RIP Bill Watrous

Bill Watrous excerpt from the 1976 DownBeat Awards show, “Spain,” with Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White.

William Russell Watrous III, 8 June 1939 – 2 July 2018, Middletown, Connecticut, USA. Although Watrous took some formal musical tuition and also learned trombone from his father, he was largely self-taught. After playing in semi-professional bands, he studied with Herbie Nichols before turning full-time in the early 60s. He played in bands led by artists such as Billy Butterfield, Kai Winding, Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman. In the late 60s and early 70s he was a studio musician in New York, but kept his jazz career alive playing in several bands for club and record dates. He also formed his own big band, colourfully named Manhattan Wildlife Refuge Big Band, which included Wayne Andre (trombone), Danny Stiles (trumpet), Dick Hyman (piano) and Ed Soph (drums). Relocated in Los Angeles from the mid-70s onwards, he continued to work in studios but made records with Stiles and others.

He also toured Europe, performing and teaching. In 1980 he teamed up with trombonists Winding and Albert Mangelsdorff to form Trombone Summit. At the end of 1996, his big band, renamed Refuge West to suit the California location, recorded Space Available. A dazzling technician with an endless supply of intriguing ideas and concepts, Watrous is one of the most formidable of all contemporary trombonists. His feeling for jazz runs deep and he has never allowed his work to be tainted by the use of technique for its own sake.

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