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Published:December 17th, 2006 04:16 EST
Judyth Piazza attends class with Professor Watson

Judyth Piazza attends class with Professor Watson

By Nancy Lee Wolfe (HR Development/Content Manager)

The multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist Kenny Watson has paid his dues to be where he is.  Admirers inevitably tell him how talented he is.  Kenny sees it differently.  There are many talents, " he will say, I`m not so talented. I just work hard. "

To the unfamiliar this may seem self-deprecating.  Not so.  Rather it is an expression of the respect and admiration Kenny holds for those who came before.

Kenny has worked with some of the greatest musicians of our day.  His evaluations and commentaries are highly regarded yet he still strives to study at the feet of the Masters.

A prodigy at 8 and the youngest member ever to play in the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra, Kenny followed what he calls his route to success.  After his tour of duty with the Marine Corp Band, Kenny was out of work.

He maintained his focus and discipline always contending that, no matter what, Players play. "  This means taking your ax and combing every dive in the vicinity to find a pick-up jam session.  It means playing for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs even funerals to work; to play.

Following decades of devotion to his craft, Kenny Watson is the favorite son of countless families.  He is revered on return engagements as a conquering hero.  No doubt much of this adulation is expressed because he is so truly gifted.  But it is more than that.

Kenny Watson is known as The Professor and The Victor Borge of the violin.  His fans praise his work and salute his genius.  Yet perhaps among the many characters created by Mr. Watson is one not so visible to standing-ovation audiences.

Kenny`s peers point to his gentle and generous heart.  Freely he gives advice, hope and council to young musicians struggling to survive.  He has been known to produce professional and complimentary Lead sheets for want-to-be songwriters and organized charts for exasperated arrangers. He invests in those to come.

Judy Piazza`s interview reveals the passion and persistence of a master craftsman along with the practical advice of a talented and gifted performer.

Hi, Kenny.  It`s a pleasure to have you on the show.

Thank you.

You have a very interesting career.  Tell us a little bit about Kenny.

I`m a multi-instrumentalist.  I play all the instruments but harp.  It started when I was 8 years old when I went to the first grade. (laughing)  I was thinking back the other day:  I went to school and the teacher said, "Tomorrow I`ll have a table full of instruments.  You pick the instrument you want."

So the next day when I got to school, I picked up a brand new shinny trumpet.  She took it out of my hand and said, "Oh, no, Kenny. Your mother wants you to play this." and stuck a violin in my hands.

(laughing) What did you think about that?

Oh, I didn`t care for that at all.  I hated the violin.  But I studied and studied and studied and just kept practicing.  When I got to high school I was really lucky. I had a teacher who saw some potential.  He guided me through all the instruments in the orchestra and in the band. I was able to play everything and write for everything before I even left high school.  By the time I got out of high school, I was already five years in the Fresno Philharmonic-- that`s California-- I was already five years in the symphony there.  So, I had a real head start.

Do you have a musical family as well?

My brother played clarinet that`s why I wanted to play trumpet.  I thought it would be neat, you know, being a trumpet player with his clarinet. But that never came to be.

Of course, I wound up playing clarinet.  Then, when I left high school I went in the Marine Band.  I wanted to make sure I made it so I auditioned on tuba because I knew they needed tuba players.  Then I did one parade and I said, "I don`t want to do this anymore."

But they said there were no openings for other instruments unless I left the States.  I found out there was an opening in Okinawa for clarinet.  So, I re-auditioned on clarinet and went straight to Okinawa as a clarinet player. (laughing)

My father was in the Marine Corp Band.

You were telling me that.

I`m not sure what year, though, and I believe he played the trumpet.

I was in from 1959 to 1963

What did you think about the Marine Corp Band?

Well, I found out that they are Marines first and they are musicians second although the musicianship is incredible.  As soon as I got out of the Marine Band that`s when I went to college for music composition.  But the Marine Band really got my chops up; taught me how to really play.  I was upright bass player in their jazz band and I was a clarinet player on the march.

Well now I heard that you perform on Cruise Ships.  Tell us a little bit about that.

Well I do a mult-instrumentalist act.  I work for five cruise companies.  I only play three instruments.  I play trumpet, mandolin and violin.  I used to play a lot more but it became too cumbersome to play all the instruments. I played banjo, guitar and trombone.  It was just too much to carry around so I just carry the three.

Believe me, that`s quite enough with today`s ritual and plane flights and how security has clamped down.

Tell us about the Cruise industry.  Have you noticed any changes there?

There really hasn`t been a big change except they have increased the amount of ships that are out there.  More people are cruising these days and it`s really strange.  With the world the way it is today, you would think cruises would be declining.  But it seems to be advancing and they`re adding more and more ships and larger ones.

I want to know how you stay so fit working on a Cruise ship with all of that great food?

(laughing)  Well, I stay away from it.  You learn after awhile what your working weight is and you just try to stay in that area.

I went on a cruise for 5 days once and I think I gained like 15 pounds. (laughing)

That`s easy to do if you don`t watch it.  But I have a curriculum I adhere to and it keeps me fit.

Tell us what key quality you believe that all successful people share.

I think it starts from the very beginning.  It`s who inspires you and then you try to emulate them.  Then during the trek you discover another route and you just follow that route.

I`ve always liked instrumentalists so I`ve always listened to certain instrumentalists through the years.  Then later when I became an arranger, I started listening to arrangers.

Who were some of the instrumentalists that you listened to?

Oh, geez, (laughing) I remember when I was a kid, I thought I`d like to be in Jazz and I thought the Ray Conniff Singers were jazz -- I had to laugh at that.
 
But I listened to Joe Vanuti, Roland Kirk, Jeff Baker, Bela Fleck, Django and Grappelli and Tommy Emmanuel and Ricky Scaggs for instrumentalists.  They`re just great players.

And then for arrangers, it depends.  Everybody writes a different way.  I like Grusin and Mancini but I also like the movie arrangers like Howard Shore, John Williams and James Horner.

But because I`m working on cruise ships I listen to more small band arrangers which are more in my area right now.  There`s a cat who lives in town here.  His name is Bob Glendon.  I listen to him and Dave Wolpe.  Then there are a couple of acts that travel the cruise ships who are good writers called the Finkle Brothers, Ian and Elliot Finkle.

If a young person were to approach you today and say that they wanted to play an instrument, what advise would you give them?

Well, of course the 3 Ps-- Practice, Practice, Practice.  But, like I said, you have to find the person you want to emulate and listen to them and try to play like them and then you`ll discover another route to your success.  You just keep sticking to it and keep practicing and keep doing the things you like to do on the instruments.  It will lead some place but we don`t know where it will lead.  And you may not know either.

What is something that someone has said to you that you always remember to pass on to others?

Patience-- which I do not have. (laughing)

Well, it`s hard to find patience. (laughing) Tell our listeners how they can find out more about you and your music.

I do have a website called ProfessorWatson.com.  That`s the name of my act, Professor Watson.  I don`t know if you`ve seen me before but my hair is longer and I`m balding on top and when I come out, my hair is sticking all out at the sides.  I look like a really mad professor coming out so that`s how I named my act.

But it`s called ProfessorWatson.com you can go to www.professorwatson.com or just ProfessorWatson.com and you`ll get right there.

It`s been a pleasure talking with you today, Kenny, and I hope that you`ll come back.

Thank you, Judy.  Please ask me again.