Another Jazz Horn Blog!

..and a completely awesome one!  I had completely forgotten…..senior moment??  that Abe Mamet had contacted both me and Vincent a couple of years ago.  He did some amazing work during his research project on jazz horn and Julius Watkins specifically.  Please, please check it out at:  There is so much great information, links, videos etc.  Not just on Julius but also on Willie Ruff, David Amram, and much more.

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Part Two: Review of Video

JW Solo with Quincy Jones 1960 Part 2

by Tom Varner.  Thanks, TV!!

Julius Watkins (1921-1977) with Quincy Jones Big Band: Thoughts, Part II

Alright, friends, I am back. Setting the stage for this wonderful band: In 1960, Quincy took his big band to Brussels and Paris for a run of the revised Harold Arlen Free and Easy “blues opera musical,” with the musicians of his big band in costume on stage. Even with good reviews, it had big financial problems, and Quincy found himself stranded and broke in Paris with his band. He quickly booked some concerts, and the band toured in Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, and elsewhere. There is quite a lot about this time in Quincy’s autobiography, Q; The Autobiography of Quincy Jones. This video is from a performance of the band in Switzerland.

Several of the players were Quincy’s friends from Seattle’s Garfield High School: Floyd Standifer (trumpet), Patty Bown (piano) and Buddy Catlett (bass.)   Many years later (from around 2006 to 2012) I met and occasionally played with Buddy Catlett (1933-2014), who had moved back to Seattle, and we were able to talk about Julius, who was Buddy’s roommate on that tour, and how much we loved him. (Buddy also worked with Louis Armstrong and many other greats.)

Other greats from this band included Phil Woods, Jerome Richardson, Benny Bailey, Budd Johnson, and Melba Liston.

The piece that Julius was featured on was Everybody’s Blues, written and arranged by Count Basie veteran sax player Ernie Wilkins. (17 years later I was fortunate to be able to play this arrangement with Ernie at the New England Conservatory as an incoming “jazz major” transfer student.)

There are now several links up on You Tube. Just search for “Quincy Jones, Live in Switzerland.” Go to Everybody’s Blues. Better yet, buy the “Jazz Icons: Quincy Jones” DVD.

It is a medium-tempo blues that starts in concert B flat. Looks like JW is playing a Conn 6-D. After a beautiful muted wah-wah trombone solo by Duke Ellington veteran Quentin Jackson, Julius comes in, and he plays 10 choruses (perhaps the longest JW solo on video). The rhythm section is soft, stays at a simmer, and very supportive of JW. I have mapped out the choruses as follows:

Ch. 1 – In on bar 5. Mysterious high C right away. Only 2 notes.

Ch. 2 – Mystery and high blasts, back to mystery.

Ch. 3 – Now into jazz and bebop language, more in the groove.

Ch. 4 – A mix of mystery and bebop.

Ch. 5 – Goes down to low range (low F) and back up again, with leaps.

Ch. 6 – A new strong motif (F-C-G), and very high range (high G!). “Call and response” dynamic variation in his phrases. Especially in the last two bars of this chorus.

Ch. 7 – Very strong staccato blasts in opening phrases, and shakes and slurs. Beautiful working of the blues changes towards end of chorus—one could call it “descending chromatic blues arpeggiation.” (!)

Ch. 8 – Double-tonguing a single C as an opening motivic statement. One note phrase, and a double-high C!

Ch. 9 – The band is now in with backgrounds, JW interacts with the saxes with his own blues “moans,” and finishes the chorus with more bebop language phrases. He knows his solo is almost over.

Ch. 10 – Last chorus. The band modulates up a forth, so we are suddenly in a blues in concert E flat. Again, JW interacts with and “answers” the band’s phrases, and plays blues phrases going up to a double-high B flat! He finishes with more bebop phrases right up to the exact moment the band comes to the “shout chorus” and he is out.

This is truly Julius Watkins at his best, and this is really a great moment in mid-20th century African-American music. (Or ALL music, period.)

Julius would have been around 39 years old. Quincy would have been around 27!

The You Tube version I just watched was this one, and JW’s solo is at 53:00: It is also interesting to compare other versions, such as Quincy Live in Paris, Live in Germany, etc. JW also solos on the minor blues Big Red as well. When they got back to NYC, they later recorded in the studio – here is the studio version: — it is slower, and JW only gets about four choruses.

Enjoy it, friends, and please add any thoughts or corrections! And, THANK YOU Julius Watkins.


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Common Myths

What are the most common myths and misconceptions about French horn in non-classicalmusic.

My contribution is:

  1. The French horn can’t play fast enough to keep up with the other jazz instruments.
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Intro: review of video

Julius Watkins with Quincy Jones Big Band

Dear friends—John Clark has asked me to write a short piece about a fantastic solo by jazz horn pioneer Julius Watkins, as a member of the Quincy Jones Big Band, from a Switzerland performance in 1960.

