwhelmed by the gift.

“I was speechless, humbled, honored and flabbergasted,” Watson says. “It’s a great honor and a great gift. Every scholarship that we can award our students is life changing.”

Michael Fields and Vinson Cole
Vinson Cole

Vinson Cole, (BM ’72) is an American tenor and retired Professor of Voice. He was flattered when he received the news from Michael Fields, on behalf of the Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts - Commerce Bank trustee, that the foundation wanted to establish an annual scholarship in his name to benefit students at the Conservatory.

“Vinson Cole was the perfect choice for a named scholarship at the UMKC Conservatory,” Fields says. “The Richard J. Stern Foundation is committed to excellence in the arts in Kansas City, and Vinson definitely represents the highest standards of excellence.”

"I listen for what someone can do – open their heart, their soul, their body and mind.” - Vinson Cole

Fields notes that Cole is perhaps better known internationally than he is in the city where he was raised, however Richard Stern certainly knew Cole and followed his career.

“It’s nice to be recognized for what I’ve done, especially in Kansas City,” Cole says of his hometown.

Cole began singing as a young child and has fond memories of his voice teacher.

“He had so much knowledge,” Cole remembers. “I wanted everything. I would ask and ask and ask. All I wanted was the work.”

Cole’s career has been successful by any measure. He is internationally recognized as one of the leading artists of his generation. A frequent guest of the most prestigious orchestras throughout the world, he has collaborated with some of the greatest conductors of this era.  When he teaches, his focus is firmly on his students. In auditions, he pays attention to the voice, but his focus is broader. 

“I listen for what someone can do – open their heart, their soul, their body and mind.”

Beyond the honor of the recognition of his dedication, Cole knows first-hand how significant scholarships are to students.

“It’s great that there is help for people who want to come to school who can’t afford it,” he says. “I know a lot of students who come to school and always need money. I was always spending my money on music when I was in school – mounds of sheet music.”

While today’s students usually store their music on iPads, their expenses are still significant. 

“These scholarships will be significant awards for talented students, and we are grateful for donors like the Weitzels and the Stern Foundation who generously support Conservatory programs and students,” says Conservatory Dean Diane Petrella. “Bobby and Vinson have been valuable members of our community and we look forward to keeping them involved with the Conservatory. Their legacies at UMKC will live on through the students who receive the gifts of these scholarships.”

For additional information on the Bobby Watson and Pamela Baskin-Watson Scholarship or the Vinson Cole Scholarship contact Mark Mattison at mattisonm@umkcfoundation.org

Published: Jan 31, 2020
Posted In: Giving

Top Stories