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Regarding William Russell...

(The following will be part of a wonderful retrospective being put together by Leadology Member and trombonist-educator DELUXE Aric Schneller for The International Trombone Journal. Aric asked me to share my thoughts, so I thought I'd post them here for all of you as well.)

The great William Russell "Bill" Watrous has been an icon in the trombone world since he burst on to our collective consciousness in the 1970s. He'd been on the scene for years of course, but his Manhattan Wildlife Refuge album took our trombone world by storm.

My first memories of Bill Watrous have been added to a profound list of "lightning bolt moments" that turned into my own guiding sonic template and a "trail of breadcrumbs'' (or more appropriately, Reeses' Pieces) that has led me to where I am today. Others on this list of epiphany heroes include Urbie Green, Jimmy Pankow, J.J. Jonson, Maynard Ferguson, Slide Hampton, Dave Bargeron, Christian Lindberg, Joe Alessi, Marshall Gilkes and MANY others!

For me, that first charge of energy from the heavens by Watrous came from the electric tour de force record "Manhattan Wildlife Refuge", specifically Bill's "Fourth Floor Walk Up". "What is THIS?!" I marveled. "How is this even possible?!" (I STILL think that, BTW) At the moment of hearing Bill's cadenza on this ultra-cool and wonderfully 1970s-drenched composition, I was presented with only two options: hit the shed (practice) or QUIT. Happily, I chose the former. As an aside, a friend of mine in college chose the latter and instead gave up the trombone and became a minister in the Baptist Church. Apparently, hearing Watrous can indeed be a religious experience.

The same year that the record came out and I became obsessed with listening to it, my mentor Raoul Jerome (founder of the fine jazz program at the University of Southern Mississippi) brought in Bill as our guest artist. We actually performed "Fourth Floor Walk Up" with him! Watrous was very kind to me then and remained so throughout our subsequent meetings...and there were many.

When I was with Maynard Ferguson and we played at the Hollywood Bowl, Bill came backstage on his way to see Maynard and stopped when he saw me. "Hey Wiest! Nice solo, but you play too hard man!" those days I kinda did. But once again, my hero took the time to say hello and offer up encouraging words. Such a deal!

When I was a student at the University of North Texas we (the One O'Clock Lab Band) recorded an album of Stan Kenton music that included the iconic piece "Machito". On that particular track, I added a screamer high C to my solo and my North Texas mentor Neil Slater played it for Bill. Without telling me who was calling, Neil gave me the phone in the jazz office one day telling me that someone had called who was angry at me and wanted to talk. With more than a little dread, I put the phone to my ear and here was the voice of Bill Watrous saying: "Hey Wiest, this is Watrous. Who the hell do you think you are playing that high C, that's MY note man!" At which point they could both stand it no longer as they cracked up and let me in on the whole bit. Turns out I'm an easy target for such shenanigans! Bill followed that joke up immediately with kind and complimentary words of support. I was over the moon with delight.

In later years I had a number of opportunities to pay Bill back a bit for all of this inspiration by bringing him in as a guest whenever possible. He was always very gracious, full of lots of amazing stories, and consistently laying down the musical awe with his stellar one-of-a-kind playing. What a joy! And that young man from Hattiesburg Mississippi who went right out and bought a Watrous-style denim suit coat in 1976 after purchasing Manhattan Wildlife Refuge never got over his fanboy attitude to William Russell Watrous and has always been so glad to have crossed paths with Bill's greatness.

Here is that epic track mentioned above:

You now have two choices...

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