With the holidays and full-time teaching, oops, I haven’t finished it. BUT, here is an “intro teaser” collection of thoughts on this solo—and I will have my “real essay” to you all in early January.

But first, listen to Julius on this video—at 21:35 they play the Ernie Wilkins composition “Everybody’s Blues,” and the Julius solo is at 25:15. He takes ten choruses! Listen to his variation of “mystery long tones on the blues form,” his use of adapted bebop language, his strong motifs, and his high range. Thought one: many of these players were all so young in 1960! Thought two: several of the players were old friends of Quincy from Seattle’s Garfield High school, some of whom later settled back in Seattle. Thought three: it was only about 14, 15, and 16 years later that John Clark, Vincent Chancey, and I met and interacted with Julius, either as a fellow horn player or as a student. Also, there are other videos out of the band playing in Germany and France at the same time, and it’s interesting to compare the performances.   Alright friends, have a great holiday, and a lot more on these thoughts in early January! Best—Tom V

PS: please BUY this video! —

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Thanks again to Ken Pope,

and be sure to stop in there

for all your holiday shopping needs!

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Great Julius Watkins Video!

It’s possible to find quite a few videos of Julius playing, but to me, this one stands out.  He plays a great solo, and I’m pretty sure it’s the longest solo by Julius, that I’ve ever heard (10 choruses of the blues!).  The Julius solo begins at about 25:10.

We’ve asked our contributor, Tom Varner to review this video and that will appear soon.  Meanwhile, we’d love to hear your comments.  Enjoy!

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We Have a Winner!

Mike Simpson has correctly identified the four soloists in the contest!  (and I thought it was going to be really difficult…….)  Mike will enjoy $100 worth of stuff at Ken Pope’s store, and I would like you all to see this short interview with our winner:

XtalkXwalk:How did you go about ruling out/identifying players in the contest?

Mike: On all of the recorded examples, I listened for the identifying characteristics of:

  • horn sound
  • note choices
  • attacks and articulations, and
  • typical accompaniment

    Then I went back to my listening library, and listened to examples of artists for comparison.

    On the first cut, I heard a round, darker tone, with very little edge. The attack on the notes was clean and smooth, and the note choices were pretty close to the melody, with very little excess. Tessitura was not too high or too low, and the player made it sound easy and logical to develop the tune the way he did. That all describes a typical Willie Ruff improvisation to me; beautiful, classical horn sound, no notes that aren’t necessary, extremely logical development. The clincher was the piano accompaniment, which is Mr. Ruff’s typical setting, with Dwike Mitchell as his duet partner.

    On the second tune, the tone was a little brighter, but still in an idiomatic classical sound concept. Still pretty clean attacks, but improvisation choices were more rhythmically driven. This made me consider Adam Unsworth. The clincher was hearing the vibes accompaniment, which Mr. Unsworth uses on his recording, “Next Step”.

    On the third tune, I heard a more individual horn sound, not really your typical classical sound. There was that little bit of burr in the sound, and less concern for attacks. The whole ensemble was a lot more wild sounding, and the horn player played a lot more notes, with great fluidity. The two players that came to mind were Vincent Chancey and Tom Varner. At first, I was leaning toward Vincent, because the range I initially heard was pretty high, and that’s less typical of Tom’s playing. But on a subsequent listening, I picked out a typical Tom run from bass clef range up to the top of the treble clef, in a scaler fashion. That is something that I’ve heard often in Tom’s playing, and don’t recall ever hearing in Mr. Chancey’s solos.

    Finally, on the last recorded example, I heard a more rounded sound, but with a few rougher attacks. The improvisation was more steeped in the blues, and overall was more standard blues/jazz, definitely not avant garde or free jazz. The list of possible suspects that popped into my head were Julius Watkins, John Graas, Gunther Schuller, or David Amram. I eliminated Mr. Watkins based on range and tonal quality, and I eliminated Mr. Graas and Mr. Schuller based on tonal quality and attacks. I listened to a little “Travelling Blues” from David Amram and Friends, and decided Amram was my man.

XtalkXwalk: Would you tell us a little bit about your background and what you do?

Mike: I’m a teacher and freelance horn player in the Seattle area. I’m a band director in the public schools of Washington State, maintain a private horn studio, and gig as much as I can. My working trio is JazzHorn, which features horn, guitar, and bass on the Great American Songbook, along with some stylish originals. I have compositions and arrangements for Jazz horn in various settings, as well as my c.d.’s, “JazzHorn” and “JazzHorn Too!” available on my website,

“I am an experienced Jazz and Classical French Horn player who has performed all over the world. As an arranger and composer, my music has been performed by horn …
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