It is with
great sadness that we have to report the death of James (Jimmy) Watson on
From Philip Monk
Many of you knew Jimmy much better than me when he was an adult and a professional musician. But I had the privilege of knowing Jimmy very well indeed when he was a child and a teenager and he was a great influence on me.
I’ve only had two heroes in my life – Eric Pinkett and Jimmy Watson. In Jimmy’s case I wanted to be like him. Because he was one year older I looked up to him like an older brother. Not only did I want to play as well as he did but I wanted to be as popular and charismatic and possess his sense of humour.
At the age of 10 my Dad took me to our local brass band and urged them to take me under their wing as a junior cornet player. By the age of 11 I was doing pretty well and the bandmaster entered me into my first solo contest at Kettering Rifles band club.
I performed a piece called Angus McDonald and I thought I played quite well before I left the stage to sit in the audience. The next boy up was a little taller than me and had blonde hair. He started to play his piece and I was shocked to realise that he was also playing Angus McDonald. But loads better than me! I consulted my Dad’s program to discover that the player was called James Watson. He won the contest of course, and to make it worse his brother Bobby came second! I came nowhere.
Inspired by this James Watson I went back home where I practiced furiously for three months and then entered the Leicestershire Area Solo contest. I arrived and the first person that I saw was James Watson who acknowledged me with a nod. He won again of course. And so began two years of me trying my hand at every Solo Contest in the midlands but Watson was there every time and I never did win anything. When Jimmy was 14 yrs old he won both the Junior and Senior Open Solo Championship of Great Britain in the same year. At this point I gave up contesting!
It is generally acknowledged in brass band circles that Jimmy’s feat of the double championship at age 14 yrs is never likely to be equalled again.
But Jimmy had already inspired me to try and improve my playing and I made progress. At the age of 14yrs I joined the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra in the Junior Section. By 16yrs old I had graduated to the Senior orchestra and the first person that I saw on entering the trumpet section in my debut rehearsal was Jimmy Watson. No contesting this time just a huge amount of fun.
What a privilege it was for me to sit next to the greatest teenage trumpeter of our generation. How I loved the challenge of trying to play to his standards. But Jimmy was not just a great musician but also had such a wicked sense of humour. We often amused ourselves in the long rests by throwing paper at others in the orchestra. At times we played as loud as we could in to the earholes of whoever was sitting in front of us. If you were a brass player and let your instrument out of your sight you would find the mouthpiece missing when you recovered your instrument. If we agreed that the conductor was useless we would sometimes play a couple of lines a quarter tone higher.
orchestra toured Austria in 1968 and Germany in 1969. By the time we arrived in
I moved to London when I was 19yrs and shortly afterwards was invited to join the new City of London band under Geoffrey Brand. I went along to my first band practice in good spirits thinking that I might be sitting high in the cornet section. The first person that I saw when I walked in the bandroom was Jimmy. Second man down again.
I lost touch with Jimmy over the years as our lives took different directions. The last time that we played together was at the LSSO reunion concert in 1998. I was so looking forward to meeting him and soon found him in the foyer of the concert hall where we were to play. I said something like ‘great to see you again Jimmy’. He looked at me directly, smiled, and said ‘if you play a wrong note I’ll bloody kill you’.
I’ve been living in Uganda for three and half years now where I am trying to establish a brass band movement. I’ve been lucky enough to establish six brass bands. As my children walk with no shoes along dusty paths, and as we practice hymn tunes from our red books, they have no idea who Jimmy Watson was. One day soon I shall explain to them what sort of man and player he was and perhaps play them some of his music. They will learn how Jimmy inspired and influenced me as I learned from him and his legacy will live on in hundreds of African children playing a brass instrument.
From John Whitmore
Dear Tom and Will,
I got your email address from Ken Bache via Philip Monk. Tom, we did speak
very briefly on the phone on Monday but I felt that I had to put something
in writing. My time with the LSSO was very special to me and my memories of
those years in the late 1960s remain fresh. I remember the excellence of the
music making but more importantly the friendships that were made. Your Mum
and Dad were two of the people that made my time special and I remember them
with great warmth. They were always together right from the very start when
Jimmy joined the orchestra for the trip to
Dad, Philip Monk and myself were dumped in a youth hostel in
the remaining 90 odd members of the orchestra were looked after by local
families. We were given a map of the city and that's about it. There's even
a short piece of film showing us wandering around the city. We didn't half
have a laugh though!! The
twinkle in Sir Michael Tippett's eye as Jimmy produced a magnificent
performance in a packed Philharmonie. At the end Jimmy gently raised one
finger - he split (marginally) one note. I don't know whether he was pleased
or fed up! One press review said - "The trumpeter alone was worth the
visit". In later years Sir Michael always spoke very highly of your Dad.
