121 pays tribute to ‘Gentle George’

Benny Davis takes a look at the career of musician George Watts, who died on April 21st, aged 83.

AFTER many years absence, jazz returned to restaurant 121 in Jesus Pobre.

A triumphant occasion, unfortunately tinged with a note of sadness by the death of top tenor sax man George Watts, who had been scheduled to star in the front line up of the inaugural session.

Over 200 enthusiasts packed themselves into every square metre of available space to enjoy Colin Fraser and his Quintet’s renditions of all the old jazz standards from Charlie Parkers classic, Billy’s Bounce and ‘Scrapple’ to Porter and Gershwin evergreens melodies.

Originally booked to alternate with George at fortnightly sessions, tenor man and flautist Graham Shepherd set the bar high with his middle eight swinging interpretations complimented with great performances from Gerry Haim keyboards, Julio Fuster, bass, Dave Butterworth, drums and the up-front man handling the main plumbing, Colin Fraser and his beloved trombone.

There was no doubt that many fans attended this first night as a form of pilgrimage dedicated to the memory of George Watts, a man of music with a career that stretched back to 1952 when he was a member of the Arthur Rowberry Orchestra, winners of the Melody Maker Big Band contest.

His first TV performance was in 1961 with the Jerry Allen Quartet on ‘Lunch Box,’ later to become a big swing band featuring arrangements of Basie and Ellington classics.

Always the adaptable professional, 1966 saw George as a flautist with The Ian Campbell Folk Group playing gigs at top venues such as London’s Albert and Festival Hall’s and the great Usher Hall during the Edinburgh Festival.

Back to a big band UK tour in 1970 with The Syd Lawrence Glen Miller Orchestra, involving many radio and TV recording sessions including that special of special shows, The Royal Command Performance at the Palladium. Birmingham born George, also travelled extensively in the Middle East backing top artists such as, Shirley Bassey, Johnny Mathis, Vic Damone, Pat Boone, Kay Starr, Howard Keel and Dean Martin.

Like many good dot readers of the era, he also served his time in London’s West End theatre pits. ‘Gentle’ George will be sorely missed, not only by Costa Jazz enthusiasts, but also by fellow professionals, especially lifelong friends, Tony Carter, John Whelan and John Patrick.

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