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Noted American saxophonist Bobby Watson brings a reunion performance of his legendary jazz quintet, Horizon, to Lafayette’s Williams Center for the Arts at 8 p.m. Friday, March 23.

Tickets cost $18 and can be ordered by calling the box office, (610) 330-5009.

Joining Watson are all of the original Horizon members, drummer Victor Lewis, pianist Ed Simon, trumpeter Terell Stafford, and Nigerian bassist Essiet Essiet. Lewis performed at the Williams Center earlier this year in Ray Drummond’s “Excursions” concert, and Simon returns to the Williams Center from earlier appearances with Paquito D’Rivera and Terrance Blanchard. Stafford and Essiett make their Williams Center debuts.

A veteran of many celebrated jazz ensembles, Watson burst on the scene in 1976, when he moved to New York City, and was soon hired by Art Blakey to tour with his “Jazz Messengers,” a spawning ground for young talents that also launched the careers of Wynton Marsalis, Terrance Blanchard, Mulgrew Miller, and many others. Watson went on to form many bands of his own, each with a different musical character and jazz aesthetic. In 1983, he cofounded the 29th Street Saxophone Quartet (with Ed Jackson, Jim Hartog, and Rich Rothenburg), which has enjoyed worldwide success ever since. In 1984, he worked with Max Roach on the music for playwright Sam Shepard’s Shepard’s Sets. In 1985, Watson toured with a band called the Young Lions, which had Englishman Guy Barker on trumpet, and in 1987, he formed the nine-piece High Court Of Swing for a record dedicated to Johnny Hodges, The Year Of The Rabbit. After recording several records for the Italian Red label, including the outstanding Love Remains, Watson signed with Blue Note Records and formed the group Horizon with drummer Victor Lewis, bringing a rhythmic punch and sense of humor to the music that fully justified the title of their 1991 album, Post-Motown Bop.

There was good reason for the popularity: Watson, drummer Victor Lewis, bass player Essiet Essiet, pianist Edward Simon and trumpeter Terrell Stafford were more than just a group of excellent jazz musicians — jazz fans recognized that they were one of the best bands they could ever have the pleasure of hearing. The musicians, who had been performing together for years, were playing at an intuitive level that seemed to push the energy and excitement higher every time they returned. Watson had always blended elements of Motown R&B and Southern funk and blues into the acoustic jazz played by Horizon, which was one of the reasons the group had such major appeal in the early ’90s.

Born in 1953, in Lawrence, Kansas, Watson comes from a musical family; his father played tenor saxophone, as well as working at tuning saxophones and repairing instruments. He played piano from the age of 10, and took up clarinet when he was 12 years old. In his teens he was playing saxophone in R&B bands, then studied music theory at the University of Miami between 1972 and 1975. In 1976, he relocated to New York and joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers the following year, later becoming the group’s musical director. By the time Watson left in 1981, he had produced some of the best late-period Messengers music. A number he wrote then, “ETA (Estimated Time Of Arrival)”, became a theme tune for him. Watson’s intense, crystalline alto saxophone sound was much in demand, and he played with George Coleman (1981 onwards) and Charlie Persip (1982 onwards). In the mid-’90s he recorded work for Columbia Records, before attempting to cross over to the urban R&B market with his group Urban Renewal.

The Lafayette Performance Series is supported in part by grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. The 2000-2001 Jazz Series is underwritten by a special grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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