Having been based in
I've had little opportunity to meet up with your Mum and Dad and other LSSO
friends over the years. I saw them both at the three LSSO reunions and I
also had a chat with Jimmy at the Eric Pinkett memorial concert in 1980 at
the De Montfort Hall, where he played the Haydn concerto. Your Dad never
forgot his roots and I know that he held his LSSO days deep in his heart.
Your Dad was a supreme talent and a great loss to music. I am saddened by
that loss. When I listen to recordings of
Partita, Jimmy immediately springs to mind. My real sadness, however, is the
loss of a friend and despite not seeing much of your Dad since the LSSO days
he was one of those people who remained very much in my psyche. When we did
meet, nothing had really changed. As we chatted in 1998 at the Wigston
reunion it could have been 1968 despite us going our separate ways all those
years ago. The wicked sense of humour was very much intact. I'm sure that
you will receive hundreds of notes such as mine. I would be honoured if you
would include this email along with them. I'm thinking of your Mum and the
two of you at this very difficult time. In closing I felt compelled to post
a short tribute to your Dad on YouTube. I hope you approve.
From Peter Nall
Very sad news. Jimmy Watson was a LSSO hero who we all looked up to and he inspired us. I remember him playing the Haydn Concerto at the Pinkett memorial concert the night his son was born (I think?). I remember Des Perkins the Leader walking off stage a little too early after the concerto and Jimmy meeting him as he returned for another curtain call. They did a 'Dosey Doe' to the delight of the audience!! Jimmy was a great presence at Canford Summer School for several years along with the Black Dyke boys. The Wednesday night 'dance band' was never so good as then.... I had the rather daunting task of directing them from the violin, but thankfully I think Jimmy was who, wisely, everyone was really following. A true legend in his own lifetime. I’m sure he will be sorely missed!
From Ken Ferguson
Jimmy was a great personal friend too John and I'm still in shock. I was lucky to have shared many happy years with him at Black Dyke but even happier years at the Desford Colliery Band. This was the band where his heart truly lay. He was always a Leicestershire lad like ourselves and I don't want people to forget that for 4 years, the Desford Band was the finest in the world under his musical direction.
From Sue Wilcox
RIP Jimmy. Only played in the same orchestra as him at the 1998 reunion but what a legend.
Comments on Jimmy’s YouTube performance of Copland’s Quiet City
The world of music will be a sadder place with the death of the great trumpet player Jimmy Watson, not only a fine player but a great teacher and a very larger than life friend. I have some great memories of him especially our time at The Royal Academy and starting out into the music profession. He made his mark and he will never be forgotten. Thank you Jimmy. George Parnaby
A fitting tribute to a great trumpeter, he shall be missed by many. Mike Henry
Simply beautiful. Mark Eager
I bought this record when I was at school and wore it out! Dynamic trumpet playing from a great musician. Andy Crowley
This performance is a magnificent example of Jim's fabulous trumpet playing and musicianship. He was a wonderful friend and colleague who will be very greatly missed. Crispian Steele-Perkins
Thanks John, beautiful choice of music. Jon Box LSSO 1977
I can't think of anyone meaning so much to so many people that had the provilege to have kown him. Jim, your loss remains unbearable; as it ought to be. How fortunate I feel for the recordings even if listening to them is hearbreaking, every time. Omiros Millas
John, good to hear from you - what you have done on You Tube
for Jim has been greatly appreciated by many. My name is Omiros
Millas. I am Nicola Mutton's husband; Nicola is the
Director of Artistic Planning in the RAM and that is how I got to know Jim ten
years ago. He has been a good friend. In
the days before he died we were planning to help him take his sailing boat to a
boat yard and back to fit a bow-thruster; and he was to join us soon in Greece
where we sail often - he cherished the idea of playing Rule Britannia on a boat
in the med. Love of music and love of the sea was something we shared. He decided that Nicola, who is a violinist,
should really become a trumpet player; bought her a trumpet earlier last year
and taught her enough for the two of them to play trumpet duets arranged for
the occasion for our wedding last September. I should imagine that some very
unusual sounds came out of his office on the third floor of the RAM when she
was getting her starter's lessons.
Again, thanks for the tribute, it was very moving. If you were not at the funeral service on Monday do read the Eulogy at the RAM's website, posted today. There is a reference to your video.
