David (The Doctor Of Bebop) Watson
Born in Fort Meyers, Florida on May 30, 1937, David grew up in Philadelphia. “I started singing when I was in third or fourth grade,” he remembers, “and I have mostly listened to jazz all of my life. Ella was my first love. Her singing turned my head around when I was around seven years old.” After hearing Ella Fitzgerald, he knew that that was the musical direction that he was born to follow. He sang in talent shows and school concerts and was particularly inspired by Nat Cole, Cab Calloway, the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots. David also became a very skilled scat-singer, learning from the recordings of Ella, Eddie Jefferson, Jon Hendricks, Dizzy Gillespie, Betty Carter, and King Pleasure. “I remember being a teenager at parties and seeing people dance to jazz. It was always the music that interested me the most. In Philadelphia at that time one could go to practically any bar and hear jazz playing, live and on jukeboxes. I would often sing along with the records including to Eddie Jefferson and Jon Hendricks; that is how I learned to sing jazz.”
As a teenager, David went to Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts, other concerts, and hung outside of many jazz clubs. After he grew up and went into the Army, he returned to Philadelphia and scored a job as a bartender for four years at the Showboat Jazz Theater, finding that musicians consistently encouraged him. David learned from many of the jazz immortals while working at The Showboat. During that period, he taught himself drums and mastered the difficult task of playing and singing at the same time. David later moved to California, attending Santa Rosa Junior College and the College of the Marin, playing gigs at night with Michele Hendricks in a band they called Chelsea. On a couple of gigs, Jon Hendricks sat in with the group, as did the members of the Manhattan Transfer after a concert in San Francisco.Later as a professional vocalist and drummer, he had opportunities to play with such greats as Michele Hendricks, Billy James, Sam Dockery, Shirley Scott, Mickey Roker, Bob Cranshaw, Michael LeDonne, Essiet Essiet, Sylvia Cuenca, Bobby Hutcherson, John Handy, Eddie Henderson, Milt Jackson, Joe Sample, and Stanley Turrentine among others. And wherever David lived, “The Doctor of Bebop” brought his love of jazz including eight years in Hawaii, and periods in Alaska and the San Francisco Bay area. He performed at a countless number of clubs, wineries, concerts and special events during the past 40 years in addition to booking other jazz artists. Since 2012, he has been a major part of the Portland jazz scene.
Back in 1998, David Leshare Watson formed the Music In The Vines label, making his recording debut with the impressive Imprisoned Splendor. In addition to some vintage pieces (including “September In The Rain,” “Polka Dots And Moonbeams” and “A Hundred Years From Today”), the set introduced some of David’s originals including “Fat Cat” and “Please Take Me Back To New Orleans.” Since then, the singer has recorded other enjoyable albums including Loves Swinging Soft & Ballads, Live At Lo Spuntino, Let’s Swing Christmas, His Happy Feeling, and Big Town.
“We had such a great time recording the Big Town album,” remembers David. “It is funny but I had been good friends with Mickey Roker for a long time before my Mom told me that we were actually cousins. I had no idea.” On Big Town, David was joined by Roker on drums, veteran bassist Bob Cranshaw (best known for his 40 years with Sonny Rollins), and a brilliant pianist, Michael LeDonne, who was recommended by the drummer. “Mickey said that I couldn’t do any better than him, and he was right. We recorded everything in three days and it turned out great.” Big Town is highlighted by the title cut (a composition by vibraphonist Joe Locke for which David wrote the lyrics, saluting jazz history in New York, his cousin, and jazz in general), the singer’s new piece “Our Night In Heaven,” several blues, and his lyrics to “Limehouse Blues” (renamed “Ball & Trane”).
David Leshare Watson, who co-founded the group Re-Birthing The Cool, Bebop N Beyond with multi-instrumentalist Pete Petersen (resulting in two CDs so far), is profiled in the short film David Watson – The Doctor of Bebop. He remains very committed to spreading the gospel of jazz and he looks forward to gigging much more now that the pandemic is nearing its end. “I try to always be creative like any top jazz instrumentalist, performing jazz songs and originals. I am going to sing jazz the rest of my life, until I can’t do it any longer. As long as I love the music, I have no plans to stop.”
Pete Petersen has worked with many big bands (including the Harry James Orchestra, the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, the Portland Jazz Orchestra, the Ezra Weiss Big Band, the Carlton Jackson/Dave Mills Big Band, and Art Abrams’ Swing Machine), has been greatly in demand as a tenor-saxophonist for work with pop/rock groups and horn sections, and has led his own group “Porkpie” for quite a few years. His most recent CD Keep Your Hat On was released on the Pony Boy Records label. Petersen plays baritone sax and bass clarinet with Rebirthing The Cool, Bebop N Beyond in addition to contributing arrangements.
Pianist David Kim was featured as a soloist with the Oregon Symphony as a teenager. Since discovering jazz, he has worked regularly in the Portland area during the past decade, playing in a style influenced by Oscar Peterson, Red Garland, Erroll Garner and Bill Charlap.