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"We Always Swing" Jazz Series Releases "Soulful Serendipity" Featuring James Williams & Bobby Watson

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“We Always Swing" Jazz Series releases Soulful Serendipity. Historic CD Features James Williams & Bobby Watson in ONLY Duo Appearance & Recording

“House Concert," recorded in Columbia, Mo., June 14, 2003, captures two jazz favorites in concert.


COLUMBIA, MO—The “We Always Swing" Jazz Series announced it has just released the much-anticipated and long-awaited Soulful Serendipity, a live CD featuring the late pianist James Williams and saxophonist Bobby Watson in concert. The performance and recording, captured June 14, 2003, in Columbia, Mo., as a “House Concert" marks the ONLY time the two “middle generation" jazz greats performed solely as a duo in their respective illustrious careers that dates to their days with Art Blakey as Jazz Messengers.

The 77-minute CD is significant for many reasons. For starters, net proceeds from the sale of the limited edition 2,000-copy pressing will be shared equally between the Jazz Series, which formally named its education program after Williams upon his July 20, 2004, passing, and UMKC Conservatory of Music, which Watson has directed since 1999.

The recording is an unexpected gift. The occasion of Watson and Williams performing was a fund-raising concert offered on behalf of the Jazz Series, which operates as a not-for-profit organization. Shortly before the two former Jazz Messengers hit their first notes they realized this was the first time in their illustrious careers that they played as a duo.

“That alone makes this an extraordinary document," said Jon Poses, who founded the Jazz Series in 1995 and serves as its executive director. “You would think by default, as many times and in as many settings that Bobby and James either shared the bandstand or a recording studio that there would be such a configuration. Amazingly not," said Poses, adding, the release is bittersweet given the way - liver cancer - and the speed in which Williams passed away.

“I know that James would be extremely pleased with the effort and the result," said Poses, noting that it was only after the pianist's passing that he and Watson agreed to even consider turning the recording into a finished product. Poses asked Watson to first revisit the setting - which consisted of two nearly 90-minute sets - to see if the saxophonist felt the music was representative of he and Williams. “When I decided to pursue and assemble this project it meant that I had to listen to the original masters from this recording many, many times. It was a very emotional experience for me," writes Watson who, along with others, contributed comments to the extensive liner notes for Soulful Serendipity.

At the time of the special event, which took place at the home of Jazz Series supporters Robert and Pat Gaines, little did anyone know it would become such an essential piece of modern jazz history. “That's where we got the title from," says Poses. “The whole production - because of who Bobby and James are as people - was one filled with soul and serendipity."

Watson and Williams first met as Jazz Messengers in 1977 - their respective four-year stints with the legendary drummer virtually identical. During his stay, Williams participated in 10 Jazz Messengers recordings; Watson is, by most accounts, the all-time leader with 11 Messengers recording credits to his name. “This was an extremely difficult project to complete," said Poses, noting there was a nine-month period following Williams' death that he simply could not think about the release or write the liner notes. “It was just too hard."

Poses met the late pianist in the mid-1980s and the two became professional “friends," organizing a multitude of engagements and tours together including those for the Contemporary Piano Ensemble, the four-piano plus rhythm section sextet. Poses has known Watson for an equal length of time and serves as non-exclusive representative for the saxophonist booking him on as own as well as attracting gigs for his influential small group, Horizon. Poses and Watson - as evidenced by this project - still work closely together today.

“I know James would be pleased to know that the proceeds from this recording are going to the jazz program at the University of Missouri Kansas City's Conservatory of Music, to the “We Always Swing" Jazz Series in Columbia and to other jazz education projects," writes Watson in his commentary.

Soulful Serendipity, which is already receiving national attention, is on sale now. The CD is available for $17 (plus $4 S/H) through the Jazz Series as well as UMKC and other select self-distributed outlets. “We're very happy the way the recording turned out," said Poses, who said the disc was mixed and mastered by award-winning engineer Bob Katz at his Orlando-based Digital Domain. Soulful Serendipity boasts a four-color, 20-page booklet designed by Lafiya Watson, the daughter of Watson and his wife, vocalist Pam Baskin-Watson, who contributes a reading of “Skylark" as a special guest.

In addition to Watson's and Baskin-Watson's heartfelt thoughts, Branford Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Marian McPartland and others close to Williams also contributed to the liner notes. “JW was beloved by many, many people. There are so many people in the jazz community who miss James." Poses says although this is not a memorial album for or a tribute album to Williams that he and Watson felt all the circumstances surrounding the concert warranted the release of Soulful Serendipity.


The “We Always Swing" Jazz Series is administered by “We Always Swing," Inc., a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation based in Columbia, Missouri. The Jazz Series was created to present, promote, preserve and celebrate the great American art form known as “Jazz." In addition to ticket revenue streams, the Jazz Series, a concert producing and educational endeavor, receives funds from the National Endowment for the Arts; Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the City of Columbia (Mo.) Office of Cultural Affairs through its Commission for the Arts; and area businesses and companies. Additional support comes from individual tax-deductible contributions.


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