All the best,
Jimmy and LSSO
Dear John what a wonderful tribute...and a wonderful site....how lucky we all were!!!....yours with best wishes Bobby Howes
Eulogy for Jim Watson
Written and read by Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, at Jim's funeral in Marylebone Parish Church on 21st February 2011.
To stand here today as Jim’s student, a close friend and part of Jim’s extended family of Academy colleagues makes me feel both profoundly sad and profoundly privileged. I was going to add in that list, my role as Jim’s boss over the years – but I never felt like Jim’s boss and let’s face it, Jim didn’t really have bosses. The death of this wonderful, big-hearted and generous man has left a huge void in our lives, one which continues to reverberate far and wide. Jim was a colossus who bestrode the musical world, a figure who commanded respect in every possible sphere of the profession. Whilst, in time, we’ll rediscover a celebratory gratitude for Jim’s exceptional career as a great performer and teacher, at present it’s the force of his all-embracing personality which continues to shake us in our corporate sense of loss.
To reflect the impact of this extraordinary man adequately on so many people from different parts of his life, is well-nigh impossible. But there is, I believe, something fundamental which binds us all and that is Jim’s love of belonging. Jim constantly surprised us in his appreciation of people. He exuded an untold passion for connecting with others, and relished any excuse to apply that unforgettable, mischievous twinkle: it was a simple delight for him as it was for us, as recipients. His willingness to lend himself to the bigger picture of humanity was obvious when he played a ‘schmaltzy’ tune – and, yes, the word ‘schmaltz’ had to come in sooner rather than later. He offered himself to anyone who valued his fellowship, as family, friend, colleague and listener. Whether it was teaching the trumpet, walking your dog, filling in for Maurice Murphy in the LSO or reading through some duets, Jim enjoyed being part of our lives as his daily bread.
I’m speaking here not just as a long-standing friend but because I am fortunate and grateful that his Academy family was inextricably part of Jim’s understanding of home, in the broadest sense. His twin homes seemed to be joined by a private underground tunnel between Cassiobury Park Avenue in Watford and the third floor of the Academy (that was, of course, when he wasn’t parking illegally outside the Development Office). For all the remarkable achievements of Jim’s life with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, Royal Opera House, the studio world, the brass band world, his own solo profile and so on, Jim’s constant - in this incredibly full life – was his pride in the Academy.
Jim met Julie, his wife of 38 years, at the Academy, the boys – Will and Tom – were both students at the Academy (and the boys married Academy girls, Louise and Claire). Jim had a 35-year teaching career here, producing generations of players who are amongst the world’s most distinguished professionals and then, of course, in the last 10 years, he ran a peerless, superb department. For the Watson family to share their profound grief with us under the gaze of the Academy is a supreme tribute to the institution and, most of all, to those he taught as students and us, his colleagues. We are all very grateful.
As my 15-year old told me on the day Jim died, ‘it wasn’t just the teaching, Dad, it was everything else’. What that ‘else’ was is key to mourning our loss and, in time, cherishing and building on everything Jim gave and taught us. Indeed, I can already hear him say: ‘Jonathan, you’ll be fine, you don’t need me, get on with it – just don’t cock it up’. During the numerous chats students and staff have had over the last two weeks, we soon realised that Jim had already provided us with a wonderful roadmap, telling us, as he tended to, what was on his mind and what he was planning. Jim talked (boy, did he talk!) and he loved sharing his insights, big and small, the latest idea on the block and the constant self-evaluation of whether he was really up to it. On my mobile, he came up as ‘Legend’ which, of course, he rather liked through pleasurable embarrassment. He and I spoke almost daily: his reasons for calling related to brass business but also emerged simply from a desire to be reassured, to connect. And those were always reasons enough to feel glad he had rung.
Part of Jim’s astonishing ability to furnish us with good things was this paradox of his supreme confidence alongside moments of genuine vulnerability. It was in his DNA, this combination of bravura and insecurity and it was a blessing in the sense that it gave him an uncommon capacity for identifying with others. It made him a brilliant, astute, rounded, sympathetic and irrepressible mentor. Jim knew how to handle success and failure, even if most of his life was a remarkable tale of outstanding achievement. Without these extremes we wouldn’t have had the range of character in his playing or indeed the level of respect from those in his charge at the Academy, students whom he knew were all very different, with very different needs. Pressure and passion went hand in hand for Jim. That was simply the way he was.
