Jazz guitarist Watson debuts album at concert Saturday
Jazz guitarist Steve Watson has performed with Bruce Hornsby and Dolly Parton, but in Greenville he's probably best known as a teacher at WatsonWood Music and the Greenville school district's Fine Arts Center.
Watson will be joined by other prominent Greenville musicians for a jazz concert Saturday to celebrate the release of his second album, "Heat it Up."
Watson's show, 7 p.m. at the Fine Arts Center, features drummer Big Tez Sherard (who plays with Edwin McCain and Mac Arnold, among others) as well as saxophonist Doug Norwine, guitarist Rusty Milner, bassist Greg Alewine and keyboardist Hazen Bannister.
Watson's new album offers a set of contemporary jazz numbers with a funky vibe, he said.
"It's my Memphis soul roots with jazz," Watson said.
"Heat it Up" follows Watson's 2011 release, "Watson's Riddle," which rose to No. 13 on Billboard's Jazz Contemporary charts.
Also included in Saturday's show will be two students: keyboardist Wendel Donald and vocalist Israel Taylor.
The concert is one of a series of performances in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Fine Arts Center, the state's first secondary school for talented students in the literary, visual and performing arts.
Watson's recent album features the work of several of his Fine Arts Center colleagues. Jon Grier wrote a string arrangement, John Ravnan's string quartet performed, Rob Fincannon provided photography and Eddie Howard engineered and produced the CD.
Watson plans to take Saturday's show on the road, with a Feb. 5 concert at Furman University, plus future performances at Anderson University, Clemson University and the Hilton Head Jazz Festival.
Watson, a Greenville native, attended Greenville High School, married his high school sweetheart, Susan Perrin, and later would meet pop singer Bruce Hornsby at the University of Miami.
Watson worked extensively with Hornsby in the 1980s and was the guitarist on Parton's self-titled variety show in 1988. Watson lived for several years in Los Angeles where he worked as a studio musician and taught jazz guitar in a program he helped develop at the University of Southern California.
As a studio musician, Watson was part of an ensemble that provided music for such TV shows as "Hill Street Blues," "Magnum P.I." and "The A-Team."
"We had at one point eight TV episodes going on every week," Watson said.
In the late 1980s, TV studios began paring back their musical requirements. Ensembles of up to 30 musicians were being replaced by synthesizers or small groups.
"My wife and I decided it had been a good run, but it might be better to leave at the top," Watson said.
In 1990, now with two young daughters, Watson and his wife moved back to Greenville to start a business, WatsonWood Music, which provides private lessons to students in guitar, bass and drums.
In the same year, the Fine Arts Center decided to start a jazz program and Watson was the obvious choice for director of jazz studies — a position he's held since that time.
Watson also is an adjunct professor at Furman University. In addition, every Sunday he can be found at High Cotton in downtown Greenville, playing with the Ian Bracchitta Trio.
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