Saskatoon musicians remember jazz drummer Bill Watson

Saskatoon has lost one of the last of the old-time consummate jazz musicians, Bill Watson.

Known as the 'King of Broadway', Watson died this week

Bill Watson (left) died on July 15, 2014 at the age of 73.

Saskatoon has lost one of the last of the old-time consummate jazz musicians. Bill Watson, known by his friends as the 'King of Broadway,' died this week at the age of 73.

For decades, Watson was an intense jazz drummer who never went anywhere without his straw hat. 

Skip Kutz first met Watson in the 1960s, an introduction he'll never forget.

"[Watson] actually played with my dad and Gordie Brandt," Kutz said. "They has a weekly jazz show, which is unheard of in the 1960s. Nobody put jazz on TV, especially in the middle of nowhere out in Saskatchewan.” 

Kutz and Watson eventually went on to play music together in Vancouver. 

"We worked a lot and Bill also played even more on the weekends," Kutz said. "He played with Henry Young and some of the finest players in Vancouver jazz gigs. He played at the strip clubs. He played everywhere.”

He didn't open a restaurant to sell food. He was selling jazz.- Don Griffith

Don Griffith, a long-time Saskatoon musicians and Artistic Director at the Bassment, started playing with Watson in the 1980s.

“Bill was one-of-a-kind," Griffith said. "As soon as we got on stage, I thought, ‘This guy is serious about music.’ It was a blues gig, but you could tell there was something about him. The way that he played, I knew he was a jazz drummer.”

In the ’90s, Watson and his partner Bev opened Emily's restaurant. But Griffith said Watson wasn't in the business to be a restaurateur.

“I think about somebody opening a restaurant, a 20-seat restaurant, and presenting live jazz — you're not going to see that ever again," Griffith said. "Bill did that because he believed in music. He didn't open a restaurant to sell food. He was selling jazz.”

Both Kutz and Griffith said Watson will also be remembered for his kindness, humility, respect and his role as a mentor for young musicians.

“Bill did teach me passion," Griffith said. "He was passionate his entire life about music and he passed that on to lots of younger musicians. I'd be playing gigs with Bill and he'd be 60-years-old, playing with 19-year-old kids. And they'd be looking at this guy and he'd be kicking their butts.”


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