Jim’s playing career really is the stuff of legend. Jim was Junior national solo cornet champion for three successive years, and in 1966 – aged 14 – he cleaned up with the Senior national championship as well. He was probably as close to a prodigy as this country’s ever had on the cornet. He was Principal Cornet of the Desford Colliery Band at 11 and continued later as director of that band, followed by a distinguished period with Black Dyke, to reinforce his place as royalty in that movement. How I love those pictures of a gangly 60s youth in a cardigan on a Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra tour, several with him draped round his future wife, Julie. But here, already, you can perceive a serious musical talent who was to become, without doubt, one of the finest, most versatile and recognisable trumpet players in the world.
At 21, after his time at the Academy, Jim was picked out by the great conductor, Rudolf Kempe, to be his Principal Trumpet at the RPO. It was a golden age in British orchestral life and Jim was a central part of it. He soon expanded his career with many other remarkable ensembles, most proudly as the vibrant trumpeting heartbeat of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble – a brass chamber group whose combination of individual talents and audience-following has arguably never been equaled anywhere in the world; the Nash Ensemble and the London Sinfonietta became a regular part of Jim’s life and, soon, he was in the hot seat at the Royal Opera working regularly for the likes of Colin Davis, Georg Solti and other such luminaries. As Colin Davis remarked, ‘if Jimmy was about, something wonderful always happened’. That was a fitting observation on London’s most glamorous trumpet player.
Of course, Jim never relaxed for a moment. If he wasn’t sitting in these exalted chairs, he was off with another orchestra or banging out Star Wars and Superman with Maurice, playing solo recitals, conducting brass bands, youth wind ensembles – great and small, advanced and remedial. Jim wasn’t fussy as long as the conditions allowed the music and the reason for the project to speak loudest. And there was the rub in everything he did as a performer. There were no compromises; if he sniffed out other agendas and politicking which got in the way of his musical ambition and famous work ethic, he became disillusioned and intolerant. For all the success he’d had in competitions in earlier years, he saw the idea of ‘contest’ in the band world as essentially limiting and regressive in an environment where he wanted the value of music-making to prevail above all. His roller-coaster relationship with the brass band movement was often about trying to reconcile traditional and progressive philosophies in a culture he cared about deeply.
If not the most diplomatic man in the world, you knew that Jim’s motivation for speaking his mind was to tell the truth – and that was, primarily, because he was supremely principled in wanting the best for the folk he was with at the time. He famously disagreed with Maurice André at his competition in 2005, a special sadness on account of André’s hero status for Jim. Luckily, they patched it up in front of an audience of 1500 when Maurice apologised. Or Jim thought he had, foreign language always being a bit more of a barrier for Jim than he let on. Just occasionally, one had to whisper in Jim’s ear, ‘Jim, do you really want World War 4 after World War 3 last week?’
Heartbreaking for many of us in the last couple of weeks has been listening to Jim’s playing again. That inimitable sound, so true, honest and touching. Never did you hear anything gratuitous in the playing and no-one could play a tune like Jim. His command and understanding of musical line was uncanny and it made him a fine musical director, too. I fondly recall him picking up his trumpet in an orchestral workshop and showing the violins how to phrase something from the first movement of Tchaikovsky 6. The combination of a supreme ear and knowing the repertoire backwards, often from brass band arrangements, meant he could play almost anything.
From his recordings and performances, we will all have our favourites. Those who haven’t heard his performance of Copland’s ‘Quiet City’, aged 18, in a concert under Sir Michael Tippett at the Berlin Philharmonie, have a treat in store on YouTube. It’s so gloriously assured, thoughtful and mature and at the end, it boasts the loveliest piano I think I’ve ever heard on a trumpet – and to think he’d only transferred to the trumpet from the cornet months earlier. The whole performance is epic, evocative and supremely natural. A hallmark of Jim’s playing for the next 40 years.
We are so fortunate as musicians to be able to hear, forever, the person we admired and loved. It might be Jim’s ‘Trumpet Masterpieces’ disc where he performs the most authoritative and soaring of Hindemith sonatas or his playing of ‘Share my Yolk’ which was always unbearably moving. It was that extraordinary convergence of aristocratic cheese and cultivated soulfulness. His Arutunian Concerto with Black Dyke is thrilling. And, then, you can watch Jim next to Maurice playing Mahler 2 with Gergiev and the LSO only three years ago. What a trumpet section God is assembling up there.
Jim espoused the need to master the fullest range of playing styles before versatility and ‘portfolio careers’ became fashionable watchwords. This principle characterised both his playing career and teaching: the ability and need to do anything demanded of you in the best minstrel tradition. He was not proud, and delivered what the occasion demanded – whether it was music to be enjoyed for it’s own sake or to adorn a ceremony. He would play Gabrieli – as he did so beautifully at Philip Jones’s memorial service – with all the elegance and taste in the world and the next evening, it would be delighting a local band in the ‘Trumpeter’s Lullaby’ with a huge sentimental grin of satisfaction. One moment he could be a dreadful snob about a particular orchestral style, or suchlike, and the next moment he was the shameless populist. Using an old cricketing analogy, Jim, musically, never quite decided whether he wanted to be ‘gentleman’ or ‘player’ and, true to form, he played for both.
Central to Jim’s priceless legacy is his humour – at our expense and his own. Jim adored being the big fella with the bling and the big boat. I once told Jim that I thought he was the Malcolm Allison of the trumpet. Allison, for those not old enough, was a glamorous 1970s football manager who always had to have the biggest cigar and the broadest brimmed hat in the dugout. Allison was a confirmed show-off and so was Jim. We’d all be disappointed if we didn’t regularly hear about the size of his boat, how he’d got that personalised number plate, TPT, free from a cornet-playing mate at DVLC in Swansea. But this was all part of his love of life and it was all done with self-effacing fun and a wry humour. ‘You don’t have to take my advice but I’ve got a big house, a nice car and a massive boat’.
Throughout Jim’s life, teaching was central. His genius was his exceptional ability to enable us to set sail which, in my view, made him one of the most influential professors on any instrument to teach at the Royal Academy. I remember my first trumpet lesson with him as a 16-year old, 33 years ago almost to the day. He made me feel 10-foot tall. The ultimate praise for decades was always ‘dead chuffed with that kiddo, really enjoyed that’. For me, that telling phrase speaks volumes about Jim’s delight in the achievements of young people. It also implied that your playing communicated something convincing and that therefore he regarded you as a fellow musician, a fellow player in a privileged club. But to stay in it, you had to give your all.
I think Jim had very little idea of the life-affirming belief he gave us. He knew he had common sense but he didn’t really know he had magic – if he had, he’d have been impossible. The mystery of Jim’s effect on us lies in its extraordinary wide range. Each day we realise something else in our lives he’s affected. Jim had a kind of in-born authority in judging and knowing, at any one time, what is right and what we all need – from a good old-fashioned Sergeant-Major bollocking to a shoulder to cry on, and everything in between. He often expressed his opinions in vocabulary which left little room for misunderstanding.
‘Don’t give me excuses’, he’d say, ‘I can’t smoke them, I can’t drink them and I can’t put them in the bank. Just get it right’.
But the majority of bon mots were profoundly affectionate. Humour at your expense from an iconic figure is always worth the mild humiliation. ‘I’m going to shoot corn out of an air rifle at your head every time you ask a stupid question’. On tuning, he’d exclaim, ‘push in, pull out or push off’; on articulation, he’d speak of ‘The Royal Academy of Front and Length’. How he loathed short-breathed, pecky playing. ‘You do not have to split anything but anything you do split may be recorded and used in evidence against you.’ But I think my favourite is when he’d lean back and say, ‘It’s nice’ – which meant you’d made no impression on him whatsoever. Most of Jim’s best stories are unrepeatable in church.
Jim may only have been 59 when he died but he gave us several lifetimes of advice, commitment and wisdom. He also had an uncanny ability to sniff out a potential technical problem. Jim knew he’d made mistakes when he was young and therefore he was doubly committed to making sure that it didn’t happen to others. I hugely admired his grounded fairness: he took as much trouble over those who needed more time to develop as the natural stars – and it is a testament to his teaching that so many of his most successful students came up on the ‘inside rail’. He didn’t care if you didn’t get a job, just as long as you did your best.
Our practical task of celebrating Jim’s life and work is to take his legacy forward and build on his achievements. Nothing less than the commitment Jim gave the students at the Academy will do: he has set the bar. Most immediately, we need to support the family who will remain an important part of our lives, within and outside the Academy. And, speaking briefly of mysteries, how astonishing that exactly a week after Jim died, the Academy performed our scheduled Bach cantatas, juxtaposing a work on the gentle sleep of death with a piece called ‘the newborn infant child’. For me, it was a remarkable emblem of one James Watson moving on and, within a few days, a grandson – James Watson – appearing. And what pride Jim had in his family, his wife, his sons, his daughters-in-law and grandchildren, Rebecca and Leila, with whom playing with kites in the park was about as good as it got.
With Jim forever in our minds and hearts, we thank this towering figure for his inestimable influence and friendship. He was one of the kindest men I ever met. I leave you with a short message from a student in the book of condolence which sums up so much: ‘You always knew what to say. You always had time to stop. You never over-looked anyone. You were a second father to me. We will make you proud of us. We will never forget you’.